Alex Simpkins’s mother’s family immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba in the 1930s. For years, Simpkins says, the family has been curious about the fate of some items the Communist government might have confiscated from them.
“It had come up in conversation,” Simpkins said. “We were aware that the Cuban government —in government buildings and museums — still had possession of several of our great-uncle’s paintings.”
Simpkins’s great-uncle, Esteban Valderrama, was a famous Cuban painter of the early 1900s. Valderrama is best known for his portraits of the revolutionary leader Jose Marti and an unofficial portrait of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The Simpkins family owns a portrait by Esteban Valderrama of Simpkins’s mother, Diana Valderrama, as well as a framed photo of a portrait of his great-grandmother, Esther Taus.
Simpkins and his family now may have a way to get the paintings still in Cuba back. The Trump administration announced a policy Wednesday that would allow Cuban-American immigrants to sue the Cuban government for property confiscated from them after the start of Fidel Castro’s regime in 1959.
But Simpkins says he’s hesitant to jump into a lawsuit.
“If this is purely a political act, I want no part of it,” Simpkins said. “If this is truly an effort to right the wrongs of the past of what Castro did to a lot of people, I could get behind that.”
James William, president of Engage Cuba, a Washington-based advocacy group that trying to lift the U.S. embargo on the island nation, says Trump is using the policy to garner support from conservative Cuban-Americans in southern Florida, a key battleground in the 2020 presidential election.
“The only way to get property claimants what they deserve is through diplomatic negotiations,” William wrote in a statement. “Which President Trump just threw off the table.”
The policy comes from Title III of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act which strengthens the embargo on Cuba. Since the implementation of the Act under President Bill Clinton’s administration, no president has upheld Title III.