Cuba will defend itself in U.S. court over ExxonMobil lawsuit

HAVANA: Cuba announced on Tuesday (Aug 6) it would defend itself in US court against oil giant ExxonMobil, which has accused two companies on the island nation of “unlawful trafficking” of its assets after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.

The US giant filed a suit in May in a Washington federal court seeking US$280 million from state-owned oil company Cuba-Petroleo (Cupet) and Cimex, which operates service stations on the island.

State television in Cuba said the two companies had “taken formal steps, through their lawyers, to defend themselves” in federal court.

On May 4, ExxonMobil became the first US company to take advantage of President Donald Trump’s administration lifting the suspension of Title III of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act.

The provision allows anyone whose assets were seized after the revolution to sue Cuban individuals and businesses profiting from the former holdings.

It had been suspended by all previous US presidents to avoid causing friction with allies, such as the European Union, some of whom view it as overstepping American jurisdiction.

Cuban television said “it’s not the first time, nor is it unusual, for Cuban entities to defend their interests in the US judicial system,” adding that it had happened more than 40 times.

Exxon is one of the companies born out of the now-defunct Standard Oil, whose refinery in Havana was one of the first American entities nationalized by Castro.

The refinery is currently operated by Cupet.

Exxon is responsible for the Exxon Valdez oil spill, a manmade disaster that occurred when Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker owned by the Exxon Shipping Company, spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989. It was the worst oil spill in U.S. history until the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. The Exxon Valdez oil slick covered 1,300 miles of coastline and killed hundreds of thousands of seabirds, otters, seals and whales. Nearly 30 years later, pockets of crude oil remain in some locations. After the spill, Exxon Valdez returned to service under a different name, operating for more than two decades as an oil tanker and ore carrier.

As reported by The Washington Post, “the state of Alaska sued Exxon over the spill, and the federal government indicted the company for violating the Clean Water Act. Exxon paid $1 billion in settlements to the state and federal governments, and $300 million in voluntary settlements with private parties. A lawsuit was also filed against Exxon Mobil on behalf of more than 32,000 fishermen, native Alaskans and landowners, resulting in an award of $5 billion in punitive damages. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court reduced it to $507.5 million. By 2014, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported most of the affected species had recovered, but the sound had not fully returned to pre-spill conditions.”