People in Cuba and US Reject End of Deal with MLB, Diaz-Canel Asserts

President Miguel Diaz-Canel said Tuesday that people in Cuba and the United States reject the cancelation by US President Donald Trump of an agreement struck last December between the Cuban Baseball Federation and the Major Leagues (MLB).

Diaz-Canel reacted on his Twitter account to Trump's decision announced on Monday to end the accord that was celebrated in both countries because it stops human trafficking young Cuban baseball players had to face in their aspirations to play in the Big Show.

The Head of State echoed the position set in Washington by the Engage Cuba coalition, an initiative that favors trade and good bilateral relations, which termed the cancellation a cynical, cruel and unwarranted action.

Trump argued that the Cuban Baseball Federation is part of the Cuban Government, and that therefore trade with it is illegal under US law (blockade), an argument previously defended by Cuban-born Senator Marco Rubio, known for his aggressiveness against the island.

Trump's decision came less than 15 days after Cuba released a list of more than 30 young baseball players who were eligible to sign contracts with MLB teams.

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Washington Examiner: Trump administration reverses Obama-era policy, killing deal between MLB and Cuba

A deal between Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation has been nixed by President Trump's administration, reversing a decision from President Barack Obama's tenure that facilitated a pipeline of Cuban talent into the U.S.

The deal helped Cuban-born players sign deals with the MLB and play in the U.S. without having to defect from the communist country. Supporters of the agreement said it helped prevent human trafficking as players wishing to play in the U.S. sometimes relied on smugglers to get out of Cuba. The MLB said as much when the deal was struck in December, citing the extreme measures Cuban players had to go through to make it to the U.S.

Under Obama, the Treasury Department concluded the Cuban Baseball Federation was not a formal entity under the Cuban government, providing cover from federal law prohibiting payments to the Cuban government.

But according to ESPN, the Treasury Department sent a letter to MLB on Friday declaring that any payment made to the Cuban Baseball Federation would be considered a payment to the Cuban government and therefore was a violation of federal trade laws.

The National Security Council said it wouldn't allow Cuba to exploit citizens working in the United States, leaving the door open for the possibility of a different deal between MLB and Cuba in the future.

"The U.S. does not support actions that would institutionalize a system by which a Cuban government entity garnishes the wages of hard-working athletes who simply seek to live and compete in a free society," NSC spokesperson Garrett Marquis said. "The administration looks forward to working with MLB to identify ways for Cuban players to have the individual freedom to benefit from their talents, and not as property of the Cuban State."

Opponents of the deal argued Cuba was taking advantage of the players and using them as economic and political pawns. One of those critics, national security adviser John Bolton, cited Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, whom the U.S. has declared the unlawful ruler of his country amid a political and economic crisis.

"Cuba wants to use baseball players as economic pawns – selling their rights to Major League Baseball," Bolton tweeted Sunday. "America’s national pastime should not enable the Cuban regime‘s support for Maduro in Venezuela."

The MLB Player's Association, the union that collectively bargains for MLB players, declined to comment, and the MLB simply said it stood behind the original goal of the agreement, which was to end the trafficking of players, making it safer to get to the U.S. to play baseball.

Engage Cuba, a coalition dedicated to advancing legislation to restore friendly relations with Cuba, denounced Trump's decision to tank the deal.

“The MLB deal with Cuba solved a horrible human trafficking problem," Engage Cuba president Jason Williams said. "By breaking that deal, the White House now owns this and exposes Cuban players to human rights abuses. It is a cynical, cruel and gratuitous act that is aimed at appeasing a vocal band of obstructionists bent on continuing a failed 60 year policy of isolation. The Cuban players and their families had reason for hope from this deal; that has now been extinguished."

MLB officials asked for a meeting with Trump's administration, but no meeting as been granted yet, according to ESPN.

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Washington Post: Trump administration cancels Major League Baseball deal with Cuba

The Trump administration Monday declared illegal a December deal between Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation that would have allowed Cuban athletes to play in this country without having to defect.

The announcement came less than two weeks after the start of the 2019 baseball season and just days after the federation released the names of 34 Cuban players it said were eligible to sign with Major League Baseball. Some of those players were expected to be signed and playing this year.

The agreement was intended to prevent players from undertaking risky escapes from Cuba, often with paid smugglers, and having to give up their citizenship to play in the United States. Under its terms, similar to deals with foreign players from Japan and other countries, the U.S. baseball clubs would pay a fee — equivalent to 25 percent of the player signing bonus — to the federation.

In a statement, MLB Vice President Michael Teevan said, “We stand by the goal of the agreement, which is to end the human trafficking of baseball players from Cuba.”

A senior administration official said the payments were illegal under U.S. sanctions because the federation is part of the Cuban government. The Obama administration had “fudged” the law, and the Cuban government itself was engaged in “human trafficking,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under rules imposed by the administration.

The measure was the latest of several crackdowns that are part of President Trump’s efforts to roll back his predecessor’s opening to Cuba. Since Trump took office, he has sharply reduced the size of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, required Cubans to travel to a third country to obtain U.S. visas and restricted previously allowed travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba.

Relations with Cuba have tightened even further under the direction of Trump national security adviser John Bolton, a longtime critic of easing relations, and Mauricio Claver-Carone, a lobbyist for stricter restrictions who was appointed by Bolton last year as senior director for Latin America on the National Security Council.

In early March, the administration lifted a prohibition against lawsuits by American citizens, including Cuban Americans, over property expropriated by the revolutionary government of Fidel Castro, which took power six decades ago.

The administration has also charged that tens of thousands of Cuban intelligence and security agents are in Venezuela, keeping President Nicolás Maduro in power and preventing the Venezuelan military from recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president.

Last week, the United States imposed sanctions on two companies that transport Venezuelan oil to Cuba.

Former Obama administration officials reacted angrily to the charge that they had evaded the law in allowing the baseball agreement to proceed — although the terms of the deal were negotiated, finalized and approved under Trump.

“The MLB came to us,” said Benjamin Rhodes, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser and the official who shepherded the Cuba opening that led to reestablishment of diplomatic relations in 2015. “They felt profound concern about the danger in terms of human trafficking that Cuban baseball players were subjected to to try to play in the major leagues.

“This is an indefensible, cruel and pointless decision that they’ve made that will be ending the lives of Cuban baseball players and achieve nothing beyond appeasing hard-line factions in Florida,” a state Trump is hoping to win in 2020, Rhodes said.

James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a coalition of U.S. companies and organizations that advocate lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba, called the reversal “a cynical, cruel and gratuitous act that is aimed at appeasing a vocal band of obstructionists bent on continuing a failed 60-year policy of isolation. The Cuban players and their families had reason for hope from this deal; that has now been extinguished.”

League officials said when the December agreement was signed that they had been in frequent contact with Trump officials and were assured that a Treasury Department license that had authorized the deal under the Obama administration remained valid.

But even as the deal was announced, the administration signaled that it had problems with it and would be reviewing its legality.

“It was clear at the time,” and confirmed by further review, the senior administration official said, that there were “a series of material facts which apparently had been, frankly, exaggerated and fudged by the previous administration.”

The question at issue was whether the Cuban Baseball Federation is part of the Cuban government, making it ineligible under the embargo to enter into financial arrangements with a U.S. entity unless it is licensed by the Treasury Department.

Under Obama, a number of U.S. entities were allowed to make agreements with Cuba, including pharmaceutical companies engaged in research with the Cuban health system, as well as U.S. airlines and others, under a general license that remains in force.

In a letter to the Treasury Department in January, after administration officials said they were still examining the signed agreement, attorneys for Major League Baseball noted that Japan, South Korea and China had similar deals in which league payments were made to national federations.

“MLB has been in regular contact with the U.S. government throughout its multi-year effort to address human trafficking through the establishment of a safe and orderly system” for Cuban athletes to play in this country, including as recently as November, “and received assurances throughout that period that such efforts were not only consistent with U.S. law and policy, but would be welcomed as a means to address the dangerous smuggling of these Cuban baseball players.”

A list of “restricted [Cuban] entities” published by the administration Nov. 15, it noted, did not include the baseball federation. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Washington Post.

But a letter sent to league attorneys Friday by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said the baseball deal was now prohibited.

“In light of facts recently brought to our attention, and after consultation with the U.S. Department of State,” it said, payments to the federation were not authorized because they constituted “a payment to the Cuban government.”

In a late Monday interview with Fox News, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo replied “Yep” when asked whether the move was “more effort to pinch Cuba.” Without mentioning the embargo, Pompeo said the administration was “going to do everything we can to pull [Cuba] out” of Venezuela.

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Bloomberg: Trump Administration Moves to Undercut MLB's Deal with Cuba

The Trump administration blocked an agreement that would have let Cuban baseball players come to the U.S. without having to defect, saying the deal would ultimately benefit the Cuban government.

Under the agreement, ballplayers who met certain age and experience criteria could be signed by Major League Baseball teams. A portion of the signing bonus offered to the athletes would have been returned to the Cuban Baseball Federation, similar to the way U.S. franchises pay Asian teams when signing players to come play in America.

But the White House said Monday that it didn’t want to support a process that allowed the Cuban government to profit off America’s national pastime.

“The United States does not support actions that would institutionalize a system by which a Cuban government entity garnishes the wages of hard-working athletes who simply seek to live and compete in a free society," White House spokesman Garrett Marquis said in a statement.

Last week, Cuba’s baseball league said 34 players would be eligible to sign contracts directly with U.S. teams. Had this agreement been in place last year, it would have meant about $2.5 million paid to Cuban baseball in release fees.

Defections, Kidnappings

The administration’s decision keeps a status quo that many have criticized as dangerous. Elite Cuban players looking to sign with Major League Baseball teams will have to defect from Cuba and then find their way to U.S. soil. Under immigration rules that date back to the Cold War, Cubans who reach the U.S. are generally allowed to remain.

Many professional baseball players have been outspoken about their struggles getting to the U.S. Cleveland Indians outfielder Leonys Martin was kidnapped in Mexico on his way to the U.S., while Cincinnati Reds outfielder Yasiel Puig was arrested during one of his defection attempts. Chicago White Sox All-Star Jose Abreu tore up his fake passport and ate it on his flight to America.

“The MLB deal with Cuba solved a horrible human trafficking problem," James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, said in a statement. "By breaking that deal, the White House now owns this and exposes Cuban players to human rights abuses. It is a cynical, cruel and gratuitous act that is aimed at appeasing a vocal band of obstructionists bent on continuing a failed 60-year policy of isolation."

Tougher Stand

The agreement between Cuba and MLB was reached late last year, during the Trump administration, although the negotiations were taking place under a special license that dated back to the Obama era. President Donald Trump has long vowed to tighten regulations on Cuba that were eased during his predecessor’s administration, a process that has taken on added urgency as the White House seeks to punish Cuba’s government for its support of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The decision was applauded by Florida lawmakers who criticized the Obama administration’s efforts to improve relations with Cuba.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio tweeted that the Cuban government essentially wanted "legalized trafficking of persons" in the accord with MLB. Senator Rick Scott, also a Florida Republican, said that Cuba was "exploiting its own citizens and their baseball careers to fund its oppressive agenda."

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NBC News: Trump administration moves to undercut MLB's deal with Cuba

The Trump administration scuttled a landmark deal enabling Cuban baseball players to play on Major League Baseball teams and declared it illegal, the latest move to roll back the warming of relations between the United States and Cuba that began in the Obama administration.

Senior Trump administration officials said they were rescinding an Obama-era decision that deemed Cuba’s baseball league to be separate from the Cuban government. The U.S. economic embargo on Cuba prohibits Americans from doing business with Cuba’s government, so the Obama administration’s ruling had cleared the way for an agreement between MLB and the Cuban Baseball Federation reached late last year.

That deal was designed to allow Cuban baseball players joining U.S. teams without having to defect, as had been the case in years past. Now that the ruling that underpinned the deal is being voided, “that agreement will not be able to proceed in its current form,” one official said.

“Major League Baseball has been informed of the dangers of dealing with Cuba,” said a second senior official.

Hard-line critics of the Cuban government, such as Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, have been ramping up pressure over the issue since Cuba earlier this month released the list of the first group of Cuban players who are eligible to sign direct contracts with MLB teams. There were 34 players on that list, with some expected to be able to sign with U.S. teams and start playing as early as this year.

The Cuban Embassy in Washington and MLB did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.

Under the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba passed by Congress decades ago, the administration has discretion to decide whether an entity like the Cuban Baseball Federation is too closely aligned with the government — in this case Cuba’s sports ministry — to be considered independent. Senior Trump administration officials said they couldn’t understand why the Obama administration had deemed the federation to be independent, calling it “an entity of the Cuban government.”

But former Obama administration officials said the goal of the policy had been to enable Cuban players to join U.S. teams without having to defect to the United States, which often involved dangerous journeys at the hands of human smugglers. Players would often pay to be smuggled into a third party country from which they could join MLB.

Ben Rhodes, a former National Security Council official who led the Obama administration’s effort to restore U.S. relations with Cuba, said the Trump administration’s new approach is “cruel and serves no purpose.”

“It’s an humanitarian issue for these Cuban players and their families,” Rhodes said.

Still, a senior Trump administration official said the Obama administration’s policy effectively institutionalized the individual trafficking of Cuban players, arguing that under the MLB deal, the players were still being trafficked, just by the Cuban government instead of smugglers. Under the MLB deal, U.S. teams signing Cuban players were to pay a fee for each player to the Cuban Baseball Federation.

“One way or another, it’s human trafficking,” the official said.

The Trump administration has sought to deny the communist-run island revenues that help sustain the government there, which national security adviser John Bolton has deemed part of a “troika of tyranny” along with Venezuela and Nicaragua. Rubio said Monday on Twitter that the deal reached last year amounted to the “legalized trafficking of persons” in which Cuba only lets its baseball players leave “if MLB pays them a ransom.”

“The agreement with #MLB seeks to stop the trafficking of human beings, encourage cooperation and raise the level of baseball. Any contrary idea is false news,” the Cuban Baseball Federation said Monday on Twitter. “Attacks with political motivation against the agreement achieved harm the athletes, their families and the fans.”

With the deal scuttled for now, any agreements for Cubans to play on U.S. teams would require specific licenses from the Treasury Department exempting them from the prohibition. It’s unlikely the Trump administration would move quickly to grant those licenses.

“The MLB deal with Cuba solved a horrible human trafficking problem,” said James Williams, who runs the group Engage Cuba that promotes closer ties between the U.S. and the island. “By breaking that deal, the White House now owns this and exposes Cuban players to human rights abuses.”


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The Fence Post: Bustos, Crawford introduce Cuba finance bill for UD ag exports

Reps. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., and Rick Crawford, R-Ark., on Thursday introduced the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act (H.R. 1898) to remove restrictions on private financing for U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba.

Under current law, Cuba must pay cash for imports of U.S. agricultural products.

"On top of a struggling farm economy, the president's trade war has been devastating for producers in our region," Bustos said in a news release. "That's why I'm working across the aisle on this legislation that would expand agricultural trade with Cuba – because we need to protect and open new markets for farmers and manufacturers. By providing Cubans with access to the standard credit terms offered by virtually every other nation in the world, we'll take meaningful steps toward increasing our agricultural exports and strengthening our local economy. That's a goal we should all be able to get behind."

"The Cuba embargo has been in place for several decades, yet it has done little to weaken the oppressive socialist government of Cuba and has instead stifled American business opportunities that are within a short reach," Crawford said. "Eliminating the cash-for-crop requirement would open up a substantial market for Arkansas farmers and open the door to future trade partnerships among our nations."

"Eliminating these onerous, outdated restrictions will finally allow our farmers to claim their fair market share in Cuba, while at the same time, giving the Cuban people the quality U.S. food they desire," said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a lobbying group. "Why should Cuba turn to Vietnam and Brazil for rice and soy when Arkansas and Illinois are right next door? We need to update our policies to reflect the realities of today and allow our farmers to compete in a market 90 miles off our shores."

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New Jersey Globe: Group seeks end to trade, travel restrictions with Cuba

A group of New Jersey political and business leaders will push for statewide support to lift trade and travel restrictions on Cuba.

New Jersey will become the 19th state to join Engage Cuba, a Washington-based lobbying group that advocates pro-engagement policies on the federal level.

“Removing trade restrictions on Cuba could bring new opportunities to New Jersey’s top export industries while creating jobs across the state,” said Engage Cuba president James Williams.  “At a time when New Jersey is facing a billion-dollar budget shortfall and certain industries fall victim to trade disputes, opening up new markets is the key to strengthening New Jersey’s economy.”

The bipartisan state council includes State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Little Silver), Assembly Speaker Pro-Tempore Gordon Johnson (D-Englewood), Trenton mayor Reed Gusciora, and Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey president Anthony Russo.

“Many of us in New Jersey have close ties with the Cuban people, and we should foster that connection. Both countries have so much to offer each other,” said Johnson, an early supporter of President Obama’s diplomatic rapprochement plan. “We cannot allow the economic and social isolation of the Cuban people to prevent us from continuing to advocate for our interests in Cuba—like the return of Joanne Chesimard.”

Chesimard, a member of the Black Liberation Army, murdered New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster during a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973.  She escaped from prison in 1979 and was granted political asylum in Cuba.  Cuba has turned down attempts to extradite her.  Now 71, she lives there under the name Assata Shakur.

The issue of normalizing relations with Cuba in the post-Fidel Castro era has created friction in New Jersey, which has the third-highest Cuban-American population in the U.S.

In 2016, then-Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, who fled Cuba when he was ten, condemned ten New Jersey legislators, including Johnson, Gusciora and now-Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver for traveling to Cuba.

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he disagrees with the decision of elected officials from both parties to join the Engage Cuba effort.

“Just weeks after the Cuban regime approved a new constitution designed to keep the Communist Party in power for the foreseeable future, it seems like a fool’s errand for Engage Cuba to set up a New Jersey chapter,” said Menendez.  “Having followed Cuba closely for decades, I find it frustrating to have to continuously remind folks of America’s role as a champion for human rights, and to continue cautioning against throwing an economic lifeline to a longstanding dictatorship.”

O’Scanlon said that restrictions on trade with Cuba is a burden on U.S. business owners.

“The business community in New Jersey should be free to meet demand in foreign markets and truly compete in the global marketplace,” said O’Scanlon.  “From biotechnology, to agriculture, to manufacturing, New Jersey products have the potential to change lives in Cuba and create jobs across our state.”

O’Scanlon is joined on the Engage Cuba state council by two other Monmouth County legislators, Eric Houghtaling (D-Freehold) and Serena DiMaso (R-Holmdel).  Former State Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Red Bank) is also part of the group.

Gusciora described the U.S. trade embargo as failed and said it bars the Cuban people from accessing American made products.

“While we should continue to put pressure on Cuba for its human rights abuses, we need to do so through diplomacy and commercial engagement, not isolation,” Gusciora said.  The majority of Americans want to try a new approach. It’s time to acknowledge that we are stuck in a Cold War mindset.”

Engage Cuba cited a 2014 poll conducted by the non-partisan Atlantic Council showing nearly 70% of New Jerseyans support the U.S. engaging more directly with Cuba.

Menendez said the embargo ought to continue until Cuba is free of their current regime.

“The Cuban people, like those struggling for democracy in Venezuela, yearn for the opportunity to control their destinies and provide a vibrant future for their children,” said Menendez. “But the fact is, unless the regime is compelled to change the way they govern the island and the way they exploit its people, the status quo will endure.

Despite opposition from Menendez and Gov. Chris Christie, there are now daily flights between Newark Liberty International Airport and Havana.

Russo said that lifting trade restrictions with Cuba “has the potential to be a significant boon to New Jersey industries, helping businesses succeed across sectors and across the state.”

“We need to give New Jersey business owners — the backbone of our economy — the freedom to thrive and bring free market principles to Cuba,” Russo argued.  “It’s wrong to burden New Jersey business with restrictions that none of their international competitors face.”

New Jersey has the third-largest container port in the U.S., something Engage Cuba maintains would aid New Jersey’s shipping, manufacturing and agricultural industries.

Other members of the new Engage Cuba state council include: Assemblymen John Burzichelli (D-Paulsboro), Anthony Verrelli (D-Hopewell), Joe Danielson (D-Franklin), Wayne DeAngelo (D-Hamilton), Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough), and Robert Karabinchak (D-Edison); Assemblywomen Carol Murphy (D-Mount Laurel), Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Trenton), Nancy Pinkin (D-East Brunswick) and Angela McKnight (D-Jersey City); Edison Democratic municipal chairman Shariq Ahmad, a former Menendez staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; New Jersey African American Chamber of Commerce CEO John Harmon; Trenton city councilman Jerrell Blakley; former Trenton mayor Douglas Palmer; Carteret mayor Daniel Reiman; Middletown mayor Tony Perry; Ewing mayor Bert Steinman; Monmouth County freeholder Tom Arnone; and Stephanie Macias-Arlington, the executive director of the Seton Hall University Joseph A. Unanue Latino Institute

“New Jersey, with its rich history and vibrant Cuban-American community, should continue leading the way in sending a clear message to the world and to the Cuban people that the United States will never give up on our commitment to a free and democratic Cuba,” Menendez said.

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NJ.com: These Jerseyans just launched new effort to end Cuban embargo

 A group of New Jersey political and business have banded together to lobby Congress to end the decades-long Cuban embargo.

The Engage Cuba New Jersey State Council is the 19th state organization to join the national effort led by the Washington-based advocacy group.

It comes at a time when President Donald Trump has rolled back President Barack Obama’s efforts to establish normal relations with the Communist country. Earlier this month, the State Department ended a five-year tourist visa for Cubans, allowing them to make multiple trips to the U.S., granting instead only single-entry visas for up to three months.

New Jersey is home to 44,974 Cuban Americans, behind only Florida and Texas, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

“As long as we maintain restrictions on trade with Cuba, we burden American business owners,” said state Senator Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, one of 29 founding members of the state council. “The business community in New Jersey should be free to meet demand in foreign markets and truly compete in the global marketplace. From biotechnology, to agriculture, to manufacturing, New Jersey products have the potential to change lives in Cuba and create jobs across our state."

Their efforts face opposition from New Jersey’s two Cuban-American lawmakers in Washington, who also disagreed with Obama’s overtures to Havana.

“Just weeks after the Cuban regime approved a new constitution designed to keep the Communist Party in power for the foreseeable future, it seems like a fool’s errand for Engage Cuba to set up an New Jersey chapter," said U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

“New Jersey, with its rich history and vibrant Cuban-American community, should continue leading the way in sending a clear message to the world and to the Cuban people that the United States will never give-up on our commitment to a free and democratic Cuba.”

And Rep. Albio Sires, D-8th Dist., called the effort “all about the almighty dollar,” saying that when Obama tried to engage Cuba, the government doubled down on its efforts to quash opposition.

“If you want to talk about giving something to Cuba, Cuba has to give something back, which they did not do with Obama," Sires said. "If there is dissent, they beat them up they put them in jail and they abuse them.”

One obstacle in New Jersey, however, is the continued presence in Cuba of Joanne Chesimard. who is on FBI’s list of the most wanted terrorists. Chesimard has lived there since 1984 after escaping from prison after being sentenced to life imprisonment in the killing of state Police Trooper Werner Foerster in a 1973 shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Trump mentioned Chesimard by name in his Cuba speech in June 2017 announcing changes to U.S. policy.

A member of the new council, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Bergen, said the U.S. could be in a better position to push for Chesimard’s extradition.

“Many of us in New Jersey have close ties with the Cuban people, and we should foster that connection." Johnson said. "Both countries have so much to offer each other. We cannot allow the economic and social isolation of the Cuban people to prevent us from continuing to advocate for our interests in Cuba — like the return of Joanne Chesimard.”

Others on the council include Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora; John Harmon, chief executive of the New Jersey African American Chamber of Commerce; and Peter Furey, executive director of the New Jersey Farm Bureau.

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NJBIZ: New Jersey leaders build support for lifting US embargo on Cuba

A group of political and business leaders from across New Jersey launched a bipartisan council to urge Congress to lift trade and travel restrictions on Cuba.

The effort makes New Jersey the 19th state to join Engage Cuba, a D.C.-based advocacy organization dedicated to advancing federal legislation to lift the embargo on Cuba.

The bipartisan state council includes State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-13th District; Assembly Speaker Pro-Tempore Gordon Johnson, D-37th District; Trenton mayor Reed Gusciora; and Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey president Anthony Russo.

At a time when New Jersey is facing a billion-dollar budget shortfall and certain industries fall victim to trade disputes, opening up new markets is the key to strengthening New Jersey’s economy.

“Many of us in New Jersey have close ties with the Cuban people, and we should foster that connection. Both countries have so much to offer each other,” said Johnson, an early supporter of President Barak Obama’s diplomatic rapprochement plan. “We cannot allow the economic and social isolation of the Cuban people to prevent us from continuing to advocate for our interests in Cuba—like the return of Joanne Chesimard.”

New Jersey is home to approximately 100,000 Cuban Americans. Nearly 70 percent of New Jerseyans favor the U.S. engaging more directly with Cuba, according to a poll by the nonpartisan Atlantic Council.

“Removing trade restrictions on Cuba could bring new opportunities to New Jersey’s top export industries while creating jobs across the state. At a time when New Jersey is facing a billion-dollar budget shortfall and certain industries fall victim to trade disputes, opening up new markets is the key to strengthening New Jersey’s economy,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba. “But in order to create that boost for New Jersey’s industries and improve the lives of the Cuban people, Congress must lift arbitrary trade and travel restrictions that prevent U.S. competition in Cuban markets.”

With the country’s third-largest container port, New Jersey has a unique opportunity to export goods and services from a wide variety of industries to Cuba. Lifting the embargo would not only help New Jersey’s shipping industry, but many of its top manufacturing industries, like chemical products, machinery and computers.

In addition to New Jersey, Engage Cuba has launched state councils in 18 other states including Arkansas, Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

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NBC News: Trump admin to let Americans sue some foreign firms doing business in Cuba

The Trump administration said Monday it will allow unprecedented lawsuits in American courts against Cuban companies using property seized during the 1959 revolution, as it works to discourage more of the foreign investment in Cuba that provides the island's economy with a lifeline.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a 30-day "partial waiver" to a law known as the Libertad or Helms-Burton Act, allowing U.S. citizens to bring lawsuits in U.S. federal court against about 200 Cuban entities on a "restricted list" that have been subject to U.S. sanctions. The list includes entities under the control of Cuban military intelligence or security forces, but foreign companies invested in the island will be protected against such suits — at least for now.

"Doing business with Cuba is not worth trafficking in confiscated property," Pompeo said on Twitter. A senior State Department official told reporters that "it's very clear through this action that we are going to hold the Cuban regime accountable for its confiscation of properties and ensure that there is justice for U.S. claimants."

The administration stopped short of allowing lawsuits under the law against all people or companies that do business in Cuba using property seized in the revolution. Still, officials signaled that more significant steps could take place in the future, saying they would continue reviewing the situation during the 30-day period to see whether the current measures have sufficiently deterred people from "trafficking confiscated property."

The administration's plans to allow some suits was disclosed earlier Monday by NBC News and later announced by the State Department. It could play into the Trump administration's efforts to ostracize Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro, who is closely aligned with Cuba and whose country has been labeled by national security adviser John Bolton as part of a "Troika of Tyranny," alongside Cuba and Nicaragua.

Ever since 1996, when the Helms-Burton Act went into effect, every U.S. president has waived a key portion of it called Title III that allows U.S. citizens, including Cuban-Americans, to sue people or companies that do business in Cuba using property seized in the revolution. Waiving that section prevented it from going into effect and averted lawsuits targeting major hotel chains, airlines and even mining companies that operate in Cuba, often in joint partnerships with government entities.

According to research from the U.S. Cuba Trade & Economic Council, a nonprofit that promotes trade with Cuba, companies in 20 countries could face lawsuits from owners who have certified claims to confiscated property. The list includes numerous U.S. and European airlines and cruise lines, and major hotel chains such as Spain's NH Hotel Group and Melia Hotels International. There are also concerns that both the major port in Havana and the international airport are built at least partially on land owned before the revolution by Cubans who later emigrated to the U.S.

Exempting companies in the U.S. and allied countries will help prevent a backlash from companies like Marriott International, which has started expanding into Cuba since the two countries restored relations under President Barack Obama. It could also avert a new tension point with Europe, where countries are still bristling from the Trump administration's threats to sanction companies that maintain business in Iran.

Still, groups that promote closer ties with Cuba blasted the administration's move, arguing it hurts U.S. interests and helps America's enemies.

"This is a continuation of the same embargo policy that has failed for nearly 60 years," said James Williams of the group Engage Cuba. "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig."

Creating a "partial waiver" that allows some lawsuits but not others also enters unchartered legal territory, said Angela Mariana Freyre, a former special adviser on Cuba in the White House National Security Council now at the law firm Squire Patton Boggs.

"Since Title III has been waived by every administration, both Republican and Democrat, since 1996, it has actually never been tested," said Freyre, who was born in Cuba. "We don't know what a court would do or how it would interpret a limited waiver or a partial waiver of the statute."

The Trump administration has long sought ways to toughen the U.S. economic embargo on Communist-run Cuba and has previously rolled back some of the measures enacted by the Obama administration to expand ties between the countries.

The first indication that the administration was considering Title III as the next step to pressure Cuba came in January when the waiver was last up for renewal. Rather than renewing it for the full six months, as had been done in the past, the administration waived it for only 45 days while announcing it would conduct a "careful review" of policy going forward. The administration cited U.S. national interests, human rights concerns in Cuba and efforts to "expedite a transition to democracy."

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., an advocate for harsher Cuba policies who has significant influence in the Trump administration, called the 45-day waiver "a strong indication of what comes next." He warned on Twitter at the time that "If you are trafficking in stolen property in #Cuba, now would be a good time to get out."

The 45-day waiver expires in mid-March. But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is required to inform Congress of any intent to sign another waiver at least 15 days in advance.

Cuba's government responded to the announcement on Twitter, with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez calling it an "unacceptable threat vs. the world" and saying Cuba "strongly rejects" the move against companies "arbitrarily sanctioned."

Past presidents have suspended the law out of concern over the effects it would have on the international court system, the World Trade Organization and U.S. relations with European countries, said John Kavulich of the U.S. Cuba Trade & Economic Council.

Ever since recognizing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido in January as the country's legitimate leader, President Trump has been seeking further ways to pressure Maduro out of office, but is running out of options. The administration has hit Venezuela with oil sanctions and has slapped sanctions on top Venezuelan officials, but so far Maduro is refusing to leave power.

Ramping up economic and diplomatic pressure on Cuba serves as one way for the Trump administration to try to deplete support for Maduro. Cuba's government is one of the only remaining countries in Latin America still backing Maduro, and in recent days the Trump administration has increasingly taken aim at Cuba for allegedly propping him up.

"For years, Cuban security and intelligence thugs, invited into Venezuela by Maduro himself and those around him, have sustained this illegitimate rule," Pompeo told the U.N. Security Council in January. "Let's be crystal clear: The foreign power meddling in Venezuela today is Cuba."

Cuba has adamantly denied that claim, with Rodriguez, the foreign minister, challenging the United States to provide proof. He said the roughly 20,000 Cubans in Venezuela are all civilians.

"Our government categorically and energetically rejects this slander," Rodriguez told reporters in Havana. He said the crisis in Venezuela was a "failed imperialist coup" that had been concocted by the U.S.

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The Hill: Trump to allow lawsuits to proceed against Cuban property seizures

The State Department announced a shift in Cuba policy on Monday that will allow lawsuits to proceed against Cuban government entities that traffic with property seized from Americans after the 1959 revolution.

The decision changes the way a 1996 law best known as the Helms-Burton Act is implemented, and was announced in a post on the State Department’s website.

The law’s Title III is a provision that allows lawsuits against the use of confiscated property, but its full enactment has been suspended every six months by every president since Bill Clinton.

The new guidance includes a short-term 30-day suspension of Title III starting on March 19 and creates an exception for the roughly 200 entities on the Cuba Restricted List.

That means U.S. nationals will be able to sue entities on that list for the first time since passage of the Helms-Burton law, named for the bill’s original sponsors, former Sens. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Dan Burton (R-Ind.).

The Trump administration’s short-term suspension also leaves the door open to new guidance in April.

A full implementation would allow American citizens — including Cuban-Americans who were not American citizens at the time of confiscation — to sue any entity that benefits from confiscated property, including non-Cuban companies and individuals.

Clinton first suspended Title III after complaints from U.S. allies, particularly Canada, the European Union and Mexico, whose companies regularly do business in Cuba.

Currently, just over 5,000 claims on confiscated assets of U.S. persons are recognized by the State Department, but that number could balloon with full implementation of Title III.

Many Cuban-Americans have long sought further restrictions on assets taken by forces loyal to former Cuban President Fidel Castro during and after the revolution.

But critics of the embargo say the blockade emboldened Castro and his successors, helping the Communist Party maintain a stranglehold on power.

James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a group that seeks to end the Cuban embargo, said the State Department's move “is a continuation of the same embargo policy that has failed for nearly 60 years.”

“You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. We now have six decades of evidence that the embargo hurts everyday Cubans while emboldening hard-liners in the Cuban government. Continuing this failed policy undermines American interests and helps our adversaries,” added Williams.

Florida Sens. Marco Rubio (R) and Rick Scott (R) responded to the move, saying the implementation of Title III will help cut off the money supply to the Cuban government.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) applauded the move, which he said "is long overdue."

"Years of consecutive extensions may have lulled some into a false sense of impunity," said Diaz-Balart.

"Yet now companies which willingly entangle themselves in partnerships with the anti-American, illegitimate, and oppressive regime in Cuba are on notice that they will be held responsible for their part in callously benefiting from the extensive losses suffered by victims of the regime," he added.

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CNS News: ‘Justice Is Coming’ Says Rubio, As U.S. Clears Way for Lawsuits Involving Cuban Regime’s Seizure of Property

“Justice is coming,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted Monday, in a message directed at Cuba’s communist rulers as the Trump administration for the first time paved the way for suits in U.S. federal courts against entities controlled by military intelligence or security forces, for “trafficking” in private property confiscated by the Castro regime decades ago.

Rubio, a leading critic of the regime in Havana, described the move as “the first in a series of steps to hold the regime in Cuba accountable for its 60 years of crimes & illegality which includes its support for the murderous #MaduroCrimeFamily” – his term for the regime in Venezuela.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that, for the first time, the U.S. government is making an exception to a legislative waiver, to allow plaintiffs to sue entities controlled by intelligence or security forces, which are on a “Cuba Restricted List.”

Apart from that exception, the waiver prevents lawsuits, under the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, against companies or individuals which use formerly private property that was seized, nationalized or expropriated by the authorities after the revolution.

Pompeo also announced he was extending the current waiver – which relates to lawsuits that could be brought against third-country investors – by just 30 days. That is far shorter than the six-month waivers which previous administrations put in place over the past 23 years.

The Trump administration itself issued six-month waivers on three previous occasions, although in January it issued a waiver of just 45 days, saying at the time that would allow the administration “to conduct a careful review of the right to bring action” under the relevant provision of the Helms-Burton Act.

That 45-day waiver expires on March 19, when the new 30-day one goes into effect, running through April 17.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez on Twitter slammed the decision to allow lawsuits against Cuban entities which he claimed were “arbitrarily sanctioned by [the] Trump administration.”

Of the 30-day waiver applying to other lawsuits, he called that an “unacceptable threat against the world.”

Rodriguez’ ministry, in a lengthier statement, called the Cuba Restricted List “arbitrary and illegitimate.”

It said the Helms-Burton law “rests on two fundamental lies: the notion that the nationalizations carried out shortly after the revolutionary triumph were illegitimate or improper and that Cuba constitutes a threat to the national security of the United States.”

The ministry said despite Monday’s decision, the U.S. “will continue to fail in its central objective of forcibly subduing the sovereign will of Cubans and our determination to build socialism.”

‘No justice for this theft’

A senior State Department official, speaking on background, said entities on the Cuba Restricted List are those that are “under the control of Cuban military intelligence or security forces, which are, of course, those that are directly responsible for the repression of the Cuban people.”

“So finally, with this decision the U.S. is holding the Cuban regime accountable and opening a path of redress for U.S. claimants whose property was illegally and unjustly seized by the regime,” the official said. “We should remember that after Fidel Castro seized power, he confiscated private property of thousands of private individuals and companies without any compensation. And to date, there’s really been no justice for this theft.”

Last updated in November, the Cuba Restricted List includes two government ministries (armed forces and interior), five holding companies and 43 holding company “subentities,” 38 “entities directly serving the defense and security sectors,” 99 hotels, two tourist agencies, five marinas and ten stores in Havana.

The senior official said the administration will use the 30-day waiver announced by Pompeo “to encourage any person who is doing business in Cuba to reconsider whether they are trafficking in confiscated property.”

Many of the companies concerned – that is, companies invested in Cuba but which are still covered by the waiver for now – are foreign. The official said the U.S. had “consulted with partners in Europe, Canada and elsewhere” and that Pompeo “was very clear that part of their concerns were a factor in his decision-making process,”

In the 1970s, a U.S. Department of Justice Foreign Claims Settlement Commission determined that 5,911 claims for confiscated assets in Cuba, worth a combined principal value of $1.85 billion, were worthy of compensation. That was later amended to a total of 5,913 certified claimants, with claims valued at a total of $1.902 billion.

Just over 5,000 of the certified claimants are individual former owners of the confiscated property, while the rest are corporate entities, including hospitality, energy, mining and sugar companies.

James Williams, president of an advocacy group called Engage Cuba, slammed Pompeo’s announcement, saying there were six decades of evidence that the U.S. trade embargo “hurts everyday Cubans while emboldening hardliners in the Cuban government. Continuing this failed policy undermines American interests and helps our adversaries.”

Engage Cuba said that as the administration continues to isolate Cuba, the Cubans “will increasingly turn to Russia and China, who offer them favorable credit terms and invest in high-profile projects.”

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Bipartisan coalition in Senate introduce legislation to lift Cuba trade embargo

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., reintroduced major legislation to lift the Cuba trade embargo. The bipartisan Freedom to Export to Cuba Act would eliminate the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba and pave the way for new economic opportunities for American businesses and farmers by boosting U.S. exports and allow Cubans greater access to American goods. The legislation repeals key provisions of previous laws that block Americans from doing business in Cuba, but does not repeal portions of law that address human rights or property claims against the Cuban government.

“Instead of looking to the future, U.S.-Cuba policy has been defined for far too long by conflicts of the past,” Klobuchar said. “Cuba is an island of 11 million people, just 90 miles from our border—lifting the trade embargo will open the door to a huge export market, create jobs here at home, and support both the American and Cuban economies. Our bipartisan legislation will finally turn the page on the failed policy of isolation and build on the progress we have made to open up engagement with Cuba by ending the embargo once and for all.”

“History has shown that the embargo with Cuba has not been very effective,” Enzi said. “This bipartisan legislation would benefit the people in America and in Cuba. It would provide new opportunities for American businesses, farmers and ranchers. We need to open dialogue and the exchange of ideas and commerce that would help move Cuba forward. It is time to work toward positive change.”

“Decades after the end of the Cold War we continue to impose punitive sanctions against Cuba, a tiny island neighbor that poses no threat to us,” Leahy said. “After more than half a century, the embargo has achieved none of its objectives. President Obama took a courageous and pragmatic step in opening diplomatic relations with Cuba, but President Trump has reinstated the failed isolationist policy of the past. It is up to Congress to end the embargo, which is used by the Cuban government to justify its repressive policies, and by foreign companies to avoid competing with U.S. businesses that are shut out of the Cuban market. Lifting the embargo will put more food on the plates of the Cuban people, allow them to access quality U.S. products, and encourage reforms in Cuba’s economy, all while benefiting American companies. I commend Senator Klobuchar for her steadfast leadership on this issue.”

Cuba relies on agriculture imports to feed the 11 million people who live on Cuba and the 3.5 million tourists who visit each year. This represents a $2 billion opportunity for American farmers annually. The Freedom to Export to Cuba Act repeals the current legal restrictions against doing business with Cuba, including the original 1961 authorization for establishing the trade embargo; subsequent laws that required enforcement of the embargo; and other restrictive statutes that prohibit transactions between U.S.-owned or controlled firms and Cuba, and limitations on direct shipping between U.S. and Cuban ports.

The legislation has been endorsed by Engage Cuba, the Washington Office on Latin America, the Latin America Working Group and Cargill.

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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: Arkansan sees path for Cuba trade bill; Crawford measure stalled in past, but key dissenters have since departed

With Democrats in the House majority and with a couple of key foes no longer on Capitol Hill, supporters of increased agriculture sales to Cuba see an opening for passage of a bill addressing the issue.

“I think our chances of moving our Cuba trade bill have increased tremendously, so we’re going to make that a priority issue,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark. “It’s widely supported.”

Presidential politics is a wild card, however. The White House last month signaled that it may adopt a harder line with Havana.

During the previous session of Congress, Crawford sponsored the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, which would have allowed farmers and others to extend credit “to Cuba or to an individual or entity in Cuba.” The legislation also would have enabled Americans to invest in nongovernmental agricultural enterprises there.

While it would have allowed individuals to assume the financial risks, taxpayers wouldn’t have been left holding the bag if the debts went unpaid, Crawford has said.

The lawmaker from Jonesboro represents northeastern Arkansas and a string of counties up and down the Mississippi River. His district grows more rice than any other district in the country.

Critics say the ban on credit is the reason why U.S. rice sales to Cuba dropped from $64 million in 2004 to zero in 2009. It stayed there throughout then-President Barack Obama’s eight years in office and continued after Donald Trump became president.

Cuba, with a population of 11 million, imports roughly $2 billion worth of food each year. In 2017, only $291.3 million of those exports was from the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau. None of that was rice.

Melvin Torres, director of Western Hemisphere Trade for the World Trade Center Arkansas, said Havana is eager to do business with the U.S.

“Cuba is ready to have the embargo lifted, and they’re just waiting for the United States to lift it,” he said.

Despite the differences between the two countries, U.S. visitors are well-received, he said.

“Americans are very welcome. You even see Cubans, just regular Cubans, with shirts that say ‘USA’ or hats that say ‘USA’ just walking down the street,” he said. “You talk to them and they’re excited. They don’t really seem to have any [bad] feeling against the U.S.”

Crawford’s measure had 43 Republican co-sponsors and 23 Democrats. A similar bill in the Senate had the backing of U.S. Sen. John B o o z m a n , R-Ark. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue had also voiced support for dropping the ban on credit. But the proposal faced opposition as well, especially from Cuban-American members of the Florida congressional delegation, Crawford noted.

In the interest of party unity, then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., preferred to sidestep what he viewed as a “wedge issue,” even though he had once been a vocal supporter of free trade with Cuba, Crawford said.

“It wasn’t something that he was willing to walk the plank on or force his members to take a position on,” Crawford said.

Now Ryan is gone. So are two of the measure’s strongest Florida Republican foes.

One, U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, was narrowly defeated by Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in last year’s midterm elections. Another, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, retired after nearly three decades on Capitol Hill. Her seat was filled by Democrat Donna Shalala.

Only one Cuban-American continues to represent a southern Florida House district: Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. His office did not respond to requests for comment submitted Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Another influential Cuban-American from Florida, Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, is urging the White House to keep the embargo in place.

Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, said Crawford’s bill is a bad idea and will continue to face fierce opposition in the 116th Session of Congress.

“Even today there is a strong bipartisan coalition that does not want to do favors for the Cuban government,” said Calzon, whose group seeks “human rights … democracy and the rule of law on the island.”

Allowing Americans to extend credit to Havana is a bad idea, he said.

“The Cuba government, time and again, fails to pay what it owes,” he said. “It’s not only morally [bankrupt], it’s economically bankrupt.”

Trump, thus far, has taken steps to roll back some of Obama’s Cuba policies. In 2017, Trump made it harder for Americans to travel to the island and placed additional restrictions on those doing business there. That year, he also expelled 15 Cuban diplomats after reports of suspected sonic attacks targeting American officials in Havana.

The source of the alleged attacks was never determined.

Nationwide, polls have shown support for removing trade barriers with Cuba.

The Cuban-American community in south Florida, on the other hand, is divided over whether to support the embargo.

The Florida International Cuba Poll, which surveyed 1,001 Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County, Fla., between Nov. 14 and Dec. 1, found that 51 percent want the embargo to continue; 49 percent want it to end.

The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The generational gap between both sides is substantial, researchers said. Sixty-five percent of Cuban-Americans ages 18-39 opposed the embargo; 73 percent of Cuban-Americans 76 years of age or older favor it.

Across the U.S., “There’s a cultural divide, there is a political divide, there’s a geographic divide but … outside of Florida, probably upwards of 70 percent support this,” Crawford said. “I think that we just have to continue to press and, eventually, we’ll hit a critical mass of support and it’ll be harder to deny it.”

Crawford, who has traveled to Cuba three times, said singling out Cuba for adverse treatment makes no sense.

The U.S. already does business with a number of countries that are “in the same category as Cuba — or even worse,” Crawford said.

“Our good buddies in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Vietnam, Venezuela: There’s a laundry list of countries who are every bit as bad with regards to their human-rights records,” Crawford said.

The embargo has been a failure, according to Crawford, who visited the island in November.

“It’s not benefiting anybody, and it’s certainly not changing the trajectory in Cuba,” he said.

James Williams, president of the pro-trade group Engage Cuba, expressed hope that Crawford’s legislation will gain traction.

“I’d say, on the whole, it’s more promising than it’s been in a very long time,” he said. “I think we’re on much firmer footing than we were [a year ago].”

Cuba is ready to do business with its neighbor to the north, he said.

“Cubans want to buy U.S. products. They want to buy U.S. agriculture commodities,” he said. “If we’re able to trade with them like we do with everybody else, you’ll see a huge spike in purchasing from American farmers.”

Cuba won’t be flooding the U.S. market with products of its own, Williams noted.

“This is one-way trade,” he said. “It would be the most incredible, one-sided trade relationship that the United States has.”

There’s one potential land mine, however, according to Williams: the Helms-Burton Act. The 1996 statute allows lawsuits against businesses that are benefiting from property seized after Cuba’s socialist revolution roughly six decades ago.

The law enables presidents to suspend the property provisions; every president since Bill Clinton, including Trump, has done so.

But last month, the State Department announced it would launch a “careful review” to determine whether lawsuits should be allowed to proceed.

“We encourage any person doing business in Cuba to reconsider whether they are trafficking in confiscated property and abetting this dictatorship,” the department announced Jan. 16.

If the Trump administration clears the way for lawsuits, Williams said, then U.S.-Cuba relations would further deteriorate.

“It would basically kill U.S. business. It would hurt U.S. allies. The only ones who really wouldn’t be affected would be our adversaries who don’t care — like Russia, China, Iran,” he said.

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