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The U.S. Treasury has decided that, despite the embargo against Cuba, dozens of retired Cuban workers who were employed at the Guantanamo Bay naval base will be able to collect at least partial U.S. pensions. A Treasury spokesman said that the payments under the Oct. 1 decision will be retroactive to 1963 when the embargo was established. Left undecided, as a federal lawsuit brought by the Gitmo retirees and veterans continues in Washington, D.C., is whether other plaintiff groups in the litigation, namely Cuban nationals who served in the U.S. Merchant Marine and American U.S. military veterans who have chosen to live in Cuba, will be able to collect. Miami attorney Carlos A. Enriquez and Boca Raton attorney Charles P. Randall represent 300 former Guantanamo workers, merchant mariners and veterans and their families living in Cuba. The two lawyers say the plaintiff class potentially includes as many as 5,000 people. Enriquez said the U.S. government owes these former federal employees and their families an estimated $10 million to $20 million. Some individuals could be owed as much as $100,000, he said. “Our contention is that the U.S. embargo is really meant to be against the Cuban government,” Enriquez said. “It shouldn’t hurt Cuban nationals who were loyal to this country and who worked for this country.” Department of Justice spokesman Charles Miller confirmed that the Treasury Department authorized payments for the Guantanamo retirees and their families. As far as the other two groups, the merchant mariners and veterans living in Cuba, he declined comment because of the pending litigation. The class action case, Ferreiro et al. v. United States, was filed in December 2000 in the Court of Federal Claims. The plaintiffs allege that they are entitled to pensions and other benefits even though they live in Cuba. The court struck down that claim on the grounds of reciprocity, ruling that since U.S. citizens cannot sue in Cuban courts, Cubans should not be allowed to recover money through U.S. courts. That decision now is on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which heard oral arguments in the case on Monday. A ruling could take months. Many of the plaintiffs served in the U.S. military during World War II and received veterans’ benefits prior to the embargo, Enriquez said. Treasury ordered the payments discontinued after the embargo was established in 1963, saying the U.S. could not be assured that the money would be received by the retirees. “We’re saying the military broke its vow to give these people lifetime pensions,” Enriquez said. Enriquez plans to travel to Havana in the next 10 days to process claims for the Guantanamo retirees and their families and to determine how much each is owed. About 75 of the two lawyers’ 300 clients are retired Guantanamo workers. All 75 retired before the cutoff date of Sept. 1, 1979, specified by the Treasury decision, Enriquez said. The victory for the Guantanamo retirees is a partial one. Although Treasury authorized the U.S. military to pay them the pensions, it required that the payments to each household be limited under existing embargo rules to $300 every three months. Enriquez said he and Randall are arguing that the U.S. government should have set aside the money for the plaintiffs and should now place the proper amounts, with interest, in accounts in their names — even if the current payout limit is $300 per quarter. According to a Treasury spokesman, the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has approved payments, but it will be up to the Office of Personnel Management to determine how much is owed to whom. Those eligible can be paid in one of two ways, Treasury spokesman Taylor Griffin said. The money can be deposited for them in an interest-bearing U.S. bank account and withdrawn at the limit of $300 a month. Or, the money can be picked up at the Guantanamo base by the former employees. It will be up to the Office of Personnel Management to determine whether the $300 limit will apply to the base withdrawals, he said. Joe Garcia, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, said Tuesday that he was unaware of the Treasury decision. But he lamented the fact that the government has withheld the payments for so long from people who earned them. “There’s a tendency to apply the absurd and ridiculous as opposed to the practical,” Garcia said.

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