Exiles Sue Expedia’s Trivago for ‘Trafficking’ in Cuban Property

By Jonathan Levin | June 20, 2019

A family of Cuban exiles sued a unit of Expedia Group Inc. for compensation over a hotel property confiscated when Fidel Castro took power, in the latest of several lawsuits filed since Donald Trump upended a quarter-century of U.S. presidential practice.

The Mata family of Miami alleges that the Expedia subsidiary, Trivago GmbH, serves as an online-booking platform for its former family-controlled hotel in Cienfuegos, the Hotel San Carlos. Trivago has been earning commissions, fees and other remuneration from business dealings involving the San Carlos, according to the complaint. The family is suing over “unlawful trafficking in their property and for just compensation for themselves and a class of similarly situated persons.”

The Matas claim that Trivago did the same for “scores of properties” like the San Carlos, and the law firm Rivero Mestre LLP is seeking class action status for the lawsuit. The complaint says the Mata family has given notice to other Expedia entities — including the parent company, as well as competitor Booking Holdings Inc. and its affiliate Booking.com BV — of plans to add them as defendants.

That will happen “if they do not promptly compensate the Mata heirs and the class for the unlawful trafficking of their property,” according to the suit.

Expedia declined to comment on the suit, citing a policy of not remarking on pending litigation. Booking Holdings didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit is one of a number to emerge under a contentious but long-dormant provision of the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 that Trump put into effect on May 2, as part of an effort to punish the communist regime for its support of Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro.

The provision, Title III, allows those who lost property at the hands of Castro to target outside companies now using their assets, despite widespread speculation that the suits could hurt American firms and those of U.S. allies in Canada and Europe. It was so potentially explosive that every other president has waived its implementation.

Exiles have already targeted Carnival Corp., the Miami-based cruise company that had begun to offer journeys to the island, allegedly using “trafficked” docks and port infrastructure. Another lawsuit from the same plaintiffs as the Expedia suit — Marisela Mata and Bibiana Hernandez — targets the companies operating their family’s hotel.

Under Helms-Burton, trafficking means, roughly, using seized property for profit. The accusations don’t mean defendants themselves had any role in seizing the property. They almost invariably didn’t.

The case is Mata and Hernandez v. Trivago GmbH, 19-cv-22529 U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida.

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