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The Miami Herald interviews George R. Harper regarding business in Cuba.

The Miami Herald
Lawyers still pursuing Cuban property cases
It's not as extensive as in years past, but several South Florida firms continue to pursue Cuba-related legal work, hoping the investment one day will pay off.
Posted on Sun, Feb. 24, 2008
BY NIALA BOODHOO

nboodhoo@MiamiHerald.com

George Harper remembers sponsoring the first Post-Castro Cuba conference for the Florida Bar Association in 1992. Like many, he expected democracy would come quickly to Cuba after the fall of the Soviet Union.'

'I still have the brochure,'' he said, laughing, last week.

Nearly sixteen years later and with the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba still in place, local lawyers like Harper still maintain a steady flow of clients whom they advise on issues related to doing business in Cuba. Some offer consulting on the 1996 Helms-Burton legislation, especially to European and Latin American companies.

Helms-Burton not only establishes strict conditions that must be met before the embargo can be lifted but also has a provision that allows U.S. citizens and companies to sue foreigners ''trafficking'' in confiscated Cuban properties for damages in U.S. federal courts.

That means some foreign companies are particularly wary of which Cuban properties they should view as investment targets and often want legal clarification.

Most in South Florida's legal community described Fidel Castro's announcement last week that he would not seek reelection as president of the Council of State as just another moment in series of moments for those who have waited so long for the country to fully open to American businesses.

But even without that opening, there is business for law firms.

Each new development always generates interest, and more inquiries for law firms such as the Miami office of Akerman Senterfitt, said lawyer Augusto Maxwell.

''Every time there's a headline, there are calls to try to get an understanding of what the embargo is about, how it might change and what we think about it,'' he said.

Still, the legal business regarding Cuba has waned from a decade ago, said John Kavulich, a senior policy advisor to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council in New York.

''There were firms in the mid- and late '90s that did have Cuba practice groups, but as Cuba reversed course on many of its commercial and economic changes, the ability of lawyers to make a living based upon preparing companies, and doing legal work'' dried up, he said.

The most lucrative legal work these days seems to be in filing paperwork to register U.S. trademarks in Cuba, which firms all across the country do, Kavulich said. Other lawyers work with the U.S. food and agricultural companies on the limited business that is allowed by U.S. law.

''It's not a growth industry as it was from 1995 to maybe 2002,'' he said.

Nevertheless, there are Miami lawyers who have managed to keep their Cuba practices growing.

Nicolás Gutiérrez, for example, says he has hundreds of clients who are ready -- but waiting for the day when they can begin the legal process of reclaiming their commercial property or businesses lost after the 1959 revolution.

During the 1960s, the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission certified the claims of nearly 6,000 American citizens and companies that lost property in Cuba after the revolution. But Cuban-Americans aren't covered under that process and will need to press their claims with a future Cuban government.

EMBARGO REGULATIONS

At Akerman Senterfitt in Miami, lawyers such as Maxwell and his colleague Pedro Freyre say they have a ''significant number'' of clients they assist by providing information on embargo regulations. That includes European companies that don't want to run afoul of Helms-Burton.

The lawyers also work on matters related to exceptions to the embargo such as U.S. exports of food, agricultural products and pharmaceuticals to the island for humanitarian reasons. Spending in Cuba by certain groups, including academics, clerics, journalists, some on cultural exchanges and Cuban-Americans visiting relatives, also is permitted as an embargo exemption.

The U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, commonly called OFAC, enforces more than 20 economic and trade sanction programs for countries around the world but its main focus has been Cuba.

''I would say the bulk [of the firm's Cuba work] is OFAC-related,'' Maxwell said. ``What we're beginning to grow now is two things: American businesses who are interested in understanding what the law is, and exile Cubans who are interested in understanding what rights they might have for properties in Cuba.''

Antonio Zamora, who is of counsel at the Miami office of Squires Sanders & Dempsey, said most people who called last week wanted to speculate about what shifting the Cuban presidency would mean.

In the last couple of years, said Harper, companies have become accustomed to the ''false starts'' in an opening toward Cuba. He pointed to what he called the calm and blasé reaction to last week's news as proof that many recognize it is still business as usual in Cuba.

Harper, managing partner at Harper Meyer, focuses mostly on inter-American law. He estimates about a third of his client load now is directly related to Cuban work.

But, ''when you talk about all different clients we have, everything from fast-food operations to transportation [companies], they're all going to be interested in Cuba,'' he said.

One day, added Gutiérrez of the Miami firm Borgoynoni & Gutiérrez, the embargo will be lifted, and the Cuban-related work -- now just a sub-speciality in his corporate and government practice -- will explode.

EXILES PASS ON

In recent times he has watched a generation of exiles, including his father, pass away. Many of his clients are now coming in to sign affidavits, legal descriptions of property they say they owned in Cuba with instructions who they would like to leave it to when they die -- in case they do not survive until the embargo is lifted.

And Gutiérrez, like many other South Florida lawyers, continues to wait for the day when he will be able to represent clients in Cuban courts.'

'Somewhere between when my two young kids are in high school or I retire, it has to happen,'' he said.

Mimi Whitefield, a Miami Herald business editor, contributed to this story.

Dedication of the Harper Meyer Study Room at the Florida International University College of Law

Harper Meyer was honored at the dedication ceremony of the Harper Meyer Study Room at the Florida International University College of Law, which was hosted by Dr. Leonard Strickman, Dean of the College of Law.

Pictured from left to right are George Harper, Antonio Regojo, Steven Hagen, Dean Leonard Strickman, Steven Harper and James Meyer.

For more information please contact Harper Meyer at info@harpermeyer.com or (305) 577-3443.

fiustudyroom

Harper Meyer prepares to assist clients pursuing opportunities in Cuba

Harper Meyer is a full-service law firm located in Miami, Florida which since its inception has been dealing with legal and economic issues relating to Cuba. Moreover several of its senior partners have been dealing with the subject of Cuba for many years before the founding of the firm in 2002, and in fact have traveled regularly to the island since 1992. For more information regarding the firm, please visit www.cubamiamilaw.com.

Below are a few of our firm's activities in 2015 relating to Cuba, given the many recent political, diplomatic, legal and commercial developments in that country:

- On July 29, James M. Meyer was quoted in the Daily Business Review special edition on Cuba. For more information, please click here.

- On July 28, James M. Meyer has been named Chairman of the Cuba Committee of the Florida Bar's International Law Section. For more information, please click here.

- On July 2, James M. Meyer quoted regarding Florida Bar Plans for Cuba Trip. For more information, please click here.

- On July 1st, Florida Bar News extensively quotes James M. Meyer on his visit to Cuba in May with The Florida Bar’s International Law Section and how his side meeting accomplished many of the Section's goals. For more information, please click here.

- On June 26, James M. Meyer interviewed by TV Marti regarding award presentation to prominent Cuban dissident Dr. Rene Gomez Manzano. For more information, please click here.

- On June 26, James M. Meyer and members of the International Law Section Executive Council of the Florida Bar International Law Section awarded Cuban dissident lawyer Dr. Rene Gomez Manzano a plaque for defending human rights in his country. For more information, please click here.

- On June 18, George R. Harper and James M. Meyer interviewed regarding investment in Cuba for Radio Mambi. For more information, please click here.

- On June 12, James M. Meyer was quoted in the article “U.S. lawyers examine promises, pitfalls in Cuba” by Politico Journalism Institute regarding his conclusions from a recent visit to Cuba. “There aren’t any real protections for investors in a practical sense,” said Meyer. For more please click here.

- On June 11, James M. Meyer was quoted in an article by Joe Cardona of the Miami Herald titled "In normalization talks, U.S. gives, Cuba takes" on the possibilities of doing business and investing in Cuba. For more information, please click here.

- On June 5, James M. Meyer speaks on Cuba at RPPTL Annual Luncheon in Miami Beach. For more information, please click here.

- On June 4, James M. Meyer was quoted by Julie Kay of the Daily Business Review on the possibilities of doing business and investing in Cuba. For more information, please click here.

- On June 3, George R. Harper and James M. Meyer appeared on the evening news being interviewed by reporter Mario Vallejo of Univision's "Noticias" on Cuba. For more information, please click here.

- On June 3, guest panelists, James M. Meyer and George R. Harper appeared on "A Fondo" with Pedro Sevcec on Américatevé. For more information, please click here.

- On June 3, James M. Meyer and George R. Harper appeared as guests on the "Maria Elvira" program on Mira TV regarding their visit to Cuba meeting with high profile government officials, dissidents and lawyers.

- On June 2, James M. Meyer and George R. Harper appeared on the evening news being interviewed by Telemundo after his visit to Cuba meeting with high profile government officials, dissidents and lawyers. For more information, please click here.


- On June 1, George R. Harper was interviewed by Doral News TV regarding his visit to Cuba meeting with high level Cuban government officials, important dissidents and lawyers. For more information, please click here.

- On June 1, James M. Meyer was interviewed by Mario Vallejo on Radio Mambi (710AM) before and after his visit to Cuba meeting with high profile government officials, dissidents and lawyers.

- On June 1, George R. Harper and James M. Meyer were interviewed on TV Marti by reporter Ricardo Quintana regarding their recent visit to Cuba meeting with high profile government officials, dissidents and lawyers. For more information, please click here.

- On May 31, James Meyer joined Channel 10's/ABC's Michael Putney at the roundtable on "This Week in South Florida" and was interviewed at length regarding his meeting in Cuba with a high level Cuban government official and important dissidents and lawyers. For more information, please click here.

- On May 27-30, members of Harper Meyer attended various professional meetings in Havana, Cuba, including Dr. Eusebio Leal, historian of Cuba and Cabinet Member in charge of the restoration of Old Havana and Dr. Rene Gomez Manzano, a member of the original "Group of Four" and unofficial chief lawyer to the new generation of dissidents in Cuba. We look forward to additional meetings on a frequent basis going forward. For more information, please click here.

- On May 26, the firm's partners, George R. Harper and James M. Meyer, were interviewed on the evening news of Univision's "Noticias" by reporter Mario Vallejo regarding their meetings in Cuba. For more information, please click here.

- George R. Harper and James M. Meyer were quoted in the Miami Herald on May 25, 2015 in the article "Cuba's open for some American business - so here come the lawyers" regarding the need for settlement of claims. For more information, please click here.

- On May 11, James Meyer spoke at the University of Florida's 16th Annual Conference on Legal & Policy Issues in the Americas together with several law professors from the University of Havana regarding commercial relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

- James M. Meyer was featured in the May issue of the Cuba Standard as a Guest Columnist regarding the prospect of doing business in Cuba in a new era of U.S.-Cuba rapprochement. For more information, please click here.

- James Meyer was quoted in the April 11th issue of The Economist as part of an article entitled "The Thrill of the Thaw" regarding investments in Cuba.  The article quotes James Meyer among other international law experts, who warn of the many obstacles that lie ahead.  "We have heard horror stories," says James Meyer. For more information, please click here.

- On March 25, Harper Meyer hosted an invitational meeting for friends and clients regarding "An Overview of Emerging Opportunities and Challenges in U.S.-Cuba Commercial Relations."

- On February 27, George Harper and Steven Hagen spoke at the Florida Bar International Law Section's ILAT Conference regarding U.S. regulations governing interactions with Cuba. For more information, please click here.

- On January 30, George Harper attended the Cuba Working Group of Americas Society/Council of the Americas Briefing Session on Cuban Regulatory Changes with Ricardo Zúñiga, National Security Council; John Smith, Deputy Director, Office of Foreign Assets Control, U.S. Department of the Treasury; and Matthew Borman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration, Bureau of Industry and Security, U.S. Department of Commerce.

- George Harper and Steven Harper were named Directors of the Cuba Banking Study Group, which has been meeting periodically since the recent changes in U.S. law regarding Cuba.  George spoke at the CBSG conference on April 23 on the subject of Expropriations and Compensation.

Our firm is anticipating heightened interest from its friends and clients regarding the possibility of doing business in and with Cuba under the new regulations implemented by the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Commerce on January 16, 2015. The changes have eased restrictions in existing travel categories, thus facilitating more people-to-people contacts as well as attending professional meetings and business conferences on the island. Greater exports of building supplies, goods used in private residential construction, and agricultural equipment for small-scale farmers are now permitted. The export of consumer goods and telecommunications equipment is expected to become more prevalent. Those in the courier industry, as well as in shipping both by sea as well as by air, will correspondingly benefit.

The regulations relating to remittances and the financing of exports to Cuba have been substantially revised. Remittance levels have been raised from $500 to $2,000 per quarter for general donative remittances to Cuban nationals. Donative remittances for humanitarian projects, support for the Cuban people, and support for the development of private businesses in Cuba no longer require specific licenses. U.S. financial institutions are now permitted to open correspondent accounts at Cuban banks in order to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions, and U.S. credit and debit cards will be authorized for use by travelers to Cuba.

Senior partner George Harper is a well-known Cuban-American lawyer in Miami who left Cuba at the age of 17 after Fidel Castro seized his family's cattle ranch operations. Today, Harper is a legal community leader on the topic of Cuba, having been among the first to argue claims before the FCSC under Title V of the International Claims Settlement Act. He has spoken on numerous occasions to civic and legal groups regarding the legal reforms that would be required for commercial activities to function properly in a free Cuba. He has been featured on several occasions in nationally televised interviews by some of the major US television networks and has been featured on several more occasions on programs of Radio and TV Marti, on federally-funded broadcasts intended for the Cuba audience. Harper was also interviewed by the History Channel in connection with an episode of its series, Exposed, which examined the Castro regime.

Together with his partner, James Meyer, Harper was able to successfully negotiate the release of hundreds of thousands of dollars frozen by the US Government in connection with the estate of a wealthy Cuban businessman whose family immigrated to the US after the rise of Castro. Both Harper and Meyer have been engaged in many polemic discussions with both the Cuban-American and Cuban-national legal communities regarding property rights and other issues. They have also held discussions of these issues with the State Department's Cuba Policy Advisor and several Members of Congress. Meyer traveled to Cuba in 1992 and again in 2002, and in Havana in 2002 Harper addressed the US/Cuba Legal Forum, an association of Cuban lawyers, in addition to attending a legal exchange program there in 2000.  Both Harper and Meyer, along with firm partners Steve Hagen and Steven Harper and paralegal Betty Delgado, traveled to Havana in May, 2015 for meetings with government officials, dissidents, and a number of Cuban attorneys and law firms.

Harper Meyer is uniquely situated to address the imminent changes in Cuba, especially with the other partners on its Cuba team: Manuel Perez, who focuses on real estate investment and development; and Patricia O'Connor, whose work includes international registrations of intellectual property both in Cuba and elsewhere around the world.

Again, for more information on Harper Meyer, please visit www.cubamiamilaw.com or please feel free to contact George Harper or James Meyer at 305-577-3443.

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