HAVANA — The United States and Cuba began discussions on Tuesday on one of the thorniest issues in their budding rapprochement: the outstanding claims for compensation by both former Cold War foes.
Washington is seeking payment of between US$7 billion and $8 billion for American citizens and companies whose property on the Caribbean island was confiscated by Fidel Castro's government in the wake of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.
Havana for its part is seeking damages for its losses under the suffocating US embargo imposed in the revolution's aftermath -- an estimated $121 billion to date, according to the Cuban government.
Current Cuban President Raul Castro, the retired Fidel's younger brother, has warned the negotiations will be "long and complex" -- a phrase echoed by Washington ahead of Tuesday's high-level talks in Havana.
"The meeting is the first step in what we expect to be a long and complex process, but the United States views the resolution of outstanding claims as a top priority for normalisation," said US State Department spokesman John Kirby.
The US delegation is led by State Department legal adviser Mary McLeod, said a statement from Washington.
News site Cubadebate said the Cuban claim included an additional $181 billion for "human damages" caused by the embargo, which the government in Havana calls a "blockade".
That would bring Cuba's total claim to more than $300 billion.
On the American side, the nearly 6,000 firms and individuals seeking compensation include Coca-Cola and oil giants Exxon and Texaco.
The talks come just before the first anniversary of the historic rapprochement announced by Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro last December 17.
The two countries have since reopened embassies in each other's capitals and announced a series of breakthroughs in talks on thawing their Cold War freeze.
But deeply divisive issues remain untouched, including the ongoing embargo and the future of the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay. — AFP