“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.”