The Trump administration will increase its pressure on Cuba by allowing U.S. citizens to sue over property confiscated by the revolutionary government that came to power there in 1959, a senior administration official said Tuesday.
The lawsuits are permitted under a 1996 sanctions law against Cuba, but the provision has been waived on national security grounds by every administration since then. The State Department will announce the end of the waiver on Wednesday, with immediate effect, the official said.
The new step, drawing potentially hundreds of thousands of claims worth billions of dollars, is likely to bring quick condemnation from U.S. allies in Europe and Canada, many of whose companies do business in Cuba. It could also affect U.S. entities, including cruise and air travel companies.
Last month, the administration dropped part of the waiver, applying to about 200 entities in which the Cuban security services have a financial interest. The new action will include an untold number of foreign people and companies accused of “trafficking” in confiscated properties that may have changed hands and purposes many times over six decades.
The lessons those investors should draw is that “they’ve had over 20 years of profiting from property stolen from American citizens,” said the official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity imposed by the administration. Those entitled to sue include U.S. businesses and citizens, including naturalized Cuban Americans.
National security adviser John Bolton, in a Miami speech Wednesday, is due to discuss the new measure, which also allows the United States to deny or revoke U.S. visas to any person or corporate officer “involved in the confiscation of property or trafficking in confiscated property,” as well as their family members.
Bolton will address an organization of veterans of the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion on the 58th anniversary of the failed effort to overthrow the Cuban government.
The administration’s efforts to ratchet up economic pressure on Cuba, initially directed at rolling back the Obama-era opening to the island, have intensified along with accusations that Cuba is the main prop holding up the Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro.
Bolton identified Cuba and Venezuela, along with Nicaragua, as a “troika of tyranny” in an earlier Miami speech, delivered in November just days before the 2018 midterm elections. All three, he said, were the “cause of immense human suffering, the impetus of enormous regional instability and the genesis of a sordid cradle of communism in the Western Hemisphere.”
Most of the existing and potential claimants under the newly enabled law fled the island in the years immediately after Fidel Castro’s revolutionary movement took over Cuba in January 1959. The properties range from vacation beach houses to some of Cuba’s largest state-owned and joint-venture companies. Cuba’s intelligence and military services are involved in many of the businesses, particularly in the tourism sector.
A number of countries, in particular Spain and Canada, have significant investments in Cuban tourism and mining. Use of airports and port facilities that may have been built on confiscated land could also make U.S. carriers subject to the law. Successful claims would allow attachment of U.S.-based assets.
Canada and the European Union have enacted “blocking” measures that declare judgments under the act unenforceable.
The 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act codified and expanded the 1962 economic embargo against Cuba’s communist government, applying it to foreign countries and mandating that it remain in place until lifting it was determined to be in the U.S. national interest and would expedite Cuba’s return to democracy.
Although former president Barack Obama reestablished diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, and lifted a number of trade and travel restrictions, only Congress can lift the embargo.
Trump came to office vowing to reverse the Obama measures and has re-tightened both travel and trade. In recent months, the administration has accused Cuba of being both the brains and the muscle behind the Maduro government in Venezuela. It has charged that tens of thousands of Cuban military and intelligence agents are preventing the Venezuelan military from supporting Juan Guaidó, the head of the opposition-controlled Legislative Assembly, whom the United States and more than 50 other countries recognize as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president.
In addition to sanctions on Maduro officials and the Venezuela’s state oil company, the administration has also sanctioned foreign companies and vessels transporting Venezuelan oil to Cuba.
The Trump administration has been frustrated by Maduro’s staying power, but the senior administration official said that its “maximum pressure campaign” over the last three months has “really come close to bringing the entire government to a halt.”
“It’s a mistake” to say the situation in Venezuela is at a “stalemate,” the official said. “The pressure is growing” in terms of “cutting additional revenue to both Venezuela and Cuba.”