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Cuba: Title III of the Helms Burton Act is six months old

| News | Cuban Desk

Ignacio Aparicio analyzes in Expansión the US measures against Cuba, the response of the international community and the possible implications for the process of impeachment to Trump.

When the echoes of the visit of the King and Queen of Spain to Cuba on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana still ring out, a visit full of gestures of support for the country and the Spanish businessmen who trade with the island, the U.S. trade blockade is reaching a climax this November, month in which it is six months since Title III of the Cuban Freedom and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 (Helms-Burton), which authorizes Americans to sue before federal courts those who, regardless of their nationality, "traffic" in goods confiscated by the Cuban state after Castro's revolution.

In the midst of Trump's impeachment process, with the presidential elections approaching in November 2020 and following the saying "all roads to the White House begin in Florida," the measures adopted against Cuba could still intensify its strategy to capture the Republican vote in that state.

Don’t forget that, as of December 10, flights by U.S. airlines to all Cuban cities are prohibited, except those bound for Havana. The purpose of this measure is to attack tourism and prevent the Cuban government from accessing U.S. travellers’ currency. Remember that in June U.S. passenger ships and recreational vessels were banned from traveling to Cuba, a measure that has affected many companies, including Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean.

A new limit on remittances to Cuba from the United States came into effect in October, reducing them to $1,000 per person per quarter, and prohibiting remittances to relatives of officials and members of the Communist Party of Cuba.

This past Wednesday, another five new entities (hotels and resorts) were added to the State Department's Restricted List "black list", which relates Cuban entities with which there is a prohibition to carry out financial transactions, among them, a large number of hotels of the Iberostar, Meliá or Kempinski chains.

The ghost of Trump's government putting Cuba back on the list of countries sponsoring terrorism, from which Obama removed it in 2015, continues to be planned. The inclusion in this list would mean, among others, the persecution of financial transactions between the island and third country banks through the imposition of multimillion-dollar fines, as was the case of BNP Paribas in 2014, for carrying out transactions with Iran, Sudan and Cuba.

But the activation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act has undoubtedly been Trump's "star" measure. Although the law came into force in 1996, the international rejection that its Title III produced led to it being continuously and successively deactivated by U.S. presidents, until Trump.

The possibility of suing under that Title has meant in six months the unleashing of a series of judicial actions whose balance speaks for itself: to date there have been 20 defendants: 16 in Florida, 1 in Washington DC and another in Washington State, 1 in Nevada and 1 in Delaware. It is estimated that 25 law firms, 73 plaintiffs and 67 defendants are involved, 4 class actions have been filed and at least 5 more companies have been served and will become defendants if they do not reach an agreement. Among the companies currently being sued are Amazon, American Airlines, BBVA, Carnival, Expedia, Kayak, Melia, Tripadvisor and Trivago, among others. 

In addition, despite the fact that companies not involved in these processes should have no problem in continuing their activities on the island, the fear of possible reprisals from the U.S. environment is contagious and has been seizing financial institutions that to date have been working with clients in their operations with Cuba. This aggravates the lack of liquidity in foreign currency and the problem of late payments.

Also, investors in Cuba (including Spanish companies) are already receiving notifications in the sense threatened by the U.S. government last April, under Title IV of the Act that allows the denial of visa and exclusion from the U.S. to managers of entities against which there is a claim for confiscated property, their spouses or underage children.

Faced with this, the reaction of diplomacy and the EU is not being as effective as it should be. Regulation 2271/96 protects its nationals from the effects of Helms Burton on European territory, but not the assets or interests that those affected on US territory may have. After the unsuccessful diplomatic efforts to protect the investments of its nationals, it seems that only a new lawsuit before the World Trade Organization can be presented as the most forceful way against the United States. This past Thursday, Minister Reyes Maroto once again urged the European Commission to adopt such a measure.

We will have to wait for events, new US measures, a response from the international community and above all if the outcome of the US elections represents a return to the trend initiated by Obama, since the possible removal of Trump on the basis of impeachment, if approved, is not expected to mean a change in the line of the measures adopted against Cuba.

You can read the article in Expansión.

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