HAVANA TIMES – The Cuban economy took another hit this week as the United States opened the door to hundreds, if not thousands, of lawsuits against the island’s government and military that appropriated confiscated properties of who are now US citizens.
The bad news for Cuba comes on the heels of a near collapse of the government’s greatest political and economic ally, the Maduro government in Venezuela.
The Trump administration decision tightens the noose of the US embargo first applied to Cuba in 1960 and expanded in 1962. Then in 1996 a new law was passed to further strengthen the sanctions, but it has never been fully applied.
The opportunity to sue over confiscated properties is something many elderly Cuban-Americans and their descendants have been demanding for decades.
European and Canadian companies with investments in Cuba got a 45-day reprieve before their legal vulnerability in the US is decided in Washington.
“Title III of the 1996 Helms-Burton (Libertad) Act would let Americans — including Cubans who have since become U.S. citizens — sue companies that “traffic” in property confiscated by Cuba after the country’s 1959 revolution,” explains NPR.
“For now, the Trump administration is allowing lawsuits only against Cuban companies that are already blacklisted in the U.S. because they are tied to Cuba’s military and intelligence services. Foreign companies, however, are on edge since Pompeo’s waiver runs only through April 17,” NPR noted.
“Today I announce an exception to the 30-day suspension of #TitleIII of the Libertad Act,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote on Twitter, adding, “We must hold #Cuba accountable and make whole U.S. claimants for assets seized by the Cuban government. Doing business with Cuba is not worth trafficking in confiscated property.”
Title III has not taken effect before as it has been suspended by presidential decree every six months since it became law in 1996. Its lifting could bring on a huge amount of lawsuits and billions of dollars in court judgements. It could make funds of any future exports from Cuba to the US vulnerable to being seized to pay the court judgements.
If the law is fully applied as it could be after April 17, foreign companies or banks operating in buildings previously owned privately could be at risk as the suits would attempt to go after their assets in the United States.
Attorney Robert Muse gave to NPR some examples of vulnerability that the foreign companies could face. “If your grandfather had a sugar plantation expropriated in 1960 and someone is buying that sugar, dealing in the sugar, profiting from it, they can be deemed to be a trafficker, but also the government agency that oversees that sugar plantation today, say the Ministry of Agriculture, they can be sued,”
The State Department is supposedly consulting with its allies in Europe, Canada and elsewhere as part of the decision-making process, said NPR.