Title III of the Helms-Burton Act from 1996 has never gone into effect. If it did, it would allow US citizens to sue persons “trafficking” on their confiscated property in Cuba. Now Trump is contemplating whether to continue suspending it.
The US’ Helms Burton Act, named after Republican Senator Jesse Helms (NC) and Representative Dan Burton (IN), was enacted into law in 1996 by the then-president Bill Clinton.
It is also known as the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996. It is a US federal law that enforces the US embargo against the island nation.
The most contested part of the act is Title III. It allows US citizens who have property in Cuba confiscated by the state –– including Cuban-Americans who were not US citizens at the time of confiscation –– to file a suit in the United States against persons that may be “trafficking” in that property.
“The Cuban Government is offering foreign investors the opportunity to purchase an equity interest in, manage, or enter into joint ventures using property and assets some of which were confiscated from United States nationals,” the Act says. (Section 301, 5).
However, some say that Title III is not there to protect the interests of Americans, whether born in the US or naturalised. They say that the threat of US lawsuits is a deterrent from international companies from doing business in Cuba.
The Act allows the president to suspend the lawsuit provisions for up to six months: “If the President takes action ... to suspend the economic embargo of Cuba, the President shall immediately so notify the Congress. The President shall report to the Congress no less frequently than every 6 months thereafter, until he submits a determination ... that a democratically elected government in Cuba is in power, on the progress being made by Cuba toward the establishment of such a democratically elected government.” (Section 204, d, 4, 1)
“Title III has never gone into effect because ever since it was enacted, Presidents Trump, Obama, Bush, and Clinton suspended it every six months, citing the US national interest,” the Cuba Research Center President Phil Peters writing for the Cuba Standard notes.
This might finally change with President Donald Trump. The State Department, on January 16, 2019, made a statement saying it would suspend Article III for 45 days only (starting on February 1), in order to conduct “a careful review”.
The department justified the action saying it would review “the national interests of the United States and efforts to expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba and include factors such as the Cuban regime’s brutal oppression of human rights and fundamental freedoms and its indefensible support for increasingly authoritarian and corrupt regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua.”
The announcement by the US State Department has provoked the ire of the Cuban government. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez took to Twitter to condemn the decision.
We categorically reject State Dept announcement to suspend for only 45 days enforcement Title III Helms-Burton Law. Political blackmail and irresponsible hostility to strengthen blockade against #Cuba . Brutal attack against Int Law with extraterritorial impact @CubaMINREX— Bruno Rodríguez P (@BrunoRguezP) January 16, 2019
All US Presidents since 1996, including current, have suspended Title III due to flagrant extraterritoriality & harm would cause to US corporate interests. It would arbitrarily put third country companies under US Courts. @CubaMINREX @cubavsbloqueo— Bruno Rodríguez P (@BrunoRguezP) January 17, 2019
A statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba notes that “If Title III were to be applied as established by this law and as threatened by the US State Department, each and every Cuban and community in the country will bear witness to the way in which the lawsuits are filed before US courts claiming for the ownership of the house they live in, the workplace they work at, the school their children attend, the polyclinic where they are provided with medical care, the parcels where their neighborhoods have been built.”
Rodriguez also went on to say that Cuba regards the language used in the US statement as “disrespectful and slanderous”. The US statement had called the island nation a “dictatorship” that should be held accountable for “60 years of repression of its people”.
#Cuba construes the threat to activate Title III of the Helms-Burton Act as an extremely arrogant and irresponsible hostile action, and repudiates the disrespectful and slanderous language used in the public announcement made by the State Department. | #CubaUS— Bruno Rodríguez P (@BrunoRguezP) January 17, 2019
The Helms-Burton Act is illegal, inapplicable and is void of any value or legal effect. Consequently, any claim filed under this law by a natural or juridical person, regardless of their citizenship or nationality, will be rendered null. | #Cuba https://t.co/3bBCX3MVVy— Bruno Rodríguez P (@BrunoRguezP) January 17, 2019