As the US and Cuba speed toward renewed relations, an often-overlooked question threatens to gum everything up: Can Americans who fled Castro get their stuff back? At Slate, Seth Stevenson takes a long, fascinating look at the issue of "prior claims," which range from the huge ($268 million by the US-run electric company that was seized and nationalized) to the small (falling under the general category of "great-grandma's 1953 Chevrolet"). All told, they add up to $8 billion, a massive sum for cash-strapped Havana, and nobody's quite sure how the State Department and Cuba are going to resolve the matter. But resolve it they must, because the American embargo on Cuba can't be lifted until they do.
"When I set out to understand these difficult-to-value assets and the speculators they’d attracted, I discovered that the Cuba claims are much more than a roadblock," writes Stevenson. "They offer a stark snapshot of the past: old grievances, ramshackle farms, decaying factories, Cold War geopolitics." And the stakes are huge: "Handled badly, they might derail the Obama administration’s efforts to reconcile with Havana; handled shrewdly, they might help pave the way to a 21st-century Cuba." Click for the full story, which includes an interactive graphic about the claims themselves. (Read more Cuba stories.)