European and Other Countries’ Reactions to New U.S. Anti-Cuban Policies

Strong objections to the  new U.S. policies regarding Cuba have been registered by Europe and Canada, both major investors in, and having significant business with, Cuba. Russia also objects for more strategic reasons.

Europe and Canada[1]

The EU is the largest foreign investor in Cuba and the latter’s top export market. In December 2016, the EU and Cuba concluded a new framework for boosting economic and trade links that were encouraged by the Obama administration’s efforts to reset relations with Havana. Some European companies, including Spanish hotel chain Meliá Hotels International SA, recently have announced fresh investments there.

Immediately after the U.S. announcement of the activation of Title IIII of the Helms-Burton Act, the EU  by its High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini and its Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström) issued this joint statement: “In the light of the United States Administration’s decision to not renew the waiver related to Title III of the 1996 Helms-Burton (LIBERTAD) Act, the European Union reiterates its strong opposition to the extraterritorial application of unilateral Cuba-related measures that are contrary to international law. This decision is also a breach of the United States’ commitments undertaken in the EU-US agreements of 1997 and 1998, which have been respected by both sides without interruption since then. In those agreements, the US committed to waive Title III of the Helms-Burton Act and the EU, inter alia, suspended its case in the World Trade Organization against the US.”

This EU statement added, “The EU will consider all options at its disposal to protect its legitimate interests, including in relation to its WTO rights and through the use of the EU Blocking Statute. [This EU Statute] prohibits the enforcement of US courts judgements relating to Title III of the Helms-Burton Act within the EU, and allows EU companies sued in the US to recover any damage through legal proceedings against US claimants before EU courts.

Canada, whose companies are other major investors in, and conductors of business with, Cuba, also issued an immediate rejection of this U.S. change of policy. Its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, stated, “Canada is deeply disappointed with today’s announcement. We will be reviewing all options in response to this U.S. decision.” She added the following:

  • “Since the U.S. announced in January it would review Title III, the Government of Canada has been regularly engaged with the U.S. government to raise our concerns about the possible negative consequences for Canadians—concerns that are long-standing and well known to our U.S. partners.”
  • “I have met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to register those concerns. Canadian and U.S. officials have had detailed discussions on the Helms-Burton Act and Canada’s Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act. I have also discussed this issue with the EU.”
  • Finally, “I have been in contact with Canadian businesses to reaffirm we will fully defend the interests of Canadians conducting legitimate trade and investment with Cuba.”

According to EU Ambassador to the U.S., Alberto Navarro, there is “enormous worry” by European businesses.  “There are business people who’ve been . . .[in Cuba] 20, 30 years, who’ve made bets on investing their financial resources in Cuba to stimulate commerce, tourism, international exchange, and many of them tell me that they haven’t lived through a similar situation.” He also said, “”any country can adopt whatever legislation it wants, and apply the law within its own country, we can criticize whether we like it or not. What that country cannot do is impose its legislation on others. We are the front line of defense in Cuba, and obviously have legitimate interests in Cuba and we want to defend them and protect our citizens and our investors.”

The EU and Canada also issued a joint statement that said the U.S. decision would have “an important impact on legitimate EU and Canadian economic operators in Cuba” and that they would seek to use the WTO dispute-resolution framework to protect their companies. This U.S. decision was “regrettable” and an “extraterritorial application of unilateral Cuba-related measures contrary to international law.” It “can only lead to an unnecessary spiral of legal actions.”

The EU and Canada already have so-called blocking statutes against some U.S. sanctions on Cuba, which bans the enforcement of U.S. court judgments against EU and Canadian firms and allows counterclaims to be filed against U.S. firms bringing legal action. However, these blocking statute have rarely been used.

A former Canadian ambassador to Cuba, Mark Entwistle, got it right when he opined that the origins of these new U.S. policies “lie partly in the historic dynamics of American presidential politics and partly in an obsession in some circles about a mythical existential threat posed by the developing Caribbean island nation.”

Moreover, according to Entwistle, the activation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act “seeks to impose American domestic law on other countries” or attempts “to off-load responsibility to third parties and internationalize what is and should be a bilateral issue between the United States and Cuba.” This is extraterritoriality that “ violates basic sovereignty,”  supposedly highly valued by Trump. This recent Trump decision, however, fits with his scepticism of, if not outright hostility towards,  rules-based multilateral systems.

These sentiments were echoed by EU member, France, whose Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Europe would respond to any sanctions by the U.S. on investments in Cuba. “If the American administration decided to also impose a regime of sanctions on investments in Cuba, in contravention of what has been decided for several years now by our American allies, we would react. Europe would also react and is ready to also impose sanctions at our end.”

In Spain, another EU member which has large investments in hotels and other tourism-related ventures on the island, a senior government official said its government  promised that it will ‘absolutely support’ Spanish companies established on the island in the face of the U.S. new policies and that it understands that “the EU will support, together with Spain, those companies that have their commercial activities, legitimate and well organized in Cuba and in other countries.”

Another EU member, Portugal, joined the choir by saying that it “regrets the US decision to authorize the filing of legal actions in its territory [under] . . .Title III of the Helms Burton Law against certain foreign companies operating in Cuba, ” This U.S. decision “reinforces the commercial tension between the [EU] . . .and the United States.”

The United Kingdom’s Foreign Office joined in these objections. It stated, “The extraterritorial application of … sanctions, which we consider to be illegal under international law, threaten to harm UK and EU companies doing legitimate business in Cuba by exposing them to liability in U.S. courts. We will work alongside the EU to protect the interests of our companies.”

Also critical was Ivan Briscoe, the Latin American director for the International Crisis Group, an independent Belgium-based organization “working to prevent wars and shape policies that will build a more peaceful world” and to sound “the alarm to prevent deadly conflict.” He said, John Bolton’s “honoring one of U.S.’ greatest military fiascos from 60 years back [the Bay of Pigs invasion] suggests U.S. policy to Latin America owes more now to a perverse Cold War nostalgia than practical benefits for people of the region.”

Mexico added its objections to the new U.S. measures. It said that it “lamented” the U.S. decision that the government will work to protect Mexican companies that have business interests in Cuba.

Russia[2]

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov considers the new U.S. sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela to be illegal and it plans to do everything to support its allies in these two countries. “Venezuela and Cuba are our allies and strategic partners. We join the voices of those who condemn US impositions on Latin America or any other region of the world.”

A spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zajárova, added that Moscow “is against any unilateral sanction.”

Conclusion

This blog supports the objections from the EU and its members, including the United Kingdom (still a member), Canada and Mexico. Also deserving special commendation is Ivan Brisco’s rejecting John Bolton’s statement:“honoring one of U.S.’ greatest military fiascos from 60 years back [the Bay of Pigs invasion as suggesting that] U.S. policy to Latin America owes more now to a perverse Cold War nostalgia than practical benefits for people of the region.”

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[1] EU, Joint Statement by High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini and Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström on the decision of the United States to further activate Title III of the Helms-Burton (Libertad) Act (April 17, 2019) (his EU Joint Statement was issued shortly after the EU’s Press Release, EU, Latin America and Caribbean: Partnering for prosperity, democracy, resilience and global governance (April 17, 2019)); Assoc. Press, EU Ambassador: Trump Cuba Policy Worries European Companies. N.Y. Times (April 24, 2019); Global Affairs Canada, Government of Canada will defend interests of Canadians doing business in Cuba  (April 17, 2019); Entwistle, The Trump Administration’s new Cuba restrictions are harmful and belligerent, Toronto Globe & Mail (April 19, 2019); Anchfield, Canada pushes back against U.S. move to allow lawsuits against foreign firms in Cuba, Toronto Globe & Mail (April 27, 3029); Norman & McBride, EU, Canada Vow to Fight New U.S. Sanctions on Cuba,  W.S.J. (April 17, 2019); The European Union could prohibit the application of Judgments of US courts against their companies, Diario de Cuba (April 17, 2019); Reuters, Europe Would Respond to Any U.S. Sanctions on Investments in Cuba: French Minister, N.Y. Times (April 18, 2019); Madrid promises to ‘defend” the interests of Spanish companies in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (April 17, 2019); Parra, Spain wants EU to challenge US policy in Cuba, Wash. Post (April 17, 2019); Portugal: Application of Helms-Burton reinforces commercial tension between the European Union and the US, Cubadabate (April 20, 2019); Reuters, UK Condemns U.S. Application of Cuba Sanctions to Foreign Companies, N.Y. Times (April 18, 2019); Reactions: Canada and Mexico promise to protect their companies in Cuba,  Diario de Cuba (April 18, 2019); Reuters, Trump’s Cuba Hawks Try to Squeeze Havana Over Venezuela Role, N.Y. Times (April 18, 2019); Gómez, What antidotes are there against Helms-Burton?, Cubadebate (April 25, 2019) (details about these laws against Helms-Burton Act: 1996 EU Statute of Blockade, the 1996 Canadian Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act, the 1996 Mexico Law on Protection of Trade and Investment of Foreign Standards that Contravene International Law and the 1996 Cuba Law of Reaffirmation of Cuban Dignity and Sovereignty (Law 80)).

[2] Reuters, Russia Says It Will Help Venezuela, Cuba to Weather U.S. Sanctions: RIA, N.Y. Times (April 18, 2019); Assoc. Press, Putin Envoy in Caracas Rejects US Revival of Monroe Doctrine, N.Y. Times (April 18, 2019).

 

U.N. Human Rights Council Members Call for Venezuela To Engage with Political Opposition   

At the September 29 meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Paraguay led 29 countries, including the U.S. and the U.K., in presenting a statement that reiterated their “commitment to assist, within the framework of international law, to ensuring that Venezuelans fully enjoyed their civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights.  The disposition of the Holy See to contribute to facilitating dialogue was welcomed.  Concern was expressed at reports of repression of the voices of the opposition and excessive force used against peaceful protesters and journalists.” The statement also urged all parties in Venezuela to hold a “timely and effective dialogue,” either directly or via facilitators, “to preserve peace and safety, to ensure the full respect of human rights, due process, the separation of powers and the consolidation of a representative democracy” and to release political prisoners.[1]

Not surprisingly Venezuela opposed this statement. It alleged that “the statement [was] authored by the United States . . . [and] constituted a brazen interference into the internal affairs of Venezuela, which had been chosen as a new imperial target.”

Cuba, an ally of Venezuela and on behalf of another group of countries, opposed the statement and instead “called for respect for the sovereignty of Venezuela, in recognition of the right to choose one’s own political system, and expressed support for the Government of Venezuela in ensuring the democratic institutions of the country’s functioning.  An appeal was made to all responsible members of the international community to refrain from manifestations of interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela.” In addition, Cuba alleged that “many countries were meddling into the internal affairs of Venezuela, and Cuba would continue to oppose such attempts and to support the Constitutional President Nicolas Maduro.”

Another opponent, Nicaragua, speaking on behalf of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, asserted, “Venezuela had been a victim of an unprecedented media campaign, which aimed to disregard and hide the achievements of the Bolivarian revolution.  Those who promoted that campaign used human rights in a selective and political manner as an excuse to create conditions to destabilize the participative democracy in Venezuela.  The Group demanded full respect for Venezuela’s sovereignty.”

Two other countries spoke on the Venezuela issue. Bolivia said Venezuela “had shown the world its ability to solve differences in compliance with the principle of sovereignty” and “warned against economic sabotage of Venezuela and guarded against violence and destabilization of that country.” Ecuador encouraged the “dialogue [already] underway in Venezuela,” which “should sovereignly and freely arrive at a solution.”

At the opening of this session of the Council on September 13, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein delivered his global update on human rights that included the following lengthy comments about Venezuela:

  • “For the past two and a half years, Venezuela has refused even to issue a visa to my Regional Representative. Its comprehensive denial of access to my staff is particularly shocking in the light of our acute concerns regarding allegations of repression of opposition voices and civil society groups; arbitrary arrests; excessive use of force against peaceful protests; the erosion of independence of rule of law institutions; and a dramatic decline in enjoyment of economic and social rights, with increasingly widespread hunger and sharply deteriorating health-care. My Office will continue to follow the situation in the country very closely, and we will state our concerns for the human rights of Venezuela’s people at every opportunity. Respect for international human rights norms can create a narrow path upon which the Government and the opposition can both tread, to address and resolve peacefully the country’s current challenges – particularly through meaningful dialogue, respecting the rule of the law and the Constitution. My Office stands ready to assist in addressing the current human rights challenges, and I thank the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States for recommending that Venezuela work with my Office on a Truth Commission, which could indeed offer the people an important voice.”[2]

Any casual observer from the U.S. and elsewhere should know that Venezuela has been experiencing exceedingly difficult economic and political problems and that most of its people are desperate for food and other essentials. Its government’s attempt to gain international support by calling and hosting a sparsely attended Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, as discussed in a prior post, was an embarrassing failure.

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[1] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Human Rights Council holds general debate on technical assistance and capacity building in the field of human rights (Sept. 29, 2016); Reuters, Venezuela Urged at U.N. to Seek National Dialogue, Free Inmates, N.Y. Times (Sept. 29, 2016).

[2] Zeid’s global human rights update, U.N. Hum. Rts. Council (Sept. 13, 2016).