Trump will allow Cuban Americans to sue for confiscated property in Cuba

The Trump administration will end the suspension of a law that allows American citizens, including naturalized Cubans, to sue companies and subsidiaries in Cuba that benefited from private properties that were confiscated by the Cuban government, a senior administration official said Tuesday.

Title III of the Libertad Act, which was previously suspended by the Obama administration and by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, will be fully implemented, and the administration said Title IV will also be enforced. The decision is a victory for South Florida Republicans who want a tougher Cuba policy and comes as the White House tries to curtail oil shipments between Cuba and Venezuela through sanctions.

Title III allows U.S. citizens to sue for properties that were confiscated once Fidel Castro seized power in 1959 and are now valued at $8 billion. Title IV denies visas for Cubans who benefited financially from the confiscated properties after 1996.

The announcement comes a day before the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion and a planned speech by National Security Advisor John Bolton to the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association in Miami. Bolton plans on outlining the new policy in his remarks.

“This is a bump in the business world, but sends a powerful signal,” said a senior administration official, who confirmed the U.S. would not be granting any exemptions. “Over 20 years of waivers for Title III will no longer be available.”

Several longstanding U.S. allies, including Canada and Spain, which have significant business stakes in Cuba, have protested the enforcement of Title III over concerns of sovereignty. But the U.S. official said the administration’s decision to shorten waiver periods in the past few weeks gave Canada and European governments time to prepare.

Pedro Freyre, a Miami attorney who advises U.S. companies on doing business in Cuba within the limitations of the ongoing embargo, said Canadian or European companies that do business in Cuba and the U.S. are the entities that will likely have to pay up if a U.S. citizen wins in court.

“The trouble is where you collect. There are no Cuban assets on the ground here,” Freyre said. “If you allow lawsuits against foreign entities like Canadian or Spanish entities, some of those entities may have assets in the U.S. and that’s an entirely different calculation.”

Freyre said the impacts of Wednesday’s expected decision are also limited for Cuban-Americans who may have had their residence confiscated by the Cuban government.

“You cannot claim for residential property,” Freyre said. “There is no widespread ability to file claims.”

Members of Congress have also been alerted to the decision, the administration official said.

Florida Sen. Rick Scott called on the White House to implement Title III and Title IV on Tuesday.

“I’m calling on the Administration to fully implement Title III and IV of the Libertad Act to show Castro that his era of influence in Latin America is over,” Scott said in a statement. “Allowing American citizens to sue for stolen property in Cuba and denying foreign nationals involved in trafficking stolen property entry into the United States is a huge step toward cutting off the money supply to the Castro Regime. It’s a step we have to take NOW as we fight to bring a new day of freedom and democracy to Cuba and all of Latin America.”

Asked whether the enforcement of Helms-Burton reflects White House concern over close ties between Cuba and Venezuela, the official said the administration is troubled about each government independently, but that their ongoing exchange of subsidized oil for goods and services that help Nicolas Maduro maintain power in Venezuela “simply exacerbates the problem.”

“In the past three months, the pressure [on Maduro] has really gone to a maximum pressure campaign,” the official said. “The economic effects continue every day — every day there are less petroleum sales.”

“I don’t see how Maduro stays in power at that level” of pressure, the official added, claiming the Venezuelan government would soon reach a “flex point.”

The announcement and visit by Bolton was described as “part two” of Bolton’s “Troika of Tyranny” pitch delivered in Miami days before the 2018 election. President Donald Trump almost assuredly needs to win Florida if he wants a second term, and pleasing anti-Castro Cubans in Miami could help him garner goodwill in a key constituency in the nation’s largest swing state.

“Allowing U.S. citizens to sue regime for confiscated property in Cuba is the right thing to do,” tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio, a longtime proponent of implementing the Helms-Burton Act.

But Freyre questioned whether the decision to allow lawsuits hurts multilateral efforts to oust Maduro.

“How do you allow lawsuits against a country like Canada who has been supportive of efforts in Venezuela and maintain Canada as an ally?”

El Nuevo Herald staff writer Nora Gamez Torres contributed to this report.