Online giant Amazon is the latest company to face a suit under a US law over Cuban charcoal. The company faces the suit for profiting from property seized by Cuba’s communist government after the 1959 revolution. Meanwhile, the suit follows a similar case against American Airlines and Latin American carrier LATAM.
The Seattle-based tech giant faces accusations of profiting from online sales of barbecue charcoal produced on land expropriated by the Cuban government.
On Thursday in Miami lawyers acting for Daniel A. Gonzalez, a Cuban-American descendant of the owner of land on which they produce the charcoal, filed the lawsuit.
“The Castro regime expropriated, took it over and now are producing marabu charcoal on his property and exporting to the United States for sale. And Amazon was selling it on its website,” lawyer Santiago Cueto told AFP by phone.
Lawsuits by Cuban-Americans became possible after President Donald Trump’s administration lifted a longstanding suspension of the Helms Burton Act earlier this year.
All previous US presidents suspended it to avoid causing friction with allies, such as the European Union. Some view it as overstepping American jurisdiction.
The charcoal is produced from the marabu plant, or marabou weed, which is grown in cooperatives across Cuba. It has subsequently become an increasingly profitable export for the impoverished island.
The marabu charcoal is popular for its clean-burning properties and often used in pizza restaurants and bakeries. It became popular in the United States after they signed an export licence in 2017. Amazon sells the charcoal online under the brand name Fogo. The product was not available online from Thursday.
Gonzalez claims ownership of over 2,000 acres of land in Granma where they grow the marabu plant. Cueto, his lawyer, then told AFP his client seeks monetary compensation. “That can include the value of the land itself and also the penalty for trafficking that property.”
Earlier this week, the son of the former owner of Cuba’s main airport filed a similar Helms Burton lawsuit against American Airlines and South American carrier LATAM.
In May, ExxonMobil became the first US company to take advantage of the law. It then sought $280 million compensation from two Cuban state-owned oil companies for “unlawful trafficking” of its assets on the island.