Stepping up pressure on Cuba, United States President Donald Trump is poised to allow lawsuits against foreign companies that have benefited from Cuba’s seizure of American companies after the 1959 revolution, a senior administration official said on Tuesday.
The move marks a change in more than two decades of US policy on Cuba.
The 1996 Helms-Burton Act gave Americans the right to sue companies profiting from properties that Cuba confiscated, but every US president since Bill Clinton has suspended the key clause – Title 3 – because of fears of alienating US allies and complicating relations with Cuba.
When the law was initially passed, it had been strongly opposed by the European Union, whose businesses have long-standing interests on the island and worried about the legal repercussions in US courts.
But Trump has been shifting sharply back to the former US effort of trying to weaken the Cuban government.
His predecessor, Barack Obama, normalised relations with Cuba, eased travel restrictions for Americans and himself visited Havana, saying that a half-century of US efforts to topple the regime had failed.
No more waivers
On Tuesday, the senior government official said going forward, there will be no more waivers. The official spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the official announcement.
The Trump administration had signaled plans to end the waivers. It’s taking the step in retaliation for Cuba’s support of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The US supports opposition leader Juan Guaido who declared himself Venezuela‘s interim president earlier this year, saying Maduro’s presidency was illegitimate.
National security adviser John Bolton is expected to discuss the new policy during a speech Wednesday 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 being delivered on the 58th anniversary of the United States’ failed 1961 invasion of the island, an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government.
The Cuban government did not immediately respond to a request for comment by Reuters news agency. But the country’s National Assembly, meeting over the weekend, declared the Helms-Burton Act “illegitimate, unenforceable and without legal effect”.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said in a speech on Saturday that the United States “has pushed the precarious relations with our country back to the worst level … trying to activate the hateful Helms-Burton Law, which aims to return us in principle to … when we were a slave nation of another empire.”
Among the foreign companies heavily invested in Cuba are Canadian mining firm Sherritt International Corp and Spain’s Melia Hotels International SA. US companies, including airlines and cruise companies, have forged business deals in Cuba since the easing of restrictions under Obama.
Defending the administration’s decision, the senior US official said allowing Cuba-related lawsuits would cause only a “bump” in the business world but would send a message of US resolve against Havana.
In addition to halting any further waivers, the administration will begin enforcement of Helms-Burton’s Title 4, which requires the denial of visas to and exclusion from the United States of those involved in “trafficking” confiscated properties in Cuba.