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”

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

[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).

 

 

Professor LeoGrande’s Comments on the Strengthening Cuba-Russian Relationship    

A prior post discussed President Trump’s hostility towards Cuba as providing greater opportunities for Russia’s enhancing its relationship with Cuba. Now American University Professor William LeoGrande, a noted scholar about Cuba, placed the recent expansion of Cuba-Russia economic deals in a broader perspective.[1]

He says their rapprochement began in 2000 “when Putin “succeeded Boris Yeltsin as Russian president and began rebuilding Russia’s global influence by repairing relations with traditional allies.” The first step was “Putin’s 2000 trip to Havana, which resulted in expanded trade deals. . . . That was followed by Raul Castro’s 2009 visit to Moscow during which the two governments signed 33 cooperative agreements, including $354 million in credits and aid for Havana.“

Five years later, observes LeoGrande, “in July 2014, Putin visited the island again and agreed to forgive 90 percent of Cuba’s $32 billion in Soviet-era debt, with the remainder to be retired through debt-equity swaps linked to Russian investments. By the time Raul Castro returned to Moscow in 2015, Russia had signed agreements to invest in airport construction, the development of the Mariel port and metallurgy and oil exploration, and had also agreed to lend Cuba 1.2 billion euros—about $1.36 billion at the time—to develop thermal energy plants.”

In another pre-Trump deal, “in September 2016, Russia announced a new package of commercial agreements in which it will finance $4 billion in development projects focusing on energy and infrastructure, and Cuba will begin exporting pharmaceuticals to Russia.”

Beyond these expanded economic ties, LeoGrande emphasizes, “As Putin tries to restore Russia’s status as a global power, Cuba is an attractive partner right at the doorstep of the [U.S.]. A Russian presence in Cuba is a reminder to Washington that Moscow will respond in kind to the expansion of U.S. influence into Russia’s ‘near abroad’ in places like Ukraine. For Cuba, a closer relationship with Moscow serves as a counterweight to Washington’s renewed hostility under President Donald Trump.”

“Both Havana and Moscow refer to their relationship as a ‘strategic partnership’ that has diplomatic and military components. Diplomatically, Cuba supports Moscow’s positions on Ukraine, Syria and NATO expansion. Militarily, Russia is refurbishing and replacing Cuba’s aging Soviet-era armaments. Russian naval vessels visit Cuban ports, and Russia reportedly wants to establish a new military base on the island.”

The major obstacle to a more robust Cuba-Russia relationship is Cuba’s persistent lack of funds due to few goods for export and its dependence on tourism, remittances  and export of medical services to try to make up the difference.

Conclusion

LeoGrande’s comments re-emphasize for this blogger the utter stupidity from the standpoint of U.S. national security and economic interests of the Trump Administration’s hostile rhetoric and actions regarding Cuba. The same lesson should also be evident from the European Union’s strengthening ties with Cuba symbolized by the visit to the island starting today by the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, that will be discussed in a future post.

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

[1] LeoGrande, Cuba Looks More to Russia as the Prospects for Better U.S. Ties Fade Under Trump, World Politics Review (Jan. 2, 2018).