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.”

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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).

Conferences About Continued U.S.-Cuba Cooperation on Various Issues 

This past week there have been two gatherings in Washington, D.C. focused on promoting U.S.-Cuba collaboration on various projects.

Environmental Sustainability and Historic Preservation[1]

 The first conference was on June 4, Advancing Environmental Sustainability and Historic Preservation in Cuba, that was organized by the Center for International Policy and the Ocean Doctor organizations. It explored opportunities for small-scale, collaborative initiatives to successfully advance environmental sustainability and historic preservation in Cuba and celebrated the release of the two organizations’ report, “A Century of Unsustainable Tourism in the Caribbean: Lessons Learned and Opportunities for Cuba.”

This gathering emphasized that Cuba has developed differently from any other country in the Caribbean. Many of its natural ecosystems remain remarkably healthy, and the country’s cultural heritage remains authentic and largely intact. The efforts to normalize relations between Cuba and the U.S. by President Obama fueled dramatic growth in tourism and interest in investment on the island, sparking concern that Cuba now faced the same scale of pressures that have resulted in environmental and heritage degradation throughout the Caribbean. With the advent of the Trump presidency and chilling of relations, some of these pressures have waned, but likely only temporarily.

One of the participants was Cuba’s Ambassador to the U.S., José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, who underscored the actions of cooperation that continue to develop today between various U.S. governmental agencies and organizations and their Cuban counterparts. He  also highlighted the validity of the bilateral instruments signed between Cuba and the United States during the Obama Administration.

Among the other speakers were Salih Booker, Executive Director, Center for International Policy; Dr. David E. Guggenheim, President of Ocean Doctor; Robert Muse, Lawyer specialized in Cuban affairs; Dr. Brain M. Boom, Vice President for Conservation Strategy at New York Botanic Garden; Norma Barbacci; plus preservation consultants.

 Agricultural Trade Relations Between the Two Countries[2]

On June 7  Engage Cuba, a bipartisan advocate for U.S.-Cuba normalization, and the Washington, D.C. office of the McDermott Will & Emery law firm, sponsored a conference,  “Fostering bilateral agricultural and economic capabilities.”

The roundtable was composed of Senator John Boozman (Rep., AR.) Rep. Rick Crawford (Rep., AR). Rep. Thomas Emmer (Rep., MN) and Rep. Roger Marshall (Rep., KS) with Cuban Ambassador to the United States, José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, and moderated by James Williams, President of Engage Cuba, a  bipartisan  advocate for U.S.-Cuba normalization.

The event emphasized the necessity to lift the economic, financial and trade embargo imposed on the Island for more than 55 years and to stress the importance of reversing the failed policy of the United States towards Cuba.

Senator Boozman recalled that nowadays American farmers face a situation in which almost all the prices for their products are low, and that there is a market in Cuba, which can be provided with American products, given the Island’s high import of commodities. However, he said, “American agricultural producers face significant commercial barriers to trade with Cuba. Lifting the ban on private banks and companies from offering credit for agricultural exports to Cuba will help level the playing field for our farmers while exposing Cubans to American values and ideals.”

“The U.S.-Cuba relationship is critical to our economy.” stated Congressman Emmer, the Chair of the bipartisan House Cuba Working Group, as he also reaffirmed his commitment to work for the lifting of the embargo and “to break through for a new chapter in our two nations’ history.” Rep. Emmer added, “The time to begin renewing our relationship with our neighbors just 90 miles of the Florida coast is now. With American farmers suffering some of the lowest commodity prices we have ever seen, Congress has an opportunity to take action and make real change. The Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, sponsored by Rep. Crawford, would lift financing restrictions imposed by the embargo on agriculture exports. The result would be relief for our farmers and a first step toward redefining the American-Cuban relationship. While my bill, the Cuba Trade Act, accomplishes the ultimate goal or lifting the embargo completely, passing Rep. Crawford’s bill can, and should, happen immediately,” He also pointed out how the failed U.S. policy towards the Island has had a negative impact on the Cuban and U.S. peoples.

Representative Crawford stated, “For years the United States has had an estranged relationship with Cuba and for years we’ve seen no reversal in the tactics used by Cuba’s oppressive government. Trade with Cuba is a vessel that will create change in Cuba and bring economic opportunity to American farmers. Most Americans agree that it’s time to lift the embargo on Cuba and Congress needs to meet that desire by working to pass my bill, H.R. 525 and others like it.”

Representative Marshall said, “With an open market to Cuba, Kansas could top $55 million in additional sales. While we are renegotiating our trade deals, we have a $2 billion market untouched right under our nose. It is time to throw support behind this mutually beneficial economic opportunity. It is through leadership in Congress, and discussions like this roundtable that we will begin to make these lasting changes.”

The Cuban Ambassador thanked the Senator and Congressmen for their leadership in this topic, highlighted that Cuba is an ideal market for American products and underscored the existing potential for agricultural and trade relations between both countries. He also recalled that Cuba and the United States signed two memoranda of understanding in the field of agriculture in 2016 and 2017, which are still valid.

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[1] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Experts debate about Cuba-US collaboration in topics such as environmental sustainability and historic preservation (June 6, 2018); Ocean Doctor, Advancing Environmental Sustainability and Historic Preservation in Cuba (June 4, 2018).

[2]  Cuba Foreign Ministry, U.S. Legislators advocate for trade relations with Cuba, Granma (June 8, 2018); Rep. Marshall: AR, MN, KS Lead Trade Talks with Cuba Ambassador (June 8, 2018).

 

Bills To End U.S. Embargo of Cuba Introduced in House of Representatives

Two bills to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba have been filed in the House of Representatives, but so far nothing in the Senate. [1] This post will examine the status of those two bills and the positions on the embargo of Minnesota’s U.S. Senators and Representatives

 The Current Bills To End the Embargo

 On January 15th three Minnesota Congressmen—Keith Ellison, Collin Peterson and Rick Nolan, all Democrats—announced that they are co-sponsoring a bill to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba (H.R. 403) that was introduced on January 16th by Representative Charles Rangel (Dem., NY).[1] Titled “To lift the trade embargo on Cuba, and for other purposes,” neither its text nor its summary is currently available on the Library of Congress’ website for pending legislation. [2]

This bill along with another bill to the same effect (H.R. 274 by Congressman Bobby Rush (Dem., IL)) have been assigned for consideration to the following seven House committees, whose membership is listed in the hyperlinked websites:

  • Agriculture, whose members include Collin Peterson (the Ranking-Member), a co-author of the Rangel bill; Tom Emmer (Rep., MN); and Rodney Davis (Rep., IL), who earlier this month spoke in favor of ending the embargo at the launch of the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba.
  • Energy and Commerce, whose members include Bobby Rush (Dem., IL), the author of one of the bills to end the embargo, and Peter Welch (Dem., VT), who just visited Cuba with the group led by Senator Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT).
  • Financial Services, whose members include Representative Keith Ellison, a co-author of the Rangel bill to end the embargo (Dem., MN);
  • Foreign Affairs, whose members include Tom Emmer (Rep., MN) and Ileana Ros-Leltinen (Rep., FL), a vocal Cuban-American opponent of reconciliation;
  • Judiciary;
  • Oversight and Government Reform, one of whose members is the previously mentioned Peter Welch (Dem., VT); and
  • Ways and Means, whose members include Erik Paulson (Rep., MN) and the previously mentioned Peter Welch.

Those interested In repealing the embargo should examine the lists of the committees’ members and deciding whether and how to contact them to urge support for the Rangel bill (H.R. 403).

Minnesota Representatives and Senators’ Positions on the Embargo

One of the co-sponsors of H.R. 403, Congressman Keith Ellison, is on the Financial Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over some of the issues raised by H.R. 403. As co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, on December 17th (the day of the announcement of normalization between the two countries) Ellison released a statement congratulating President Obama for the normalization of our relations with Cuba. It stated, “Congress must lift the trade embargo and normalize travel between our two nations, which are only 90 miles apart.” He repeated those sentiments on January 11th at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s celebratory concert with Cuban-American jazz pianist, Nachito Herrera.

Also on December 17th Representative Rick Nolan, another co-sponsor of H.R. 403, issued a statement lauding “President Obama’s decision to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba” and to obtain the release of Alan Gross from a Cuban prison. This was “a monumental step forward for both nations, allowing us to resume exports and trade, create more good paying jobs in the United States and move forward in our relationships with the entire Western Hemisphere.” This was “especially good news for farmers in Minnesota and around the nation, as well as for our manufacturing and high technology industries that will soon enjoy access to new markets in a nation that hungers for U.S. products and services.”

More recently the other Minnesota co-sponsor of the bill, Representative Collin Peterson, said the current restrictions against U.S. trade with Cuba “don’t do anything but give business to our competitors.” However, he added, “The question is what are the Republicans [in the House and Senate] going to allow to happen. They could well bottle these bills up.” Peterson, as mentioned, is the Ranking-Member on the Agriculture Committee, which has jurisdiction over some of the issues raised by H.R. 403.

Another Minnesota Democratic Representative, Betty McCollum, also is supportive of ending the embargo. On December 17th, she congratulated President Obama “for his efforts to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and to begin easing the trade restrictions between our countries. . . .[and] for his efforts to secure the release of USAID worker Alan Gross from prison in Cuba.” She added, “I will continue to work to end the trade embargo between our two countries as I have done since I came to Congress in 2001.  Ending the embargo and normalizing trade relations is good for Minnesota businesses and good for the people of Cuba.”

The other Minnesota Democratic Congressman, Tim Walz, has nothing about Cuba on his website, but in a December 18th interview by a Mankato, Minnesota television station he said he was cautiously optimistic about the White House’s changing policy toward Cuba. He said expanding trade is a good idea, but the U.S. needs to be cautious. “I think there needs to be accountability for what this regime has done,” he said, “and I’m glad this is Congress’ role to be involved, of looking at how this evolves, but I do think it’s an important step. As I’ve said, the status quo has been that way since before I was born, and it’s time to re–look at how we do business.”

Minnesota’s three Republican Congressmen—Erik Paulsen, John Kline and Tom Emmer—do not have any statements about Cuba on their websites

Congressman Erik Paulsen is a member of the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over some of the issues raised by H.R. 403. In addition, on October 8, 2009, as a guest blogger on a Heritage Foundation website Paulsen made comments that could reflect his attitude on ending the embargo. He said, “There is another approach to stimulating the economy – a proven method to increase prosperity, grow our economy and create jobs: expansion of free trade. . . . We must make international markets more available to our exporters to help them grow. . . . In my own district, there are countless businesses, small and large, that benefit from free trade. . . . Unfortunately, there are consumers and markets across the globe that still cannot be accessed by American sellers because of high tariffs, quotas and other barriers to international trade. It’s time to knock down those barriers. . . . I have long advocated for increased trade and strong global relationships between the U.S. and nations abroad. I’ve visited India, China and several nations in Africa and the Middle East. In every country, free trade is essential for their own growth and prosperity, as well as the growth and vitality of the United States.”

I have not found anything by or about Congressman John Kline indicating his views on U.S. relations with Cuba, in general, or on ending the embargo, in particular. I especially solicit comments by anyone with more knowledge about his positions on these issues.

Minnesota’s newest Congressman and now in his very first Session, Tom Emmer, as mentioned is on the House Foreign Affairs and Agriculture Committees, each of which has jurisdiction over issues raised by H.R. 403. Moreover, his new website‘s page on “Foreign Affairs” states, “Regions such as Latin America, Africa and Asia present us with emerging opportunities to increase trade and diplomatic relations.” Maybe this is a hopeful sign for his favoring ending the embargo. Emmer also is on the Agriculture Committee, which has jurisdiction over some of the issues raised by H.R. 403.

Minnesota’s Senators

One of Minnesota’s Senators, Amy Klobuchar, favors ending the embargo and is willing to offer a bill to do just that, but wants to wait until after the Senate confirms the President’s future nomination of an ambassador to Cuba. She said, “Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. And part of that is legislation to remove the embargo. Some of this can be done by tying it to changes we want [Cuba] to make on human rights and other things. The timing is the question. We want this to be bipartisan.” In addition, as mentioned in a prior post, she was a speaker in favor of ending the embargo at the January 8th launch of the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba.

A prior post about Cuba’s perspective on this week’s diplomatic meetings in Havana suggests that there will not be a formal re-establishment of diplomatic relations, including appointments of ambassadors, until after the U.S. repeals its embargo of the island. Therefore, Senator Klobuchar may have to abandon her strategy of postponing Senate consideration of the embargo until after the Senate confirms the nomination of an ambassador to Cuba.

Our other Senator, Democrat Al Franken, does not have anything about Cuba on his website, but he has supported legislation calling for the normalizing of relationships with Cuba and is a co-sponsor of the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act.

Conclusion

Robert Muse, a Washington, D.C. international trade lawyer with substantial experience in U.S. laws relating to Cuba, recently told Minnesota’s StarTribune that “a majority of members of Congress do not support the embargo, but will not do so publicly until Cuban-American legislators come out against the embargo.” Nevertheless, he opined, “There is zero possibility of the embargo being lifted [in 2015].”[3]

This, however, is only one opinion albeit from someone with extensive experience of dealing with Congress on Cuba issues. It merely accentuates the need for citizens to increase their advocacy of ending the embargo.

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[1] To determine whether any other bills to end the embargo have been introduced in this Session of Congress, just go to the THOMAS legislative service provided by the Library of Congress [http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php] and enter “Cuba” in the search box; that will retrieve all introduced bills that mention “Cuba.”

[2] H.R. 403 has 14 other co-sponsors from California, New York, Colorado, District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.

[3] Before the announcement of normalization, Muse wrote an article about the various actions the president could take regarding Cuba without prior congressional authorization.