Do Cubans Really Know the Helms-Burton Act?

By Vicente Morin Aguado

Improvised chess table. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES – It was recently announced that the waiver on Title III of the Helms-Burton Act will be lifted, which is extremely controversial because it allows US citizens to file lawsuits on their property that was confiscated and nationalized by the budding Cuban Revolution.

This action of toughening down on the US’ embargo received the same response it always has from the Cuban government: we continue the struggle; nothing has changed here.

The “Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Freedom) Act”, the official name of Helms Burton, was signed by President Clinton in 1996. Even though the governments of the two countries appear to be locked in a never-ending battle, their citizens have forged ties over many decades that sidestep politics.

The Cuban government has outrightly rejected what it considers to be a meddling legal regulation, and people on the Island are repeating ingrained phases in the many interviews that are being broadcast by the state-controlled media. “They’re coming to take everything away, they’ll take away our homes, schools, hospitals, it’s been 60 years, we can’t let this happen…”

These answers just go to prove that the Cuban people haven’t read the Helms-Burton Act. The Party/State system has skillfully handpicked fragments from the text that it believes best suits its propaganda, without giving citizens the opportunity to know everything that the US Congress voted on. This technique of transmitting biased information is common practice for the Cuban government.

The legal text doesn’t include a single sentence that refers to property being used for social purposes, nor does it threaten to take away the limited property or usufruct from those who live in multi-family buildings that existed before the Revolution. If you read the Act, you’ll see that this is the case, as it clearly specifies which kinds of property are subject to claims:

“A person “traffics” in confiscated  property if that person knowingly and intentionally: (i)(I) transfers, distributes, dispenses, brokers, or otherwise disposes of confiscated property, (II) purchases, receives, obtains control of, or otherwise acquires confiscated property, or (III) improves (other than for routine maintenance), invests in (by contribution of funds or  anything of value, other than for routine maintenance), or begins after the date of the enactment  of this Act to manage, lease, possess, use, or hold an interest in confiscated property, (ii) enters into a commercial arrangement using or otherwise benefiting from confiscated  property, or (iii) causes, directs, participates in, or profits from, trafficking (as described in clause (i) or (ii)) by  another person, or otherwise engages in trafficking (as described in clause (i) or (ii)) through  another person, without the authorization of any United States national who holds a claim to the property. (Section 401, Chapter IV)

Does a hospital fit into this definition? No. Likewise, it doesn’t refer to a Sports Center or a Day-Care Center either. However, the Hotel Capri and Nico Lopez oil refinery do fall under this concept.

The Helms-Burton Act has well-known objectives, to influence in the change that the US government promotes for Cuba, which is also the wish of many Cubans, although it’s difficult to know how many exactly because those who live on the island don’t have the freedom to express themselves. This freedom is precisely one of the changes the US says it is hoping for.  

It’s important to note that the Act is temporary in nature, it serves as a mechanism to place pressure on the Cuban government, the lawsuits would never end up being applied. The condition it lays out is the end of the ruling socialist totalitarian system of government:

“(I)In general.–All rights created under this section to bring an action for money damages with  respect to property confiscated by the Cuban Government–shall cease upon transmittal to the Congress of a determination of the President under section 203(c)(3) that a democratically elected government in Cuba is in power.” (Section 302)

This would lead to a definitive termination which includes the end of the embargo:

“If the President takes action under subsection (a) to suspend the economic embargo of Cuba, the President shall immediately so notify the Congress. The President shall report to the Congress no less frequently than every 6 months thereafter, until he submits a determination  under section 203(c)(3) that a democratically elected government in Cuba is in power, on the progress being made by Cuba toward the establishment of such a democratically elected government.” (Section 204, Title II)

There’s still a lot to say, the efficacy of beginning a long and controversial process of lawsuits for properties confiscated 60 years ago is going to be felt.

The application of Title III directly marks foreign investors who have profited off properties that are being claimed in the US, which is facing opposition from these investors’ governments (mainly in Europe and Canada) as is to be expected.

They don’t seem too worried in Revolution Square for now, it’s normal for there to be hoo-ha in politics, but how this legislation is actually implemented is another story. For better or worse, for many Cubans, life carries on the same as always.
Vicente Morin Aguado:  [email protected]

6 thoughts on “Do Cubans Really Know the Helms-Burton Act?

  • To your comment about those who have read Helms-Burton Bob, you should add the same about the US Cuban Democracy Act. Other than the usual communist supporters, few would disagree with its sentiments and declared objectives. But it clearly failed in its objectives and the US if wise, would have recognized that and reviewed their options.
    I repeat my long held view that the embargo merely serves as a useful whipping boy for the Castro communist regime, and I think that because of that, they would actually hate to lose it! Dragging out the dead cat resolution at the UN being merely a somewhat cynical ploy.

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