Descendants of Batista’s henchmen look to be “compensated” under the Helms-Burton Act
With the U.S. government re-activating the Helms-Burton Act’s Title III, José Ramón López – son of a swindler and lackey of the Batista dictatorship, José López Vilaboy – has filed a claim on Cubana Airlines, legally confiscated as a misappropriated asset after the triumph of the Revolution
Dolphin Xiqués Cutiñomay 31, 2019 15:05:24
Fulgencio Batista became a major stockholder in Cubana de Aviación S.A. via murky financial maneuvers, with the rest of the shares owned by his henchmen. Photo: Granma Archives
When dictator Fulgencio Batista decided to flee Cuba, a large number of his cronies joined the expedition. Some 25 suitcases accompanied him onto the aircraft and he pressed a bulging briefcase to his chest. The briefcase contained dollars and Batista, who trusted no one, feared losing them. He was well acquainted with his traveling companions, the many outrages they had committed and the shady operations they ran.
The money had been given to him by his closest relatives, like Andrés Domingo and Morales del Castillo, Presidential secretary; José López Vilaboy and Manuel Pérez Benitoa, although the latter had been in New York since the end of December, when he took Batista’s children to the city, along with 43 million dollars that were deposited in the dictator’s account, although the story goes that he deposited 42 and kept a million himself.
Lopez Vilaboy couldn’t get a seat on the planes that took off with the dictator’s pals, obliging him to seek refuge in the Guatemalan embassy in Havana.
These days, with the United States government re-activating the Helms-Burton Act’s Title III, granting the right to file court claim to those who were not citizens of that country at the time of nationalizations, a character known as José Ramón López, who says he is the son of Cuban businessman José López Vilaboy, has asserted that, pre-1959, his father’s properties included the Rancho Boyeros airport, Cubana Airlines, the Colina Hotel, and other buildings.Let us recall how the Cuban Ministry for the Recovery of Misappropriated Assets acted in these cases, as the body charged with processing nationalizations and confiscations, among other tasks.
In the case of Mr. José A. López Vilaboy, 27 charges were filed against him and his spouse, for illicit enrichment, along with 15 other persons who served as front men for his companies and businesses.
To mask and “legalize” fraudulent financial operations, his clan of henchmen had the support of the firm Pérez Benitoa, Lamar, and Otero, with its battery of lawyers ready to facilitate illegalities. The three partners were related by conjugal ties with the Batista family, and other politicians tied to the dictatorship.
In terms of Cubana de Aviación, in his book Las Empresas de Cuba, 1958, Guillermo Jiménez Soler refers to a “passenger and cargo aviation company, valued at 22 million, with 796 workers and offices at 23 and O Streets, Vedado, Havana.” It was based on Cuban capital, both private and state, with the Economic and Social Development Bank (Bandes)as its principal owner. Among prominent shareholders was Fulgencio Batista.
Via murky financial schemes, another portion of the shares were owned by entities controlled by Batista’s henchmen, and others close to the regime, while the Air Federation trade union also held stock.
“The Bandes had become the owner at the end of 1958 by converting into shares loans granted for the company’s rehabilitation, amounting to 11 million, which, as of 1955, included the participation of (another bank) Banfaic, later replaced as lender and shareholder,” according to the aforementioned book.
More than two thirds of the company’s private capital belonged to
Fulgencio Batista through the Rocar real estate corporation, registered as property of Andrés Domingo Morales del Castillo and Manuel Pérez Benitoa. Batista had been gradually transferring his shares to José López Vilaboy, the second largest shareholder, figurehead and manager of these financial maneuvers.
The private stock was distributed among 200,000 common shares, of which 68,021 were controlled by the Unión Inmobiliaria de Construcciones S.A. with Vilaboy at the head, and the rest were held by another 200 shareholders, including Luis G. Mendoza and Company, Jorge Barroso, Julio B. Forcade, and others. Its vice-presidents were José M. Casanova Soto, José M. Garrigó Artigas, both shareholders, and as secretary Dr. Antonio Pérez Benitoa Fernández, who had been married to Mirtha Batista Godínez, Batista’s daughter from his first marriage.
When the Ministry of Recovery of Misappropriated Assets’ team of officials, commercial experts, and auditors finished their work, it came to light that Mr. José López Vilaboy was not an enterprising businessman as he appeared, but a skillful figurehead in the service of President Fulgencio Batista. Thus, on February 3, 1960, the newspaper Revolución published on its front page an article with the headline: “Properties of Vilaboy and his front men confiscated.” It was announced that Cubana de Aviación, the Rancho Boyeros airport, the Colina Hotel, and many other businesses would became state property.
The article specified that the Ministry of Recovery of Misappropriated Assets had confiscated all his properties, and Vilaboy was charged with 27 counts of illicit enrichment under the protection of public power, including cases involving his spouse, Carmen Bagur Peñalver – who also benefitted from illegal enrichment – as well as those of 15 people who appear as figureheads in his operations.
Among the additional assets confiscated from Vilaboy and other frontmen were 51% of the airport restaurant and half of the parking area there; the Mañana newspaper; the airport’s radio station; the Mañana subdivision; a lease for the Mañana tile factory; half of a tourism company in Cienfuegos which owned the valuable Hotel Jagua; and a residence, valued at more than 20,000 pesos, located at 1255 17th Street, in Vedado.
Another Vilaboy property confiscated was the Banco Hispano Cubano, which was placed under the control of the National Bank of Cuba.
The properties illegally acquired by Vilaboy were returned to the service of the people, under the management of the new state’s agencies: Cubana de Aviación, the airport and parking lot were handed over to the Ministry of Transportation; the newspaper Mañana was awarded to the Ministry of Communications; the subdivision and residence in Vedado, to the National Housing Institute; the Colina and Jagua hotels, and the airport restaurant went to the National Tourist Industry Institute (INIT); the match company to the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA); and the tile factory was handed over to the Ministry of Public Works.
All loans and mortgages owed 15 persons were cancelled, and it was clarified that the Ministry’s confiscation of the airport restaurant involved the 51% ownership held by Vilaboy, recognizing Elpidio Pizarro as the legitimate owner of the remaining portion.
Likewise, only half of the airport parking lot was confiscated, since two other individuals legally owned the remainder.
As for the Mañana subdivision, only pending monthly payments for homes sold were awarded to the state, without affecting those who had paid off their mortgages, who were given titles, if they had not yet received this document.
Precisely as proven, Vilaboy was involved in multiple businesses, becoming a real gangster. Batista lent him ten and a half million pesos, which would be paid with the money saved by “waived” taxes and, for the airport business, they tricked the former owner, making him believe that he would be moved him to another location by the dictator and his pal.
Thus the company was obliged to sell, for just over one million pesos, and to improve the site, a Bandes loan of more than four million was granted – yet to be repaid.
This is but one of the cases among hundreds processed by the Ministry for the Recovery of Misappropriated Assets, which are now the object of claims by those who, like their predecessors, have never thought of the Cuban people’s interests.