The court of instruction number 24 of Palma has admitted the extension against the Republic of Cuba of the lawsuit that the Sánchez Hill family, through the Central Santa Lucía company, filed against the Meliá International SA hotel group for the operation of two hotels located on some land in Playa Esmeralda that was expropriated from them by the Fidel Castro regime. The titular judge has communicated the existence of the procedure to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation to issue a report, as provided in article 27.2 of Law 29/2015 on International Legal Cooperation in civil matters.
The decision to admit the extension of the lawsuit against the state of Cuba and the public company Gaviota SA, owner of the land and real estate in dispute, arises after the judge considered that the procedure could not be resolved without calling the owner of the property rights that will be the object of the challenge. “The resolution of the lawsuit presented will directly affect the interests of the state of Cuba and the company Gaviota SA as the current owner of the Playa Esmeralda land,” affirms the magistrate in an interlocutory session.
The judge maintains that the plaintiff bases its claim on the attribution of a real right over land “which is contradictory and totally incompatible” with the title of ownership that Cuba holds over said land. For all these reasons, it considers in its opinion that the proceedings against the Spanish hotel company cannot continue without the state of Cuba and the state-owned company Gaviota SA being called as the defendant.
The Sánchez Hill family of Cuban exiles accuses Meliá of enriching itself by exploiting the Paradisus Río de Oro and Sol Río de Luna y Mares hotels, located in the Playa Esmeralda area, northwest of Cuba, because the two resorts in were built on the grounds of an old sugar plantation that belonged to the family until 1960. In their lawsuit, the descendants of the family accused Meliá of obtaining an enrichment with illicit cause during the entire time that the hotel activity has lasted in the lands, and asked that these be considered as fruits derived from a possession exercised in bad faith.
The judge recalls in the ruling that one of the basic conditions for the family’s claim to prosper is the prior declaration of the illegality of the property title that the state of Cuba has over the Playa Esmeralda land. Only the illegality of this title can lead to the consideration that the benefits that Meliá obtains from the exploitation of these lands constitute an unjust enrichment. The family claims an amount equal to the economic benefits obtained during the last five years. The lawsuit was filed in the courts of Palma because it is the city in which the hotel chain has its headquarters.
The family’s claim was dismissed in September 2019 when the judge declared the lack of jurisdiction and international competence of the Spanish courts to decide on the matter. However, the Sánchez Hill family appealed this decision to the Provincial Court of Palma and in March 2020 the court revoked the ruling and declared the jurisdiction and international competence of the 24th court of first instance of the Balearic capital to decide on the procedure.
The Mallorcan hotel company has always suspected that the lawsuit of the Cuban family has been a previous step to a formal claim in the United States under the Helms-Burton law, reactivated in that country under the mandate of Donald Trump and that opened the door to that individuals and companies in the country demand compensation for the assets that were confiscated during Castroism. The Mallorcan hotel chains Meliá and Iberostar are the two most affected by the tightening of the embargo on the Caribbean country by the government of Donald Trump, since they are the ones that operate the most complexes in Cuba.
In fact, since November 25, 2019, the CEO of Meliá, Gabriel Escarrer, has been prohibited from entering the country after the State Department urged him in October of that year to compensate the Sánchez Hills for the exploitation of the two hotels on these lands under threat of being banned from the country within 45 days. In a statement, the multinational tourism company recalled that compliance with the United States’ requirements is contrary to European regulations, which consider that the Helms-Burton Act infringes the most elementary principles of international law and assured that more than fifty companies with interests in Cuba had received these letters.
The reactivation of the most controversial titles of the Helms-Burton Act by the US government opened the door to a flood of claims against companies with activities on the Caribbean island in the US courts of law. In May 2019, the Mata family, also of Cuban origin, filed a class action lawsuit in the federal court of the southern district of Florida against several tourism companies of the Island Government, in which they claimed millionaire compensation for the use of the San Carlos hotel. , now operated by Meliá and another Cuban chain. The complex was expropriated from the family in 1962 and now the descendants are demanding compensation for this confiscation.