U.S. Continues To Suspend Part of Its Embargo of Cuba 

On July 14 U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon notified appropriate Congressional committees that the Trump Administration would suspend Title III of the Helms-Burton Act (a/k/a the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act) for a six-month period beyond August 1. The law requires Congressional notification at least 15 days before a suspension is to begin.[1]

Title III allows former owners of commercial property expropriated by Cuba to sue foreign companies and the Cuban government for using or “trafficking” in those confiscated holdings.

But ever since the enactment of the Helms-Burton Act, every president has routinely suspended Title III at six-month intervals. Such suspensions have been prompted by U.S. fear of alienating important U.S. trading partners such as Canada, Mexico, and EU countries from the filing of a potential tidal wave of lawsuits in U.S. federal courts brought by persons whose Cuban properties had been expropriated against companies from those U.S. trading partners that use Cuban tourism properties, mining operations, or seaports.[2]

This suspension by the Trump Administration is the first action on Cuba since President Trump announced his new direction on U.S.-Cuba relations during a June 16 speech in Miami. It is the latest sign that President Trump is not fully reversing President Barack Obama’s opening of relations with Cuba.[3]

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, U.S. Determination of Six-Month Suspension Under Title III of LIBERTAD (July 14, 2017); Whitefield, Trump to suspend lawsuit provision of Helms-Burton in August, Miami Herald (July 17, 2017); Assoc. Press, Trump Administration Again Suspends a Part of Cuba Embargo, N.Y. Times (July 14, 2017).

[2] After the December 17, 2014, announcement by President Obama and Castro that the two countries were embarking on a path of normalization, they have engaged in discussions or negotiations about obtaining Cuban payment of U.S. persons’ claims for expropriation, now believed, with interest, to total at least $ 8 billion. Although Cuba has recognized that it has an international legal obligation to pay such claims and has paid expropriation claims from other countries and although Cuba has an economic and political interest in paying these U.S. claims, Cuba does not have the cash to do so and instead has asserted claims against the U.S. for alleged damage from the U.S. embargo and other acts. See these posts to this blog: Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims (April 4, 2015); Resolving U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims (Dec. 13, 2015); U.S. and Cuba Discuss Their Claims Against Each Other (July 30, 2016).

 

[3] President Trump Announces Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies, dwkcommentaries.com (June 19, 2017).

 

U.S. Senators Urge Prioritization of Obtaining Compensation for Cuba’s Expropriation of Property Owned by U.S. Nationals

On June 1 U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and Bill Nelson (Dem., FL) urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin to prioritize seeking compensation for Americans whose property was expropriated by the Cuban government at the start of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.[1]

The Senators correctly point out that the “U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission (FCSC) has certified more than 5,900 claims against the Cuban Government for stolen [expropriated] property. These claims—now valued at approximately $8 billion—remain unresolved.”[2]

Therefore, the Senators requested the two Secretaries to “work with Congress to develop a plan and timeline for resolution of these claims, as well as consider instructing the FCSC to conduct a third Cuban Claims Program to allow for potential new claimants.”

On an unrelated matter, the Senators expressed “concern with a January 2016 decision to allow Cubaexport—a company owned by the Cuban Government—to renew its illegitimate claim on the trademark for Havana Club rum. Cubaexport registered the trademark for Havana Club in the United States only after the Cuban Government stole the trademark from the original owners. The decision was a troubling development, given longstanding U.S. policy and support for the rightful owners of stolen property, and we urge you to reconsider.”

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[1] Press Release: Rubio, Nelson Urge Administration to Seek Compensation for American Property Stolen by Cuban Government (June 5, 2017).

[2] This blog’s posts about these expropriation and other damage claims are listed in the “U.S. and Cuba Damage Claims” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

Conference on “Prospects for United States Cuba Normalization, Commerce and Investment”

On February 18, 2016, the Cuba Consortium hosted its first annual Washington Conference: “Prospects for United-States Cuba Normalization, Commerce and Investment.” [1]

The speakers at the Conference included Penny Pritzker, U.S. Secretary of Commerce; Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment; Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture; Benjamin Rhodes, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting; and Andrea Gacki, Assistant Director, Compliance and Enforcement, Office of Foreign Asset Control, U.S. Department of Treasury. Here is a summary of their remarks.

Secretary Pritzker

Secretary Pritzker
Secretary Pritzker

In her speech, Pritzker said that she and the U.S. delegation on their visit to Cuba last October learned more about how the Cuban economy works, including the rules and regulations that govern the import, export, and distribution of goods across the island. This information helped to guide the most recent (January 2016) U.S. regulatory changes regarding Cuba.

Those new U.S. regulations created a general policy of approval of exports for purposes such as: disaster preparedness and relief, education, agricultural production, artistic endeavors, food processing, public transportation, Cuban civil society, enhanced communications on the island, and civil aviation safety.

Those new regulations also provided that the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security will now review on a case-by-case basis proposed exports from U.S. companies to Cuban state-owned enterprises and government entities to determine if the export will meet the needs of the Cuban people. We had learned in our visit that in Cuba – as in many of our other trading partners around the world – it is necessary to work with state-owned enterprises in order to support the local private sector.

The corresponding new regulations from the U.S. Department of the Treasury permit financing for most authorized exports and travel authorizations.

In sum, whether environmental goods, telecommunications equipment, or products that private sector entrepreneurs need, the U.S. government’s regulatory changes permit a wide variety of trade and commercial activities.

However, if the U.S. is to truly maximize the benefits of our regulatory changes for the Cuban people, the Cuban government needs to make it easier for Cuban citizens to start their own businesses, purchase goods through wholesale markets, engage in external trade, secure credit, and access information online. These steps include making Cuban economic and business regulations publicly available; providing clear public guidance on the relevant government units and officials that are empowered to make decisions on potential transactions; and authorizing Cuban imports of U.S. products that are now allowed by U.S. regulations.

The bilateral civil aviation agreement signed on February 16 is an example of what we have accomplished together.

“The U.S. embargo continues to be a roadblock to increasing engagement between our countries. As President Obama reaffirmed during his State of the Union address, our Administration strongly supports lifting the embargo, and we will continue to call on Congress to repeal it immediately.”

Minister Malmierca

Minister Malmierca
Minister Malmierca

Malmierca asserted that President Obama has the legal authority to adopt additional regulations that would permit Cuba to use the U.S. Dollar in international financial transactions, authorize Cuban exports to the U.S. and allow U.S. companies to invest in other Cuban sectors besides telecommunications.

The U.S. regulatory changes to date are positive, but they are not enough. For example, he said, since the December 2014 joint U.S.-Cuba announcement of normalization, six financial institutions have been fined nearly two billion dollars for trading with Cuba. These fines and the ban on the use of the U.S. Dollar have had serious negative effects on Cuba.

The previous day (February 17), Malmierca led a Cuban delegation at a meeting with Secretary Pritzker and other officials of the U.S. Department of Commerce. [2] On that occasion he made many of the same points just mentioned. He also pointed out that Cuba does not apply any coercive measures against U.S. companies or businesspeople and, in fact, welcomes them to do business on the island.

At that prior meeting in response to a question by Secretary Pritzker, Malmierca said that the next meeting of the Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba will seek to define the priority economic sectors for long-term development. “The most complex issue is that Cuba wants all these changes to be implemented without affecting the population; we do not want to apply shock measures or measures that may have a negative effect.”

This upcoming Congress will address the role of the market in the Cuban economy and the role of foreign investment in its economic development. This will seek to further consolidate changes adopted by Cuba before December 17, 2014, which are irreversible. “All the measures we are adopting, and which were sovereignly chosen long before December 17, 2014, . . . will also contribute to making the decisions we are making together more feasible,” he concluded.

Secretary Vilsack

Secretary Vilsack
Secretary Vilsack

Secretary Vilsack also criticized the U.S. embargo (blockade), noting that it restricts opportunities for trade between Cuba and the U.S. One area of such negative impact was the U.S. helping Cuba’s organic and urban farming practices.

The U.S. Agriculture Department is looking to identify business opportunities through a fund to which several U.S. agricultural companies voluntarily contribute. This fund, however, cannot use federal resources to explore business opportunities with the island, as is common practice, thus obstructing U.S. companies’ access to the Cuban market.

Although a U.S. law in 2000 authorized sales of agricultural products to Cuba, it required Cuba to pay in cash in advance, which has had a severe negative impact on such U.S. exports.

Associate Director Gacki

Associate Director Gacki
Associate Director Gacki

Gacki was unable to identify the specific law which prohibits Cuba’s use of the U.S. Dollar in international transactions, but said the Treasury Department currently was investigating whether there were other executive measures President Obama could adopt to reduce the adverse impacts on Cuba of restrictions on its use of the U.S. Dollar.

Assistant to the President Rhodes

Assistant to President Rhodes
Assistant to President Rhodes

Rhodes confirmed that Obama still has broad executive powers to make further and more substantial modifications to the U.S. embargo (blockade) policy.

Rhodes said that while the embargo policy may have had relevance in the past, the island is changing as are opinions of some Cuban-Americans. In addition, the increased numbers of Americans visiting Cuba are seeing why the embargo should be ended.

The Obama Administration, he added, is reviewing other potential regulatory changes that could be made within the existing legal framework.Thus, he believed it is possible to do more before the end of this administration to generate the necessary momentum to definitively end the embargo.

Conference Background

The Cuba Consortium is an assembly of companies, non-profit organizations, investors, academics, and entrepreneurs organized to track and examine the normalization process in both countries and to inform and prepare its members for opportunities to engage Cuba. They are complemented by foreign policy, political, economic, international development, legal, and cultural experts who have specialized knowledge of the diplomacy, politics, and economics of the normalization process.

The Consortium’s Advisory Board is co-chaired by Senators Nancy Kassebaum Baker and Tom Daschle and includes Dr. Michael Adams, Lon Augustenborg, Richard Blum, Sheila Burke, Tomas Diaz de la Rubia, Senator Byron Dorgan, Rodney Ferguson, Senator Bill Frist, Dr. Helene Gayle, Maurice Greenberg, Senator Bob Kerrey, Linda Klein, Fred Malek, Janet Napolitano, Thomas Ross, Senator Olympia Snowe, The Honorable Ellen Tauscher, Bill Weldon, and Rob Wilder.

The Consortium was organized by the Howard Baker Forum, which was founded by former Senator Howard Baker to provide a platform for examining specific, immediate, critical issues affecting the nation’s progress at home and its relations abroad under a philosophy of reasoned consensus, founded upon an agreed set of facts.

Conclusion

The Consortium and its conference join the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba and Engage Cuba as important bipartisan U.S. efforts to promote U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. I applaud all of their efforts.

On the same day of this conference, the White House announced that President Obama and Michelle Obama will be visiting Cuba on March 21 and 22. The White House Press Secretary said, “In Cuba, the President will work to build on the progress we have made toward normalization of relations with Cuba – advancing commercial and people-to-people ties that can improve the well-being of the Cuban people, and expressing our support for human rights. In addition to holding a bilateral meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro, President Obama will engage with members of civil society, entrepreneurs and Cubans from different walks of life.”

The previously mentioned Benjamin Rhodes also issued a similar statement that also reviewed the various steps towards normalization since December 17, 2014.

Before President Obama’s trip, I anticipate and hope that the U.S. will announce additional steps in the process of normalization, including:

  • issue new regulations allowing or expanding Cuba’s ability to use the U.S. Dollar in international transactions, authorize Cuban exports to the U.S. and allow U.S. companies to invest in other Cuban sectors besides telecommunications;
  • announce the ending of special U.S. immigration benefits for Cubans, including the policy of allowing entry without visas into the U.S. of Cubans arriving by land (the dry feet policy); and
  • announce further steps in the process of resolving U.S. claims against Cuba for expropriation of property owned by U.S. persons without compensation.

In addition, it is hoped that before President Obama’s trip Cuba will make Cuban economic and business regulations publicly available; provide clear public guidance on the relevant government units and officials that are empowered to make decisions on potential transactions; and authorize Cuban imports of U.S. products that are now allowed by U.S. regulations. In addition, some improvement in Cuban human rights would be helpful, an objective apparently to be pursued in Havana next week by Secretary of State John Kerry. ==========================================

[1] Gomez, Rapprochement moving forward, Granma (Feb. 22, 2016). Amazingly a 2/23/16 Google search of “Cuba Consortium” did not reveal any U.S. media coverage of this Conference. Secretary Pritzker’s speech was on the website of the U.S. Treasury Department.

[2] Gomez, Malmierca: Obama has support to continue dismantling the blockade, Granma (Feb. 18, 2016).

 

 

 

 

Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims   

The United States has damage claims against Cuba and visa versa. This post will review those claims and propose a method for resolving them.

U.S. Claims

Cuba’s Expropriation of Property of U.S. Nationals. [1]

According to a U.S. Government report, “in 1959 and 1960 . . . the Government of Cuba after the Castro regime came into power . . . effectively seized and took into state ownership most of the property in that country owned by the [U.S.] and its nationals, with the exception of the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. No provision was made by the Cuban Government for the payment of compensation for such property as required under the generally accepted rules of international law.” (Cuba, however, has paid similar claims by Canada, France, Spain and Switzerland.) [2]

In response, a federal statute, the Cuba Claims Act, was enacted in 1964 to amend the International Claims Settlement Act of 1949 to grant the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission of the United States (FCSC), a quasi-judicial, independent agency within the U.S. Department of Justice, jurisdiction to receive and determine in accordance, with applicable substantive law, including international law, the amount and validity of certain claims by U.S. nationals of the against the Government of Cuba.

The covered claims for this purpose were those arising since January 1, 1959, for (a) “losses resulting from the nationalization expropriation, intervention or other taking of, or special measures directed against, property including any rights or interests therein owned wholly or partially, directly or indirectly at the time by nationals of the [U.S.];” (b) debts for merchandise furnished or services rendered by U.S. nationals; and (c) disability or death of U.S. nationals resulting from actions taken by, or under the authority of, the Government of Cuba since January 1, 1959.

The statute, however, did not provide for the payment of claims against the Government of Cuba, but only for the Commission to determine the validity and amounts of such claims. After its determinations, the Commission certified its findings to the Secretary of State for possible use in future negotiations with the Government of Cuba.

In signing the statute on October 16, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson said: “The Castro regime has appropriated over $1 billion worth of property of [U.S.] nationals in total disregard for their rights. These unlawful seizures violated every standard by which the nationals of the free world conduct their affairs. I am confident that the Cuban people will not always be compelled to suffer under Communist rule-that one day they will achieve freedom and democracy. I am also confident that it will be possible to settle claims of American nationals whose property has been wrongfully taken from them.”[3]

The Commission had two programs for such claims against the Cuban government, resulting in the total submission of 8,821 claims and the Commission’s determinations that 5,913 were valid with a total principal value of $1,902,202,285 (or $1.9 billion) plus 6% per annum from the date of the loss. Although 90% of these claims were filed by individuals, the largest ones are by corporations: Cuba Electric (owned by Americans),  $ 268 million; IT&T, $131 million; and Exxon, $71 million.

Recent commentaries suggest that with interest the claims now total nearly $7 billion. [4]

Default Judgment Against Cuba for Deaths of U.S. Pilots Over International Waters

A prior post about “The Cuban Five” mentioned that Cuban military planes in 1996 shot down two U.S. private planes over international waters near Cuba and killed three of their pilots and that a U.S. federal court entered a default judgment of $187 million against the Government of Cuba for their deaths. That judgment plus interest remains unpaid.

Other Claims.

Any and all other claims for damages by the U.S. against Cuba should also be included and resolved as part of any dispute-resolution procedure.

 Cuba Claims

Alleged Damages from U.S. Embargo (Blockade) of Cuba [5]

At the October 2014 session of the U.N. General Assembly, Cuba offered a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo (blockade), which overwhelmingly was approved. Speaking for the resolution, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Gonzalez Parrilla, alleged that Cuba was damaged by the embargo and that the damages totaled $1.1 trillion.

The U.S. diplomat at the session obviously disagreed. The diplomat argued that Cuba’s economic difficulties were due to its own policies and that it would not thrive until it committed itself to a free and fair market, allowed unfettered access to information, opened its state-run monopolies and adopted sound economic policies.

Unpaid Rent for Use of Guantanamo Bay.

A prior post mentioned that Cuba for the last 56 years has not cashed the U.S. checks for the annual rent of $4,085 for Guantanamo Bay. This amounts to at least $228,760 for those years plus interest. If Cuba alleges that the annual unpaid rent should be a higher figure, then the total claim obviously would be higher.

Other Claims.

If there are any other damage claims by Cuba against the U.S., then it is fair to believe they will be asserted.

Conclusion

These claims, in my opinion, will not be resolved in negotiations between the two countries. I, therefore, suggest that the parties agree to submit all of their damage claims against each other for resolution to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands under its Arbitration Rules 2012 before a panel of three or five arbitrators. A prior post made this recommendation for the expropriation claims,

My experience as a lawyer who handled business disputes in U.S. courts and in international arbitrations leads me to believe that arbitration is the appropriate way to resolve these claims by the two governments. The Permanent Court of Arbitration was established in the late 19th century to resolve disputes between governments. It would be a third-party, neutral administrator of the proceedings and the arbitrators who would be selected would also be neutral. Finally it has an existing set of arbitration rules and procedures.

A 2007 study commissioned by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) proposed a treaty or a U.S. presidential executive order to establish a bilateral arbitration tribunal that would be empowered to issue an award compelling Cuba to pay money or to provide tax benefits or other incentives for new investment. This proposal like the one just proposed by this blogger advocates having a neutral third-party decide the outcome of these claims, but it adds the necessity of preparing and agreeing to the composition and rules of a new ad hoc tribunal. [6]

Everyone recognizes that Cuba does not have the financial resources to pay any large claim like the one for expropriation of U.S. nationals’ property in 1959-1960 so any substantial monetary recovery would have to come from a determination that the U.S. was liable to Cuba for damages for the embargo. Otherwise, there would have to be some settlement of the larger expropriation claims with tax or other incentives for entering into new business ventures on the island.

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[1] This section of the post is based upon the Commission’s website’s description of the agency, an overview of the two Cuba programs, a final report on the first program, copies of what it terms “lead decisions” in the programs, decisions on all the claims and a spreadsheet listing all of those claims and their amounts.

[2] Creighton Univ. School of Law & Dep’t of Political Science, Report on the Resolution of Outstanding Property Claims Between Cuba and the United States (2007).

[3] Johnson Signs Bill To Aid Americans In Claims on Cuba, N.Y. Times (Mar. 18, 1964); Gordon, The Cuba Claims Act: Progress In the Development of a Viable Valuation Process in the FCSC, 13 Santa Clara Lawyer 624 (1973).

[4] Assoc. Press, Run From Cuba, Americans Cling to Claims for Seized Property, N.Y. Times (Mar. 30, 2015); Assoc. Press, Who Claims What Property Seized in Cuba? Facts and Figures, N.Y. Times (Mar. 28, 2015); Glovin & Olocunnipa, Cuba Property Claims, Yielding Pennies, May Spur Talks, BloombergBusiness (Dec. 22, 2014). There is a Cuba Claim Owners Association.

[5] U.N. Press Release, As General Assembly Demands End to Cuba Blockage for Twenty-Third Consecutive Year, Country’s Foreign Minister Cites Losses Exceeding $1 Trillion (Oct. 28, 2014).

[6] Ayuso, Expropriations, the other outstanding debt in Cuba, El Pais (Jan. 4, 2015); Creighton Univ. School of Law & Dep’t of Political Science, Report on the Resolution of Outstanding Property Claims Between Cuba and the United States (2007).