WASHINGTON—In an attempt to distrupt the Castro regime’s grip on Cuba, the United States will allow its citizens to sue for stolen Cuban property starting May 1.
“Those doing business in Cuba should fully investigate whether they are connected to property stolen in service of a failed communist experiment,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters in Washington on April 17.
During the 1959 revolution, Communist leader Fidel Castro and his allies seized and nationalized billions of dollars worth of Cuban citizens’ private property.
In 1996, the United States passed the Libertad Act (pdf), also known as the Helms-Burton Act, that says Americans “should be endowed with a judicial remedy in the courts of the United States that would deny traffickers any profits from economically exploiting Castro’s wrongful seizures.”
But Title III of the Libertad Act, which allows U.S. nationals to sue for their property, has been suspended by every U.S. president since the act was passed.
“The Trump administration recognizes reality. We see clearly that the [Cuban] regime’s oppression of its own people, it’s unrepetent exploitation of tyranny in the region, has only gotten worse because dictators perceive appeasement as weakness, not strength,” Pompeo said. “For these reasons, I’m announcing that the U.S. will no longer suspend Title III.”
The United States has already certified legal claims worth $8 billion, a figure that factors in interest on the property from the time it was confiscated.
Kim Breier, assistant secretary in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, told reporters there could be tens of billions of dollars more in confiscated property that is eligible for a claim.
The announcement is part of the of the Trump administration’s efforts to force the Castro regime, now headed by Fidel’s brother Raúl Castro, toward democracy and respect for human rights, but also to weaken the communist-socialist bloc in the Western Hemisphere.
Last week, Pompeo traveled to four South American countries, in large part to talk about Venezuela, which is facing a humanitarian crisis that has resulted in over 3 million people fleeing the country for lack of food, medicine, and basic civil liberties.
“The community of democracies in our Western Hemisphere must continue to support the people of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua as they fight for the restoration of democracy and liberty,” the White House said in an April 15 proclamation on Pan American Week.
Pompeo has made it clear that he sees Cuba as standing in the way of a peaceful transfer of power from Venezuelan Dictator Nicolás Maduro to Juan Guaidó, who the United States and over 50 other countries have recognized as Venezuela’s rightful leader.
The United States is not alone in being worried by Cuba’s presence in Venezuela. On April 15, the 14-country bloc known as the Lima Group urged countries like Cuba to stop helping prop up Maduro’s dictatorship.
“The Russians are responsible for allowing Maduro to stay in power, the Cubans even more so. They’ve been in there longer; they’re more deeply committed,” Pompeo said in an interview with Spanish media EFE.
So far, the United States has used sanctions, blacklists, and political pressure to encourage the Maduro regime to step down, but Pompeo reiterated this week that “all options are on the table.”
In speaking about the administration’s trajectory on Cuba, Breier told reporters: “I think you’re going to be seeing quite a bit more from us and that this is the beginning of a new process.”