Amazon sued over online sales of Cuban charcoal

Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos speaks on company sustainability efforts on September 19, 2019 in Washington; Amazon is the latest company to be sued under a US law for profiting from property seized by Cuba's communist government (AFP Photo/Eric BARADAT)

Havana (AFP) - Online giant Amazon is the latest company to be sued under a US law for profiting from property seized by Cuba's communist government after the 1959 revolution.

The suit follows a similar case against American Airlines and Latin American carrier LATAM.

The Seattle-based tech giant is accused of profiting from online sales of barbecue charcoal produced on land expropriated by the Cuban government.

The latest suit was filed Thursday in Miami by lawyers acting for Daniel A. Gonzalez, a Cuban-American descendant of the owner of land on which the charcoal is produced.

"The Castro regime expropriated, took it over and now are producing what is called marabu charcoal on his property and exporting to the United States for sale. And Amazon was selling it on its website," lawyer Santiago Cueto told AFP by phone.

Lawsuits by Cuban-Americans became possible after President Donald Trump's administration lifted a longstanding suspension of the Helms Burton Act earlier this year.

It had been suspended by all previous US presidents to avoid causing friction with allies, such as the European Union, some of whom view it as overstepping American jurisdiction.

The charcoal, produced from the marabu plant, or marabou weed, which is grown in cooperatives across Cuba, has become an increasingly profitable export for the impoverished island.

The marabu charcoal is popular for its clean-burning properties and often used in pizza restaurants and bakeries.

It became popular in the United States after an export licence was signed in 2017.

The charcoal is sold online under the brand name Fogo.

The product was not available online Thursday.

Gonzalez claims ownership of over 2,000 acres of land in the eastern province of Granma where the marabu plant is grown.

Cueto, his lawyer, told AFP his client is seeking monetary compensation.

"That can include the value of the land itself, and the penalty for trafficking that property."

Earlier this week, the son of the former owner of Cuba's main airport filed a similar Helms Burton lawsuit against American Airlines and South American carrier LATAM.

In May, ExxonMobil became the first US company to take advantage of the law, seeking $280 million compensation from two Cuban state-owned oil companies for "unlawful trafficking" of its assets on the island.