Travel giant Expedia Group is accused of “trafficking in confiscated property,” in a new lawsuit with ties to the Cuban Revolution, several huge resorts in a popular beach town and a major policy shift by the Trump administration.
Robert M. Glen filed a lawsuit against Expedia and its subsidiary Hotels.com this week, alleging the companies profited off property seized from his family by the Castro regime following the revolution in the late 1950s. Four beachfront resorts in the popular destination of Varadero totaling more than 1,400 rooms sit on those properties today, and Glen contends he is the rightful owner of two of them. Each is listed on Expedia or Hotels.com.
“By facilitating bookings at these hotels, Defendants are engaging in commercial activity that uses or otherwise benefits from Glen’s confiscated property,” according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in Seattle. “Defendants are also participating in, and profiting from, trafficking committed by the hotels themselves.”
In 1996, Congress passed the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, which strengthened sanctions against Cuba. Title III of the law “provides U.S. nationals whose property in Cuba was confiscated by the communist Cuban government with a private right of action against those who traffic in, or participate in the trafficking of, that property,” according to the suit.
However, that section had been suspended first by the Clinton administration and then by Bush, Obama and Trump. In April, the State Department fully lifted the suspension, opening the door for lawsuits against so-called “traffickers of confiscated property.” The move was part of a broader crackdown on Cuba and a reversal of Obama-era policies that were meant to normalize relations with the country for the first time in more than 50 years.
The global law firm Covington wrote at the time that the decision by the administration means that “multinational companies in diverse sectors which have engaged in transactions in Cuba now face potential U.S. litigation exposure.” The move could affect not just U.S.-based companies, but also organizations based in Europe, China and other parts of the world that do business in Cuba.
We’ve reached out to Expedia for comment and we will update this story if we hear back.
This isn’t Expedia’s first legal incident involving Cuba. Earlier this year, Expedia agreed to pay more than $325,000 to settle allegations that it assisted more than 2,200 people with Cuba-related travel. Expedia voluntarily disclosed that it provided services to people traveling within Cuba between 2011 and 2014 to the U.S. Treasury Department, according to the agency.
In the new lawsuit, Glen is described as a “naturalized U.S. Citizen” whose family fled Cuba following the revolution. Ownership of the properties dates back generations to Glen’s great-grandfather, Sergio de la Vega, who lived in Cárdenas, across a bay from the Hicacos Peninsula where Varadero is located.
According to the suit, de la Vega would commute by boat from Cárdenas to the peninsula to make improvements. The land was later passed down to Glen’s aunt and mother, who started making plans to develop it prior to the revolution, according to court documents.
Since then, Varadero has become “one of Cuba’s most popular beach resort towns, featuring one of the Caribbean’s best beaches, dozens of hotels and resorts, a nature reserve, and other amenities.”
Glen, represented by Seattle’s Pacifica Law Group, is seeking damages and judgement “at the highest rates allowed by law,” according to the suit.
Here is the full lawsuit: