WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

(AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

5 Apr 2019 | Press Release

Trump Administration Continues to Threaten Cuba and Other Nations with Helms-Burton Act

Washington, DC—On April 3, the Trump administration signaled that it would continue to use a key provision of the Helms-Burton Act—a law that enforces the U.S. embargo on Cuba—to intensify pressure on both the Cuban government and European nations that have policy disagreements with the United States over Cuba and Venezuela.

Ever since the Helms-Burton Act was signed into law in 1996, every U.S. president has waived a portion of the law—Title III—which would allow U.S. citizens to file lawsuits against foreign companies that have investments involving land confiscated during the Cuban Revolution. However, last month the Trump administration became the first in history to partially allow Title III to go into effect. As a result, the U.S. government is now permitting lawsuits against a limited list of Cuban businesses and government entities (this move was mostly symbolic, as most of these companies and entities do not have assets in the United States that could be seized in a legal judgement).

The Trump administration appears to be openly considering a fuller implementation of Title III, which would permit a broader set of lawsuits against foreign companies over Cuba. However, as of this week, the U.S. government has postponed its official decision on whether it will fully implement the provision to May 1. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that the government would evaluate the approaches European countries are taking toward Cuba before it makes a decision. The Miami Herald reports that “Spain, Canada and France would be among the countries most affected by a full implementation of Title III, as they have investments in tourism and mining on the island.”

In reaction to these developments, Geoff Thale, Vice President for Programs at the Washington Office on Latin America, issued the following statement:

“The State Department continues to use the threat of permitting lawsuits against foreign companies that do business in Cuba as a cudgel against Europeans and others. It’s trying to force them to put pressure on Cuba, in an effort to compel other countries into joining U.S. efforts to punish Cuba and hurt the Cuban economy over policy disagreements. It’s more like bullying than diplomacy, and it won’t be well received. Allowing lawsuits against third-country businesses is clearly at odds with international principles, and is likely to lead to retaliatory moves from other governments.”