Another Two Week Suspension of Title III of the Helms Burton Act

On April 3, the U.S. Department of State stated, “Today, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo announced his decision to continue for two weeks, from April 18 through May 1, 2019, the current suspension with an exception of the right to bring an action under Title III of the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act. The current suspension expires April 17.” The statement also noted that the  Suspension does not apply to: the “right to bring an action against a Cuban entity or sub-entity identified by name on the State Department’s List of Restricted Entities and Sub-entities Associated with Cuba (known as the Cuba Restricted List), as may be updated from time to time.“ [1]

The Department’s statement added, “The Department continues to examine human rights conditions in Cuba, including ongoing repression of the rights of the Cuban people to free speech, free expression and free assembly. The Department is also monitoring Cuba’s continued military, security, and intelligence support to Nicolas Maduro, who is responsible for repression, violence, and a man-made humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.” Therefore, “We encourage any person doing business in Cuba to reconsider whether they are trafficking in confiscated property and abetting the Cuban dictatorship.”

Comments at U.S. Reception Honoring NATO

Perhaps this U.S. statement was made at this time because the U.S. was hosting a celebration of NATO’s 70th anniversary with representatives of other NATO members, many of whom object to the prospect of U.S. litigation against foreign firms for using Cuban property formerly owned by U.S. nationals. [2]

One prominent spokesman of such objections was Spain’s Foreign Minister Joseph Borrell, who said his country “has told the U.S. administration that Spain is concerned about Washington’s potential decision to allow U.S. citizens to sue foreign firms doing business in Cuba.” The Spanish message included “its firm rejection, as a matter of principle, to the extraterritorial application of national sanction laws, considering it contrary to international law,” This was the Foreign Minister’s message on April 1 to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and on April 3 to U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton.[3]

Canadian Foreign Minister Cryslia Freeland also met with Secretary Pompeo on this occasion and told him that “the Government of Canada will defend the interests of Canadians conducting legitimate trade and investment with Cuba, if the United States enforces Title III of the Helms-Burton Act.” [4]

 Cuba’s Reactions [5]

After the announcement of the new two-week suspension, Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez issued the following two tweets:

  • The first said (per Google Translate), “I reject the announcement of . . . [Secretary Pompeo] about #HelmsBurton law, an aberration that should never have existed. [It] violates International Law, damages all #Cuba, each family. 191 countries claim to be eliminated in its entirety. US aggression against #Venezuela must cease without further pretexts.” ·
  • The second (again per Google Translate) said the following: “The Helms-Burton Act is not applicable in #Cuba or against Cubans or foreigners. It’s “Monroeist” [Monroe Doctrine] domination purpose arouses the overwhelming rejection of the international community. The new measures are isolating the #US even more. They will fail to achieve their goals.”

Cuba’s President, Miguel Díaz=Canel, also tweeted on this development. He said (per Google Translate): “We reject the #EEUU announcement on #HelmsBurton law. They persist in the threats, with arrogance they pose a genocidal law that violates International Law, condemns #Cuba and Cuban families. 191 countries demand [in U.N. General Assembly] that it be eliminated in its entirety. #SomosCuba”

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[1] State Dep’t, Secretary Pompeo Extends for Two Weeks Title III Suspension with an Exception (LIBERTAD Act) (April 3, 2019).

[2] State Dep’t, Remarks at the Reception to Celebrate NATO’s 70th Anniversary (April 3, 2019); State Dep’t, Briefing on the Upcoming NATO Ministerial (April 2, 2019).

[3] Reuters, Spain Rejects Possible U.S. Lawsuits Against Foreign Firms in Cuba, N.Y. Times (April 3, 2019); Guimōn,  The US repeals and prolongs the suspension of a law that would toughen the embargo on Cuba, El Paīs (April 3, 2019).

[4] Gomez,  Canada will defend its investments in Cuba if the United States applies title III of Helms-Burton, CubaDebate (April 4, 2019); Readout of Foreign Affairs Minister’s meeting with U.S. Secretary of State, Global Affairs Canada (April 4, 2019).

[5] Havana rejects the new partial suspension of the Helms-Burton, DiariodeCuba (April 4, 2019).

 

 

U.S. Authorizes U.S. Litigation Against Entities on Cuba Restricted List

On January 16, 2019, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo extended for 45 days the right to bring certain lawsuits in U.S. federal courts  by Americans who owned property in Cuba that was confiscated by its government. The stated reasons for this 45-day extension, instead of the long-standing practice of granting six-month extensions was to “permit us to conduct a careful review of the right to bring action under Title III [of the Helms-Burton or LIBERTAD Act] in light of the national interests of the United States and efforts to expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba and include factors such as the Cuban regime’s brutal oppression of human rights and fundamental freedoms and its indefensible support for increasingly authoritarian and corrupt regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua.”  [1]

Secretary Pompeo’s New Statement [2]

On March 3, Secretary Pompeo issued another statement on this subject with two parts.

The first part granted “an additional suspension for 30 days through April 17, 2019, of the right to bring an action under Title III [of this federal statute as] necessary to the national interests of the United States and will expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba.” with the below exception. Beginning March 19, suspension shall not apply to:

The second part of this statement, however, contained an exception to this further suspension. Beginning March 19, this suspension will not apply to the “right to bring an action against a Cuban entity or sub-entity identified by name on the State Department’s List of Restricted Entities and Sub-entities Associated with Cuba (known as the Cuba Restricted List), as may be updated from time to time.” This exception protects, for now any foreign firm from such U.S. litigation.

The Cuba Restricted List [3]

This statement explained that the “Cuba Restricted List identifies entities and sub-entities under the control of Cuban military, intelligence, or security services. These security services are directly responsible for the repression of the Cuban people. We encourage any person doing business in Cuba to reconsider whether they are trafficking in confiscated property and abetting the Cuban dictatorship.”

The first such Restricted List was promulgated by the State Department in November 2017,, with a list of 180 entities and subentities that the Department had determined were owned or controlled by “the large military-run corporations that dominate the Cuban economy. These include GAESA and CIMEX, the holding companies that control most retail business on the island; Gaviota, the largest tourism company; and Habaguanex, the firm that runs Old Havana.

This list was amplified on November 14,  2018, with the addition of 26 subentities. According to the State Department, “direct financial transactions [by U.S. nationals] with these entities are generally prohibited because they would disproportionately benefit those entities or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba.”

Cuba’s Reaction  [4]

Also on March 4 the Cuba’s foreign Ministry issued the following lengthy rejection of this U.S. move:

  • “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejects in the strongest terms the new escalation in the US aggressive behavior against Cuba.”
  • “Since its entry into force in 1996, the Helms-Burton Act has sought to universalize the economic blockade through brutal and illegal pressures exerted by the United States against third countries, their governments and companies.  It is intended to suffocate the Cuban economy and generate or increase shortages among the population with the purpose of imposing in Cuba a government that serves the interests of the US.”
  • “Given the illegitimate character of the goals they pursue, which are contrary to International Law, the Helms-Burton Act and the blockade arouse universal rejection, which has been reiterated for almost three decades at the most important regional and international fora.  The most recent example of that was the United Nations General Assembly meeting held on November 1, [2018] when said policy was rejected through 10 consecutive votes, thus leaving the US in complete isolation.”
  • “Title II of the Helms-Burton Act states that the overthrowing of the revolutionary government, the subsequent tutelage by a US intervenor and the ultimate establishment of a counterrevolutionary government subordinated to Washington would unequivocally pursue the return or compensation to former owners for all the properties they or their descendants might claim, regardless of whether or not they were US citizens at the moment when nationalizations took place or the fact that they abandoned them. During all that period, the economic blockade would continue to be fully implemented.”
  • “Consequently, Cubans would be forced to return, reimburse or pay to US claimants for the house where they live, the area on which their communities are built, the arable land  where they farm  their products, the school where their children are educated, the hospital or polyclinic where  they receive medical assistance, the place where their workplace is located or where they have a private business, and also for subsidized services such as electricity, water, and communications enjoyed by the population.”
  • “This is an aspiration that can only be conceived by the minds of those who identify Cuba s a colonial possession.  According to the Helms-Burton Act, the economic blockade would be lifted only when that ambition is fulfilled.”
  • “This law relies on two fundamental lies: the notion that nationalizations carried out soon after the triumph of the Revolutionary were illegitimate or inappropriate and that Cuba is a threat to the US national security.”
  • “Cuban nationalizations were carried out in accordance with the law, strictly abiding by the Constitution and in conformity with International Law. All nationalizations included processes of fair and appropriate compensation, something that the US government refused to consider.  Cuba reached and honored global compensation agreements with other nations which are today investing in Cuba, such as Spain, Switzerland, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany and France.”
  • The real threat against regional peace and security are the irresponsible declarations and actions of the US government as well as the destabilizing plans against Latin America and the Caribbean aimed at pursuing the stated purpose of imposing the Monroe Doctrine.”
  • [Cuba’s] Reaffirmation of   Cuban Dignity and Sovereignty Act of December 24, 1996, states that the Helms-Burton Act is illegal, inapplicable and has no legal value or effect whatsoever. It considers null and void any claim under that law by any natural or juridical person.”
  • “According to that [Cuban] law, claims for compensation for nationalized properties could be part of a process of negotiation on the based on equality, mutual respect between the governments of Cuba and the United States, and be “reviewed together with the indemnifications the Cuban State and people are entitled to as a result of the damages caused by the blockade and   aggressions of every sort, of which the US government is responsible”. It also makes it clear that those who resort to procedures or mechanisms under the Helms-Burton Act to the detriment of others shall be excluded from possible future negotiations.”
  • “The Cuban Government reiterates to all economic partners and foreign companies operating in Cuba that full guarantees will be granted to foreign investments and joint projects. Article 28 of the Cuban Constitution, which was ratified by an overwhelming majority on February 24, 2019, also recognizes those guarantees, which are also included in [Cuban] Law No. 118 on Foreign Investments of March 29, 2014.”
  • “Today’s [U.S.] decision imposes additional obstacles to our economic development and progress goals, but the United States will keep on failing to achieve its main purpose of submitting by force the sovereign will of Cubans and our determination to build socialism. The majority feelings of the peoples of Cuba and the United States in favor of improving relations and establishing a civilized and respectful coexistence shall prevail.”

Other Reactions

John Bolton, U.S. National Security Advisor commented the same day in the following tweet: “Cuba’s role in usurping democracy and fomenting repression in Venezuela is clear. That’s why the U.S. will continue to tighten financial restrictions on Cuba’s military and intel services. The region’s democracies should condemn the Cuba regime.”

Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) had a similar tweet: “Today expect the United States to take the first in a series of steps to hold the regime in #Cuba accountable for its 60 years of crimes & illegality which includes its support for the murderous #MaduroCrimeFamily. Justice is coming. And more to come.”

Rubio also joined with U.S. Senator Rick Scott (Rep., FL) and U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL) in issuing the following lengthier statement supporting this Trump Administration move. [5]

Senator Rubio made the initial comments of the Press Release,“‘President Trump is sending a strong message that the United States will not sit idly by while the Cuban regime continues to support the Maduro crime family at the expense of the Venezuelan people,’ Rubio said. ‘For 60 years, the Cuban regime has forced millions into exile, destabilized neighboring countries, given safe harbor to fugitives from justice and to international terrorists, and made millions trafficking in stolen property. By beginning the process of implementing Title III of the Helms-Burton Libertad Act, the United States is holding the Cuban regime accountable for its crimes, including its support for the murderous Maduro crime family. Justice is coming — and it is just getting started.’”

Senator Scott added, “The Administration’s plan to fully and immediately implement Title III and IV of the Libertad Act signals to the international community that the United States is serious about its commitment to freedom and democracy in Cuba. Allowing American citizens to sue for stolen property in Cuba and denying foreign nationals involved in trafficking stolen property entry into the United States is a huge step toward cutting off the money supply to the Castro Regime. It is clear that where we see instability, chaos and violence in Latin America, we also see the fingerprints of the Castro regime and their money – and this action by the administration is an important step in stabilizing the entire region. President Trump’s strong action on the Libertad Act will further hold the Cuban regime accountable. I urge him to continue with the planned implementation this month so we can help begin a new day of freedom and democracy for Cuba and its people.”

Representative Diaz-Balart stated, “Today, the Trump Administration took another important step toward righting some of the wrongs perpetrated by a dictatorship that brutally oppresses its people and opposes U.S. interests at every opportunity. Shamefully, for nearly twenty-two years since the LIBERTAD Act’s enactment, unscrupulous businesses have ignored this important provision in U.S. law and have chosen to partner with tyrants. This is just the first action of many regarding the Administration’s actions on Title III. Justice for the victims of the Castro regime’s confiscations is long overdue. Years of consecutive extensions may have lulled some into a false sense of impunity. Yet now companies which willingly entangle themselves in partnerships with the anti-American, illegitimate, and oppressive regime in Cuba are on notice that they will be held responsible for their part in callously benefiting from the extensive losses suffered by victims of the regime. I will continue to work with the Administration, Senator Rubio, and my congressional colleagues to ensure the United States continues to pressure the Castro regime and move forward with the full implementation of Title III.”

 Conclusion

This U.S. announcement may have only symbolic significance.

First, according to the Associated Press, “virtually none of the businesses [on the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List has] . . . any links to the U.S. legal or financial systems, meaning the ability to sue [in the U.S.] is unlikely to have any effect on the Cuban economy or foreign businesses that work with the socialist government.” In lawyer’s language, any lawsuit in a U.S. court against an entity on the Cuba Restricted List should be subject to a very strong objection for lack of personal jurisdiction over the Cuban entity, meaning any such case very likely would be dismissed at the commencement of the case. [6]

Second, another potential defense to a U.S. lawsuit might be sovereign immunity.

Third, it would be insane for any U.S. claimant to sue any of the Cuban entities in a Cuban court, which would throw out any such case and perhaps impose some penalty on the claimant for bringing such a case.

Fourth, if any of the Cuban entities are present in other countries of the world, a lawsuit there by a U.S. claimant presumably would not be subject to a lack of personal jurisdiction defense, but other defenses might be available plus other countries’ possible hostility to the overall purposes of the Helms-Burton Act and U.S. policies towards Cuba.

Finally Cuba correctly observes that it recognizes that it has an international legal obligation to compensate foreign owners of expropriated property and that it has settled many (all?) such claims by non-U.S. persons. Moreover, under the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement in 2015-16 the two counties had discussions about the U.S. claims although the details have not been publicly released. A major impediment to such a negotiated settlement is Cuba’s lack of financial resources for such payments. Therefore, this blogger has suggested in another post that the only realistic result is for the two countries to reach an overall settlement, including Cuba’s claims against the U..S., which would have the net effect of the U.S. government’s paying the U.S. claims for expropriated property,   =================================

[1] Update on Trump Administration’s Threat To Allow U.S. Litigation Over Cuba’s Expropriated Property, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 30, 2019).

[2] State Dep’t, Secretary Enacts 30-Day Suspension of Title III (LIBERTAD Act) With an Exception (Mar. 3, 2019); Reuters, Foreign Partners Excluded From U.S. Lawsuits Against Cuban Firms: Official, N.Y. times (Mar. 4, 2019). 

[3] New Restrictions on U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Certain Cuban Entities, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 8, 2017);More Cuban Businesses Forbidden to U.S. Visitors, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 16, 2018).

[4] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Declaration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Cuba Strongly Rejects New Aggressive Escalation by the United States (Mar. 4, 2019).

[5] Press Release: Rubio, Scott, & Diaz-Balart Commend Trump Administration’s Decision to Hold the Communist Cuban Regime Accountable for Crimes (Mar. 4, 2019).

[6] Assoc. Press, Trump Symbolically Tightens Embargo on Cuba, N.Y. Times (Mar. 4, 2019). See The Personal Jurisdiction Requirement for Civil Lawsuits in U.S. Courts, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 8, 2011).

Professor LeoGrande’s Argument Against U.S. Litigation Over Cuban Expropriated Property

Senator Patrick Leahy in his lengthy February 15 speech on the Senate floor, which was repeated in a prior post, had appended to his remarks an article about Cuba by a noted U.S. expert on the country, Professor William L. LeoGrande of American University. Here is the text of that article, “President Trump Risks Alienating Allies Over Cuban American Property Claims” from OnCubaNews (2/13/19).

“The Trump administration is seriously considering whether to allow Title III of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (Helms-Burton) to go into effect in March, according to National Security Adviser John Bolton. On January 16, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that he was suspending Title III for just 45 days instead of the usual six months while the administration reviews whether its implementation would promote democracy in Cuba. He warned foreign companies doing business on the island that they had better ‘reconsider whether they are trafficking in confiscated property and abetting this dictatorship.’”

“Title III allows U.S. nationals to file suit in U.S. courts against anyone ‘trafficking’ in their confiscated property in Cuba—that is, anyone profiting from it. If President Trump allows Title III to go fully into effect, he will open the door to as many as 200,000 law suits by U.S. nationals, most of them Cuban Americans, whose property was taken by the Cuban government after 1959. U.S. courts would be swamped, the ability of U.S. companies to do business on the island would be crippled, and allies abroad might retaliate for U.S. suits brought against their companies in Cuba. Once the suits have been filed, there will be no way to undo the resulting legal chaos and the tangle of resulting litigation could take years to unwind.”

“The U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission has certified 5,913 claims of U.S. nationals whose property was seized. These are the claims that Cuba recognizes and that the United States and Cuba had begun to discuss during the Obama administration. But Title III takes the unusual position of allowing naturalized Cuban Americans who lost property to also file suit against alleged traffickers. Normally, international law recognizes the sovereign right of governments to dispose of the property of their own citizens. According to the Department of State, by including Cuban Americans who were not U.S. citizens when their property was taken, Title III creates the potential for an estimated 75,000-200,000 claims worth ‘tens of billions of dollars.’”

“Back in 1996, when the law was being debated in Congress, angry opposition from U.S. allies Canada, Mexico, and the European Union, whose companies doing business in Cuba would be the targets of Title III law suits, led President Bill Clinton to insist on a presidential waiver provision in Title III. As a result, the president has the authority to suspend for six months the right to file Title III law suits, and he can renew that suspension indefinitely. Every six months since the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act was passed, successive presidents, Democrat and Republican alike, have continued the suspension of Title III.”

“U.S. allies have denounced Title III’s extraterritorial reach. Mexico, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union all passed laws prohibiting compliance with it. The European Union also filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization, which it did not pursue after President Clinton suspended Title III. In fact, the principal justification both President Clinton and President George W. Bush offered for continuing the suspension was the need to maintain cooperation with European allies.”

“If President Trump does not renew the suspension, all these old wounds with allies will be reopened as U.S. claimants try to haul foreign companies into U.S. courts for doing business in Cuba. We already have enough tough issues on our agenda with Mexico, Canada, and Europe without adding another one. At this very moment, Washington is trying to muster their support in dealing with the Venezuelan crisis, support that could be endangered if the administration picks a fight with them over Title III.”

“U.S. businesses would not be exempt from potential liability. A Cuban American family in Miami claims to have owned the land on which José Martí International Airport was built, so any U.S. carrier using the air field could conceivably be sued under Title III. Another family that owned the Port of Santiago could file suit against U.S. cruise ships docking there.”

“Moreover, it would be almost impossible for a U.S. or foreign company to know in advance whether a proposed business opportunity in Cuba might become the subject of Title III litigation. “This will effectively end for decades any attempt to restore trade between the U.S. and Cuba,” attorney Robert Muse told the Tampa Bay Times.”

“When President Trump announced new sanctions on Cuba back in June 2017, senior administration officials said they were designed “to not disrupt existing business” that U.S. companies were doing in Cuba. If the president fails to continue the suspension of Title III, business relations will be disrupted far more severely and irreparably than they would be by any regulatory change.”

==============================

Leahy, Statement of Senator Leahy On the Freedom To Export To Cuba Act (Feb. 15, 2019); LeoGrande, Trump and Cuban-American property claims, OnCubaNews (Feb. 11, 2019). See also President Trump Considering Another Hostile Action Against Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 18, 2019); Update on Trump Administration’s Threat To Allow U.S. Litigation Over Cuba’s Expropriated Property, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 30, 2019).

Senator Leahy’s Senate Floor Speech To End Embargo of Cuba

As mentioned in a prior post, on February 7, Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) introduced the Freedom To Export to Cuba Act (S.428) with cosponsors Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and Michael Enzi (Rep., WY)./

On February 15, Senator Leahy delivered a lengthy and persuasive speech on the Senate floor supporting this bill and ending the embargo. Here is the text of that speech.

After commending Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) for introducing this bill and urging other Senators to support the bill,, Senator Leahy said, “This bill is about ending the anachronistic prohibitions in U.S. law that for decades have limited U.S. engagement with Cuba, including preventing American companies from exporting their products to Cuba.  The fact that legislation to do so is even necessary is illustrative of the absurdity of the situation in which we find ourselves.  Companies from Europe, Russia, China, Mexico, and every other country can sell their products to Cuba, which is just 90 miles from our coast, but American manufacturers and retailers are largely shut out of the Cuban market. . . . This bill would enable American companies to compete, which every believer in a free market should support.”

“It is also important for Senators to know that punitive actions by the Trump Administration last year to further restrict the right of Americans to travel to Cuba have had devastating consequences for Cuba’s fledgling private sector – the very people the White House and supporters of the restrictions profess to want to help.  The fact that they have said nothing about the harm they are causing Cuba’s struggling entrepreneurs demonstrates that they care more about continuing their failed policy of sanctions, regardless of who they hurt, than about helping the Cuban people or about protecting the right of Americans to travel freely.” 

“The latest ill-conceived attempt by the White House to punish Cuba would permit Title III of the Helms-Burton Act to go into effect.  This would allow, among others, individuals who were Cuban citizens when their property in Cuba was expropriated half a century ago to sue in U.S. courts any Cuban, foreign, and even American company whose business in Cuba today uses that property.  That could be an airport, port, warehouse, hotel, restaurant, you name it.  Virtually every American and foreign company investing in Cuba would suddenly be liable for treble damages.”

“The purpose, as the law’s authors made clear when it was enacted 23 years ago, is to harm Cuba’s economy by making it completely inhospitable for foreign investment.”

“As my friend in the House, Representative Jim McGovern (Dem., MA), has pointed out –

  • ‘It’s no mystery why Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump blocked Title III from going into effect every six months for the past 23 years.’
  • ‘It is hypocritical – it penalizes companies for doing what American companies do all over the world.’
  • It is contrary to international law, which recognizes the right of expropriation and requires compensation.’
  • ‘It is an extraterritorial sanction that guarantees a response from our trading partners, like Canada, Spain and the EU, including complaints at the World Trade Organization.’
  • ‘And if you care about agriculture, be warned: It will open a new front in the trade war, with all the repercussions that can bring.’
  • ‘It will allow Cuba to claim victim status and rally international support.’
  • ‘It will clog our courts with lawsuits.’
  • ‘It will make it impossible to negotiate compensation for U.S. claims in Cuba, and, in the end, hurt the very Americans who seek compensation for the property they lost.’
  • ‘It will divide us from friends and allies who are now working for a peaceful solution in Venezuela.’
  • ‘And it will guarantee that new investment in Cuba will come from the Russians, Chinese and others who are hostile to the United States, and whose state-owned companies can’t be sued in U.S. courts.’

“I agree with my friend in the other body [Rep. McGovern].  What the White House is considering would trigger an avalanche of unintended consequences that would bring U.S. commerce with Cuba to a halt, harm relations with our allies in this hemisphere and beyond, and make resolving property claims more difficult.  I ask unanimous consent that a piece by William LeoGrande on Title III of the Helms-Burton Act published in the February 13, 2019 issue of OnCubaNews be printed in the Record following my remarks.” [This article will be published in a separate post to this blog.]

Like “many issues, Members of Congress have strong feelings pro and con about U.S. relations with Cuba.  It is no secret that, after more than half a century of a policy of isolation that has achieved none of its objectives and primarily hurt the Cuban people, I, like Senators Klobuchar and Enzi and many others in this body, favor closer relations.”

“Conversely, there are those in Congress and the Trump Administration who believe strongly that we should ratchet up the pressure on the Cuban government in an attempt to achieve those elusive goals.”

“I have often spoken publicly about the lack of political freedom and civil liberties in Cuba.  But I also think it is important to try to be objective:  to criticize when called for and to acknowledge positive changes when they occur.”

“I recognize that those who favor maintaining the failed economic embargo have a longstanding, visceral antagonism and resentment toward the Cuban government.  While they rarely, if ever, mention the corrupt and brutal Batista regime that enjoyed unqualified U.S. support until it was overthrown in 1959, they have legitimate reasons to criticize the mistreatment of the Cuban people by the current government and its support for the corrupt and repressive Maduro regime in Venezuela.”

“But they too should acknowledge that threatening and bullying Cuba has not worked.  In fact it has made the situation worse, and provided an excuse for the Cuban government to blame its own failures on us.  They should also acknowledge positive changes in Cuba, but they never do.  Not ever.  It is almost as if they are psychologically, ideologically, or emotionally incapable of saying one positive thing about the Cuban government, no matter what positive things it does.”   

“Perhaps they are afraid that if they did, they would alienate their donors in the Cuban-American community.  Of course, we know that Cuban-Americans are divided about the U.S. embargo.  Some are hardcore believers in the embargo, and they always will be.  But at least as many – and increasing numbers – oppose the embargo, especially those who were born after the Cuban revolution.” 

“I wonder what the pro-embargo isolationists would say if the Cuban government were to stop harassing and abusing dissidents who favor a more democratic system.  Would those who oppose the embargo say anything positive?” 

“What if the Cuban government decided to embrace a free market economy and let private businesses flourish?  Would those who oppose the embargo say anything positive?”

“I doubt it.  I doubt it because no matter what positive reforms occur in Cuba, they will continue to defend the embargo until Cuba is a full-fledged democracy and those who currently hold power either die or are voted out of office.” 

“We all want Cuba to become a democracy, where civil and political rights are respected, and the sooner the better.  But those same defenders of the embargo support billions of dollars in U.S. aid – and weapons sales – to countries that are led by authoritarian, brutal, and corrupt dictatorships and monarchies, some of which have held power for decades or generations.”    

“How do the pro-embargo diehards reconcile that?  They don’t and they can’t.”

“The fact is, Cuba is changing.  Not nearly as fast as we and the Cuban people would like, but it is changing in ways that few would have predicted not very long ago.”

“Last year, Raul Castro’s hand-picked successor, Miguel Diaz-Canel, became President and he promised a government more accessible and responsive to the people’s needs.  How he delivers on that promise remains to be seen.”   

“Since 2010, after the Cuban government recognized that the Internet is essential if Cuba wants to be part of the modern world, Internet access has exploded.  The government has opened hundreds of public Wi-Fi hot spots and cyber cafes in the past five years, and home Internet access became legal and available in 2017.  Today, almost half of the Cuban people have personal cell phones that were illegal just a decade ago.”

“As others have pointed out, these changes have encouraged new forms of communication, networking and organizing via social media.”

“But change does not come easily in Cuba, as it does not in many countries.  Last July, the government announced onerous new regulations on the private sector, covering a wide range of issues:  food safety, labor contracts, procurement, taxation, limits on the size of private businesses.  The new rules were an attempt by hardliners to crack down on the private sector, which was criticized for black marketeering.”

“But private entrepreneurs resisted, and they challenged the regulations as contradictory to the government’s own plans that recognizes the private sector as important to economic growth and employment. They appealed to government officials and spoke publicly about the harm the new rules would have on their businesses.”

“When the final regulations were issued, several that had caused the most resentment were dropped.  According to the Minister of Labor and Social Security, the decision to revise the rules was due to ‘the opinion and experiences of those directly involved.’”

“The government also retreated on a new law – Decree 349 – requiring artists, musicians and performers to register with the state and pay a large commission on their earnings from private engagements, and it banned work with objectionable content and empowered inspectors to shut down any offensive exhibition or performance.  Clearly, an attempt to further limit free expression.”

“Since the 1980s, Cuban artists have had more freedom to be critical of the government than other social sectors, and so it was not surprising that Decree 349 ignited widespread protests.  After social media was used to mobilize opposition within the Cuban arts community and among artists abroad, the government agreed not to enforce the law until implementing regulations are drafted in consultation with the arts community.”

“According to one observer, ‘during [the latter half of last year], nearly 8.9 million Cubans debated the draft of a new constitution in their workplaces, neighborhoods and schools.  Communist Party members were told not to argue with even the most radical proposals for amendments, and the ensuing debates were freewheeling, often lasting past their scheduled time.  Among the main topics: whether the president and state governors should be directly elected by voters; whether the concentration of wealth and property should be allowed; whether term limits and age limits for leaders were a good idea; and whether the Communist Party should be subordinated to the constitution and hence the law.”  Not long ago it would have been unthinkable to openly debate these issues, especially as part of a constitutional reform process.”

“One article that attracted intense debate recognized same-sex marriage, and was promoted by Raul Castro’s daughter, a long-time activist for LGBTQ rights. The proposal sparked strong opposition from evangelical churches supported by the Catholic Church.  Gay rights advocates countered with campaigns of their own.  The chance of a significant ‘no’ vote on the entire constitutional reform led the government to drop the provision from the final draft of the constitution with a pledge to consider it later.”

“This surge in mobilization by well-organized constituencies utilizing social media to resist government policy, from burdensome private sector regulations to gay marriage, is unprecedented in Cuba.  The government’s willingness to not only tolerate these organized challenges but to change policies in response to them, is significant. “   

“As has been noted, none of these issues dealt with the rigid structure of the Cuban system.  Cuba remains a one party state, in which those who challenge the system are treated as criminals.  But the precedent of organized interest groups mounting successful campaigns to challenge and change government policy is now established, which is positive.” 

“None of the longstanding critics of the Cuban government in the U.S. Congress or the Cuban-American community [has] acknowledged any of this, nor are they likely too.  For them, anything less than a wholesale change of government in Cuba is unworthy of mention, even though they apply a very different standard – a double standard – to other authoritarian governments.  In fact, they would ridicule anyone who regards such changes as positive or worthy of recognition.”

“As we know from our own experience, political reform is difficult.  Our own Electoral College, an anachronism designed to protect a slave-holding minority, remains in effect more than two centuries later.  Five times, in the world’s oldest democracy, it has prevented the winner of the most popular votes from being elected president.”  

“The Cuban people want to live better and they want a lot less government control over their lives.  Armed with cell phones and the Internet they are going to make increasing demands of their government.  This is happening at a time when Venezuela’s economy is collapsing and the survival of the Maduro regime, Cuba’s closest ally in the hemisphere, is in question.  Not surprisingly, the Cuban government is trying to limit the pace of change and to secure other benefactors.  It is turning increasingly to Russia, Algeria, Iran and other countries that welcome the chance to challenge U.S. influence in this hemisphere.” 

“This is a time for the United States to be actively and visibly engaged in Cuba, for Americans to be traveling to Cuba, for expanding educational, cultural, and professional exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, and for American companies to be competing in Cuba.  It is not a time to return to a failed policy of threats and ultimatums, driven by domestic politics rather than by what is in our national interests.”

“That is why I am cosponsoring the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act.  And it is why I intend to support other bipartisan legislation to replace our failed Cuba policy with one that serves America’s interests, not the interests of a shrinking minority, and not the interests of Russia and other countries that are reaping the economic benefits of our self-defeating policy of isolation.”

Reaction

I concur in the rationale and conclusion of this speech: end the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

While I believe there is valid documentation of the Senator’s assertion that Cuba has limits on free speech and assembly, he views this in isolation from Cuba’s situation. Cuba is a small country facing the vastly larger and more powerful  U.S., which for many years has had various hostile policies and actions against Cuba, including secret and undercover so-called “democracy promotion” programs on the island. In that context, it should be easy to understand why Cuba is concerned about dissidents and free speech and assembly.  Accordingly reliable U.S. assertions about the abolition of so called “democracy promotion” programs on the island should be a precondition to improving Cuban freedoms of speech and assembly.

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Senator Leahy,  Statement of Senator Leahy On the Freedom To Export to Cuba Act (Feb. 15, 2019). 

Injured U.S. and Canadian Diplomats in Cuba: New Developments

There have been several recent developments regarding the U.S. and Canadian diplomats who have suffered injuries while serving in Cuba.

First, the two counties’ diplomats have sued their respective governments.

The Canadian lawsuit in Toronto on February 6 alleges that the Canadian government was slow to respond to complaints about these injuries and has failed to provide sufficient medical care.The suit seeks (CAN)$ 28 million [(US)$ 21]  in damages on behalf of 14 diplomats, spouses and their children.

The U.S. lawsuit, which was commenced on February 7 by some of the affected U.S. diplomats, is a Freedom of Information Request to obtain documents related to the State Department’s Accountability Review Board’s investigation of the situation.

Second, the State Department has commissioned the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to conduct a new study to understand “the possible causes of these cases and approaches for future incidents, whether of an apparent acoustic nature or a different environmental or clinical presentation.” This investigation will look at “health monitoring, medical interventions, risk assessment and exposure mitigation for overseas locations that may present a higher risk of adverse health effects.”

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Bilfsky, Canadian Diplomats Sue Their Government Over Mysterious Disease, N.Y. Times (Feb. 7, 2019); Assoc. Press, Canadian Diplomats File suit Over Injuries Suffered in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Feb. 7, 2019); Atkinson, State Dept. asks scientists to study mysterious illness scare in Cuba, Axios (Feb. 5, 2019); Center for Democracy in the Americas, State Department asks scientists to study mysterious illness scare in Cuba: U.S. personnel file suit, U.S.-Cuba News Brief (Feb. 8, 2019). 

Canada Reducing Cuba Embassy Staff 

On January 30, the Canadian foreign ministry (Global Affairs Canada) announced that another of its diplomats in Havana had fallen mysteriously ill. [1]

This is the 14th such case.  “To date, no cause has been identified.” As a result, Canada is removing up to half of its embassy staff.

The Canadian statement added, “Canada has a positive and constructive relationship with Cuba. We have had close cooperation with the Cuban authorities since the health concerns of our employees posted in Havana first surfaced in the spring of 2017.”

Cuba’s Ambassador to Canada, Josefina Vidal, said Cuba “understands the obligations of the government of Canada to protect its diplomatic personnel in any part of the world, and to try to find answers to the health symptoms reported in Cuba, [which] remains committed to preserving the good state of relations and expanding its ties with a country to which strong ties of friendship and cooperation unite us.”[2]

Nevertheless, the Cuban Ambassador found the Canadian decision to reduce its Havana Embassy staffing “incomprehensible.”  It does “not help solve or find answers to the health symptoms that diplomats have reported and will have an inevitable impact on the conduct of relations.” Instead, this decision “favors those in the United States who use this issue to attack and discredit Cuba. It is known that individuals with a high responsibility for foreign policy in the United States are committed to provoking a climate of bilateral tension and being able to point Cuba as a threat.”

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[1]  Global Affairs Canada, Statement on health and security of Canadian diplomatic staff in Havana, Cuba (Jan. 30, 2019); Assoc. Press, Canada Cutting Canadian Staff at Cuba Embassy in Half, N.Y. Times (Jan. 30, 2019). Other posts about Canadian diplomats’ illnesses in Cuba may be found in the ” U.S. Diplomats’ Medical Problems in Cuba, 2016-??” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com–Topical: CUBA.

[2] Josefina Vidal: Decision by the government of Canada to withdraw part of the diplomatic staff favors those in the United States who attack Cuba, CubaDebate (Jan. 31, 2019)

Update on Trump Administration’s Threat To  Allow U.S. Litigation Over Cuba’s Expropriated Property

A prior post reported that the Trump Administration was considering not continuing the waiver of the right of certain owners of Cuban property that was expropriated in 1959-60 to bring litigation in U.S. federal courts.  Here are two updates.

First, Engage Cuba, an U.S. bipartisan coalition supporting normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations, published a strong objection to such a move.[1] Here are the reasons for its objection:

  • “There are 5,913 certified claims of seized American property in Cuba . . . [and] the State Department estimates that a flood of up to 200,000 claims if the suspension [of the right to sue] were ended.”
  • “Property claimants would be more successful in earning compensation through high-level diplomatic engagement, given that foreign companies are unlikely to cooperate.“
  • “Future attempts to encourage legal business with Cuba would be much more difficult . . . [and the authorization of U.S. litigation] would have a chilling effect on the broader effort to continue normalizing relations and could spill into other areas like travel, academic exchange, and research collaboration.”
  • “As U.S companies are not exempt from Title III suits, they could face a slew of lawsuits and would be extremely unlikely to expand operations in Cuba despite their past success on the island.”
  • “Companies based in Europe and Canada are among the top foreign investors in Cuba [and] Canada, the U.K. [and Mexico] all have laws prohibiting their companies from complying with Title III suits . . .[plus the] European Union . . . has indicated it will do [the same] . . . if the law goes into effect. The result could be a retaliatory measure that allows litigation against U.S. companies. These legal tensions could also spill over into other aspects of bilateral relationships with U.S. allies.”
  • “Thousands of U.S. lawsuits against Chinese companies could upset an already delicate trade relationship and provoke retaliation. Meanwhile, the U.S. has already left a vacuum in Cuba for adversarial influence, particularly from Russia and China. As business with U.S. companies becomes less viable for the Cubans, they will increasingly turn to our adversaries, who offer them favorable credit terms and invest in high-profile projects.”
  • U.S. “isolation rarely allows for improvements in human rights, and Cuba is no exception. Strained relations with our allies will only escalate this problem. Without a multilateral effort to hold the Cuban government accountable, the U.S. will have a harder time pushing Cuba toward greater freedom.”

Second, an anonymous Administration source said that it is very likely to act on this  proposal, but limit it to only the 6,000 existing claims and to exempt U.S. companies currently doing business in Cuba. Although this would reduce the harmful effects of such a change, it still is objectionable for the reasons advanced by Engage Cuba.

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[1]   Engage Cuba, Urgent: Trump Administration May Allow Lawsuits for Confiscated Property in Cuba (Jan.—2019).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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