Now that Cuba and the United States have begun trying to resolve billions in dollars in claims for the confiscation of American properties by the island’s socialist government, Lansky’s family sees an opportunity to reclaim the Habana Riviera or its cash equivalent.
“The hotel was taken from my grandfather forcefully,” said Lansky’s 60-year-old grandson, Gary Rapoport of Tampa. “Cuba owes my family money.”
A U.S. commission has certified nearly 6,000 claims against Cuba by American and U.S. firms whose property was taken. The claims are worth as much as $8 billion. U.S. court rulings against Cuba add another $2 billion.
Cuba in turn is demanding more than $100 billion in damages for the half-century old U.S. trade embargo on the island. Resolution of the issues is seen as fundamental to the reestablishment of trade between the countries.
A nearly daylong meeting Tuesday served as “the first step in what we expect to be a long and complex process, but the United States views the resolution of outstanding claims as a top priority for normalization,” the State Department in a prepared public statement.
It cost an estimated $8 million to build the Habana Riviera in the 1950s. It still is operated as a state-run hotel.
“We never filed a claim with the government or hired an attorney earlier because we didn’t think the door for negotiating would ever actually open,” said Rapoport, whose mother, who also lives in Tampa, is Lansky’s only daughter. “Now it is open.”
Whether the family ever can be compensated is unclear. Rapoport said his family can prove ownership through financial records.
An initial list American properties and business nationalized in Cuba was completed on July 6, 1972. The U.S. government’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission accepted claims again from 2005 through 2006, but not since then.
In an e-mail statement to The Tampa Tribune (http://bit.ly/1SNZcrO ), the State Department said the commission “is not presently authorized to accept additional claims by U.S. nationals for property seized by Cuba.”
The Havana hotel became kind of a base for Lansky, considered one of the most significant mob figures of the 20th century. When it opened in 1957, it was the largest casino hotel in Cuba and boasted air conditioning when that amenity was still a rarity.
Rapoport said his grandfather never recouped his investment in the project.
“He needed another six to eight months of business,” Rapoport said.