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.