Mon, 13 Jul 2020

U.S.-Cuban relations shatter again as Trump flexes muscles

William M. LeoGrande - The Conversation
19 Apr 2019, 20:41 GMT+10

<p>The Trump administration has <a href="">declared</a> the most severe new sanctions against Cuba since President John F. Kennedy imposed an <a href="">economic embargo</a> banning all trade with the communist island in 1962.</p><div><p>Speaking in Miami on Wednesday, the anniversary of the United States&rsquo; <a href="">failed 1961 invasion of Cuba&rsquo;s Bay of Pigs</a>, national security adviser John Bolton announced the end of virtually all non-family travel to Cuba and placed new limits on the money Cuban Americans can send to family on the island.</p><p>He also said the U.S. will now implement a <a href="">23-year-old law aimed at blocking both U.S. and foreign investment in Cuba</a>, first passed by Congress in 1996 as part of a broader sanctions package against Cuba but <a href="">put on hold because it triggered immense opposition</a> among U.S. allies.</p><p>The harsh new sanctions reverse &quot;the disastrous Obama-era policies, and finally end the glamorization of socialism and communism,&quot; Bolton said.</p><p>Trump&rsquo;s decision activates a long-suspended 1996 provision of U.S. Cuba sanctions that allows Cuban Americans to <a href="">sue in U.S. courts</a> any company that benefits from private property of theirs confiscated by Fidel Castro&rsquo;s regime.</p><p>Normally, U.S. courts have no jurisdiction over property owned by non-citizens that is nationalized by a foreign government. For U.S. courts to sit in judgment of another government&rsquo;s actions toward its own citizens in its own territory is a <a href="">challenge to that government&rsquo;s sovereignty</a>.</p><p>U.S. allies who do business with Cuba vehemently <a href="">oppose the move</a>.</p><p>In 1996, when the U.S. law was first approved, the European Union <a href="">filed a complaint</a> with the World Trade Organization and adopted a law prohibiting EU members and their companies from complying with the U.S. legislation. <a href="">Mexico, Canada</a> and the <a href="">United Kingdom</a> soon passed similar legislation.</p><p>In response, President <a href="">Bill Clinton suspended</a> the lawsuit provision, which is called Title III, for six months, and in 1998 he signed <a href="">an agreement</a> with the EU that European companies who do business in Cuba would not be targeted.</p><p>Since then, every president, Democrat and Republican, has renewed the suspension. Trump himself renewed it three times &ndash; until he didn&rsquo;t.</p><p>The president has now <a href="">reignited international outrage</a> over this sanction, which abrogates Clinton&rsquo;s agreement with the EU and complicates already rocky U.S. relations with Mexico and Canada.</p><p>Who wins?</p><p>A small but elite community stands to benefit from Title III: Cuba&rsquo;s former <a href="">one percenters</a> &ndash; members of the exiled upper class that owned nearly all the land and business in Cuba prior to the 1959 Cuban Revolution.</p><p>Most wealthy Cubans fled the country after Fidel Castro&rsquo;s Communist government <a href="">nationalized their businesses and confiscated</a> their homes, bank accounts and property. Some <a href="">still dream</a> of recouping their lost fortunes.</p><p>They can now sue Cuban, American and foreign companies that profit in any way from the use of that property.</p><p>For example, former owners of Cuba&rsquo;s nickel mines could seek damages from Canada&rsquo;s <a href="">Sherritt International Corporation</a>, which has invested in Cuba&rsquo;s nickel mining industry. The former owners of Cuban hotels could sue the Spanish hotel company <a href="">Melia</a>, which manages hotels across the island.</p><p>Every U.S. and foreign company that <a href="">does business with Cuba</a> with profits of <a href="">over US$433,000 a year</a> &ndash; or might do so in the future &ndash; risks being sued if they make use of property once owned by a Cuban exile who is now a U.S. citizen. According to a 1996 <a href="">State Department analysis</a>, implementing Title III could flood U.S. federal courts with as many as 200,000 lawsuits.</p><p>Most Cuban Americans will gain nothing from Trump&rsquo;s latest sanctions.</p><p>It exempts private residences from compensation. So, if the main thing you owned back in Cuba was a house that was confiscated after Jan. 1, 1959, you&rsquo;re out of luck.</p><p>The exiled owners of thousands of <a href="">small Cuban mom-and-pop shops nationalized in 1968</a> won&rsquo;t see compensation, either, because the law exempts Cuban small businesses that were confiscated.</p><p>Those who stand to benefit are the oldest, <a href="">most conservative</a> and wealthiest segment of Florida&rsquo;s 1.5 million Cuban Americans.</p><p>Trump <a href="">believes</a> these influential Republicans helped him win Florida in 2016 because he promised to take a hard line towards Havana, rolling back President Obama&rsquo;s restoration of diplomatic and economic relations with the island.</p><p>If the president thinks these punishing new sanctions can <a href="">deliver Florida to him</a> again in 2020, he may have miscalculated.</p><p>I&rsquo;ve studied <a href="">Cuba-U.S. relations for decades</a>. While activating the law may please Cuba&rsquo;s former wealthy business owners, Trump&rsquo;s new sanctions &ndash; like limiting the money Cuban Americans can send back to the island &ndash; are unlikely to be popular in the broader Cuban American community.</p><p>By decisive majorities, <a href="">Cuban Americans support</a> free travel between the U.S. and Cuba, broader commercial ties and President Obama&rsquo;s decision to normalize relations. Every year, they send <a href="">$3 billion</a> to family on the island, and hundreds of thousands of them travel there to visit.</p><p>These Cuban-American voters don&rsquo;t want to inflict more economic pain on the Cuban public, which includes their friends and family.</p><p>The punitive aspects of the newly implemented law, which administration officials have for months <a href="">hinted that they would put into effect</a>, are already having an impact.</p><p>Cuban American families who owned the land and facilities at the <a href="">port of Havana</a> and <a href="">Jos&eacute; Mart&iacute; International Airport</a> have warned the cruise ship companies and airlines that their use of these properties could put them at legal risk.</p><p>Along with money sent from their families abroad, tourism-related income sustains many everyday Cubans.</p><p>If travel businesses withdraw from Cuba, and if U.S. and foreign firms <a href="">hesitate to enter</a> into new commercial relations with Cuba for fear of incurring lawsuits in the United States, Cuba&rsquo;s already <a href="">fragile economy</a> would take a serious hit.</p><p>That may play well with Cuba&rsquo;s old elite. But the rest of Florida&rsquo;s Cuban Americans will feel the hurt, too.</p><p>(The writer William M. LeoGrande is Professor of Government at the American University School of Public Affairs).</p></div>

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