The Trump administration is preparing to tighten the six-decade trade embargo on Cuba on Monday by allowing some lawsuits against foreign companies using properties confiscated by the Cuban government after its 1959 revolution, U.S. officials say.
Every president since Bill Clinton has suspended a section of the 1996 Helms-Burton act that would allow such lawsuits because they would snarl companies from U.S.-allied countries in years of complicated litigation that could prompt international trade claims against the United States.
Major investors in Cuba include British tobacco giant Imperial Brands, which runs a joint venture with the Cuban government making premium cigars; Spanish hoteliers Iberostar and Melia, who run dozens of hotels across the island; and French beverage-maker Pernod-Ricard, which makes Havana Club rum with a Cuban state distiller.
U.S. officials told The Associated Press that Trump would allow Title III of Helms-Burton to go into effect in a limited fashion that exempts many potential targets from litigation. The measure is being presented as retaliation for Cuba’s support of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who the U.S. is trying to oust in favor of opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Allowing a limited number of lawsuits could make investment in Cuba more burdensome for companies thinking of entering the market, who will now have to do additional research into their legal liability, but it is unlikely to be a major blow against the Cuban economy.
After nearly 60 years of trade embargo, the Cuban economy is in a period of consistently low growth of about 1 percent a year, with foreign investment at roughly $2 billion, far below what it needs to spur more prosperity. But tourism, remittances and subsidized oil from Venezuela have allowed the government to maintain basic services and a degree of stability that appears unshaken by the Trump administration’s recent moves against Cuba and its major remaining allies in Latin America — Venezuela and Nicaragua.