MIAMI (CN) –Amazon was hit with a federal lawsuit Thursday claiming its online sales of Cuban charcoal violate federal law because the retail giant is profiting off property seized by the country’s communist government in the 1950s.
Daniel Gonzalez, who brought the complaint in Miami federal court, says he is a Cuban-American heir of the land where about 40 tons of marabu charcoal was produced. He claims he was not aware of the land’s use until he went to Cuba to scatter his father’s ashes.
According to the complaint filed by attorney Santiago Cueto, Fidel Castro’s communist regime took over Gonzalez’s family farm in 1959 and gave the family only a week to leave. Gonzalez claims he is the rightful owner of the more than 2,000 acres of land in the eastern Cuban province of Granma that was seized from his grandfather.
Since January 2017, the island nation has been producing charcoal from Gonzalez’s rightful property and exporting it to the United States under the brand name Fogo, he says.
“Defendants, Amazon.com and Fogo Charcoal, knowingly and intentionally commenced, conducted, and promoted the sale of marabu charcoal produced on the subject property without the authorization of plaintiff,” the lawsuit states. “Defendants also knowingly and intentionally participated in and profited from the communist Cuban government’s possession of the subject property without the authorization of plaintiff who holds a claim to the subject property.”
Gonzales is suing Amazon and Susshi International Inc. dba Fogo Charcoal under a provision of the 1996 Helms Burton Act, as known as the Libertad Act, which strengthened the U.S. embargo against Cuba and sought to penalize companies trafficking in property previously owned by U.S. citizens that was seized by the communist regime.
The ability to file certain lawsuits related to Cuba was suspended in order to improve U.S. relationships with allies, such as European countries that could see the law as an overreach of authority by the American government.
However, President Donald Trump lifted the suspension this year, paving the way for lawsuits over seized property in Cuba.
“The defendants have been on notice since 1996 that trafficking in property confiscated by the communist Cuban government would subject them to liability under the Libertad Act,” the complaint states. “The United States government has ceased suspending the right to bring an action under the Libertad Act, which therefore permits plaintiff to seek damages for the defendants’ conduct in exploiting plaintiff’s wrongly confiscated property.”
Amazon did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment.