President Donald Trump plans to continue the biannual suspension of the Title III provision of the Helms-Burton Act, sources say. The Act permits the owners of property confiscated in Cuba to sue the Cuban government and foreign governments for using those expropriated holdings.
Since the Helms-Burton Act, formally known as Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, was passed by Congress in 1996, every president has suspended the lawsuit provision in six-month intervals. The ability to waiver the provision was added by President Bill Clinton as a compromise for U.S. allies like Mexico, Canada, and EU countries that feared Title III would open their investments in Cuba to a potential tidal wave of lawsuits in U.S. federal courts by people with prior claims.
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon informed Congress last week that Trump intends to suspend Title III for another six months starting from August 1. Congress must be notified at least two weeks before a suspension begins. Former Secretary of State John Kerry signed the last suspension for the Obama administration on January 5 and it became effective on February 1.
The suspension of Title III is the Trump administration’s first action on the island since Trump revealed his changes to Obama’s rapprochement on June 16. Trump rolled back a few changes, including individual “people to people” trips to the island, and banned U.S. companies from doing business with enterprises that are tied to the Cuban military. The regulations for handling these new changes are still being penned.
Cuban President Raúl Castro dismissed Trump’s policy as nothing new when he addressed Cuba’s National Assembly last week, calling it a return to policies that have been a “complete failure” in the past five decades. But he reiterated the island nation’s willingness to continue relations with the U.S. “on the basis of equality and respect for the sovereignty and independence of our country.”
The U.S. government certified almost 6,000 claims for Cuban properties that were confiscated after the revolution in a process that has since been discontinued. After accounting for inflation and interest, those claims are estimated to be valued at $8 billion today.
However, Title III is not only limited to certified claims by U.S.-born citizens. It would also allow Cuban Americans whose properties were taken at the time to file lawsuits. For instance, the Cubans who owned portions of the Port of Santiago could file suits against U.S.-based cruise operators that dock their ships on their property.
Robert Muse, an attorney who specializes in U.S.-Cuba law, told The Miami Herald that the hundreds of thousands of suits that could potentially be filed by Cuban Americans could “inundate the federal court system in Florida for generations.” Allowing such lawsuits to go forward would also make it “infinitely more difficult” for the U.S. to settle the certified claims with Cuba, Muse said.