Stepping up pressure on Cuba, the administration of US President Donald Trump is to allow lawsuits against foreign companies doing business on properties seized from Americans after the island’s 1959 revolution, a senior administration official said.
The move marks a change in more than two decades of US policy on Cuba.
Trump has been taking steps to isolate embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who is holding power with help from other countries, including Cuba, China and Russia. The new policy against Havana could deal a severe blow to Cuba’s efforts to draw foreign investment, and spawn international trade disputes between the US and Europe.
The administration official who provided details of the shift spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of an official announcement yesterday by the US Department of State.
After that announcement, White House National Security Adviser John Bolton was expected to discuss the new policy during a midday speech in Miami, which is home to thousands of exiles and immigrants from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
The speech at the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association is to be delivered on the 58th anniversary of the US’ failed 1961 invasion of the island, an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government.
Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs Deputy Director of US Affairs Johana Tablada said on Twitter: “Before they climb euphoric at the crest of their dirty water wave, with evil purposes & lies, here is a touch of reality. What the #World truly asked #JohnBolton & #UnitedStates gov., very recently, in #NewYork was to remove its criminal #Blockade & #HelmsBurton against #Cuba”
The 1996 Helms-Burton Act gave Americans the right to sue the mostly European companies that operate out of hotels, tobacco factories, distilleries and other properties that Cuba nationalized after former Cuban president Fidel Castro took power. The act even allows lawsuits by Cubans who became US citizens years after their properties were taken.
Canada, France, Spain, the UK and other countries with large investments in Cuba have ferociously protested the law and threatened to sue in the WTO if Washington tries to interfere with the business ties between Cuba and another sovereign nation.
“The extraterritorial application of the US embargo is illegal and violates international law,” EU Ambassador to Cuba Alberto Navarro said. “I personally consider it immoral. For 60 years the only thing that’s resulted from the embargo is the suffering of the Cuban people.”
US airlines and cruise lines that transport hundreds of thousands of travelers to Cuba each year appear to be exempt from the key provision of the Helms-Burton Act.
Every US leader since former US president Bill Clinton has suspended the key clause to avoid those trade clashes and a potential mass of lawsuits that would prevent any future settlement with Cuba over nationalized properties.
Cuba has said that it is willing to reimburse the owners of confiscated properties, but only if the communist government is also reimbursed for billions of dollars in damages generated by the six-decade US trade embargo.
The announcement comes at a moment of severe economic weakness for Cuba, which is struggling to find enough cash to import basic food and other supplies following a drop in aid from Venezuela, and a string of bad years in other key economic sectors.
Foreign investment in Cuba increased slightly in the past few years, but it remains far below the levels needed to recapitalize the island’s dilapidated, often collapsing infrastructure.
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