April 29, 2019

Punitive Measures Against Cuba


  • The Cuban regime continues to prop up the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.
  • To deter Cuban interference, the Trump administration announced that it will enforce U.S. law to allow U.S. nationals to file lawsuits against foreign entities profiting from property seized in the Cuban revolution of 1959.
  • The administration has taken other steps to increase pressure on Cuba, including canceling an arrangement that allowed Cuban baseball players to play in the United States without needing to defect.

Cuba’s ongoing material and financial support for Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela has triggered U.S. countermeasures. On April 17, the Trump administration announced that beginning May 2, U.S. citizens will be allowed to file lawsuits against foreign entities doing business involving properties seized after the 1959 Cuban revolution.

The Libertad Act of 1996

The Libertad Act, also known as the Helms-Burton Act, allows U.S. citizens to file suit against companies trafficking in property seized by the Cuban government. President Clinton signed the bill into law following an incident in which Cuban fighter jets shot down two private planes belonging to a humanitarian search and rescue group in Miami.

The law grants citizens a right to sue “any person” who “traffics in property which was confiscated by the Cuban government on or after January 1, 1959.” Trafficking is defined broadly in the act to apply to anyone who buys, sells, or otherwise disposes of the property, as well as anyone who profits from the use of that property.  

While the Cuban government will not allow U.S. citizens to collect the awards claimed under this law, plaintiffs can recover their claims against foreign businesses. If the governments of the foreign countries do not allow collection within their countries, U.S. citizens can levy claims against the foreign entity’s property in the United States. This could include foreign corporations or individual people.

Though the law has been on the books since 1996, it contains a provision allowing the president to waive its effect. President Trump would be the first to allow the lawsuits. Because the law will permit the collection of claims against non-Cuban foreign companies, countries that allow trade with Cuba, e.g., Canada, France, Spain, and Great Britain, have expressed their opposition to ending the waivers.

Other punitive measures against cuba

In June 2017, President Trump tightened restrictions on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens, requiring that travelers be part of an educational tour. The Obama administration had allowed people to travel on an individual basis. This month, National Security Adviser John Bolton announced that the United States would be cracking down on “veiled tourism” by U.S. citizens claiming one of the 12 approved reasons for travel, such as religious activities or humanitarian projects.

The administration also this month reversed a key legal opinion allowing Major League Baseball to reach a deal permitting Cuban baseball players to play in the United States without having to defect. The Obama administration had authorized Major League Baseball to negotiate an agreement to that effect with the Cuban Baseball Federation. Under the terms of that arrangement, finalized in December, Major League Baseball teams would have paid the Cuban Baseball Federation a fee of up to 25 percent of the player’s signing bonus.

Issue Tag: Senate