US symbolically tightens trade embargo on Cuba

Updated March 05, 2019

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Announcement limits lawsuits 200 Cuban businesses, government agencies that are already subject to special US sanctions. — AFP/File
Announcement limits lawsuits 200 Cuban businesses, government agencies that are already subject to special US sanctions. — AFP/File

HAVANA: The Trump administration announced on Monday that it is symbolically tightening the six-decade trade embargo on Cuba by allowing lawsuits against Cuban companies using properties confiscated after its 1959 revolution.

The announcement limits lawsuits to a list of about 200 Cuban businesses and government agencies that are already subject to special US sanctions because they are tied to the Cuban military and intelligence ministries. Virtually none of the businesses have any links to the US legal or financial systems, meaning the ability to sue is unlikely to have any effect on the Cuban economy or foreign businesses that work with the socialist government.

Some of the businesses on the list are hotels operated as joint ventures with foreign companies, but the Trump administration measure does not allow the foreign companies themselves to be sued, a State Department official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Every president since Bill Clinton has suspended a section of the 1996 Helms-Burton act that would allow such lawsuits because they would snarl companies from US-allied countries in years of complicated litigation that could prompt international trade claims against the United States. Along with carving out a small exception to Title III of the act, the Trump administration said it would only be suspended for 30 days, raising the prospect of more biting sanctions in the future.

The Cuban government called that an “unacceptable threat against the world.” “I strongly reject the State Department’s announcement to authorize lawsuits under Title III of the Helms-Burton act, against a list of Cuban companies arbitrarily sanctioned by the Trump administration,” Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Twitter.

Major investors in Cuba include British tobacco giant Imperial Brands, which runs a joint venture with the Cuban government making premium cigars; Spanish hoteliers Iberostar and Melia, who run dozens of hotels across the island; and French beverage-maker Pernod-Ricard, which makes Havana Club rum with a Cuban state distiller.

“It is not intended to affect European companies that are currently doing business in Cub,” the State Department official said. “You could not sue a European or Japanese partner in a joint venture.” Attorneys for Americans with claims on confiscated properties said the Trump decision to announce an extremely limited partial lifting of Title III of the Helms-Burton act may itself be illegal because it violates their clients’ rights to sue.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2019