Engage Cuba Statement on President Trump's Cuba Lawsuit Decision

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced an additional suspension of Title III of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act for 30 days beginning March 19, 2019. The shortest suspension period yet, it contains an exception that allows U.S. nationals whose properties were confiscated by the Cuban government following the 1959 Cuban revolution to sue the roughly 200 Cuban entities on the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List if these companies “traffic” in confiscated property. Due to Title III’s potential to jeopardize U.S. trade interests, every U.S. administration since the law’s enactment in 1996 has suspended its implementation, typically for a period of six months. Today’s announcement marks the first time Title III has been partially activated.

"This 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 hardliners in the Cuban government. Continuing this failed policy undermines American interests and helps our adversaries,” said James Williams, President of Engage Cuba.

The LIBERTAD Act, commonly referred to as the Helms-Burton Act after its sponsors, is a core statutory pillar of the U.S. embargo on Cuba. It codifies the trade embargo and prohibits the president from unilaterally lifting sanctions until Cuba meets specific conditions for democratization. Title III of the law allows U.S. nationals whose property was seized by the Cuban government after 1959 to sue for damages in the U.S. court system.

In opposition to international law, Title III also affords claimant rights to Cuban Americans who were Cuban citizens at the time their property was confiscated. Currently, there are 5,913 certified claims of seized American property in Cuba, but the State Department has estimated there could be a flood of up to 200,000 claims with the full activation of Title III.

Today’s 30-day waiver could set a precedent of continuous short-term waivers, creating a chilling effect on foreign investment in Cuba from U.S. allies. Companies from the European Union, Canada, and Mexico could all be subjected to lawsuits if the administration allows full implementation of Title III, though most countries will protect their companies from having to pay damages to U.S. property claimants. The EU has threatened retaliation in the World Trade Organization if Title III is activated.

Meanwhile, U.S. adversaries like Russia and China are unlikely to comply with Title III lawsuits and will instead align themselves with Cuba against the intrusive U.S. policy. By maintaining a trade embargo, the U.S. has already left a vacuum in Cuba for adversarial influence. As Cuba continues to be isolated by the Trump administration, it will increasingly turn to Russia and China, who offer them favorable credit terms and invest in high-profile projects.

Click here to read Engage Cuba’s explainer on Title III.

[Photo: Desmond Boylan/Associated Press]