US warns Cuba, considers allowing lawsuits over property

Libertad Act

HAVANA, Jan. 16th (AFP) US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned foreign businesses Wednesday to steer clear of formerly private properties seized by Cuba — and said he was considering allowing lawsuits over such properties in US courts.

Pompeo said he was reviewing whether to move forward on the Libertad Act, a 1996 law that would allow Cuban exiles to sue both private companies and Cuba itself for profiting on properties nationalized after Fidel Castro’s 1959 communist revolution.

US administrations have routinely used their authority to delay implementation of the act every six months — but Pompeo said he was issuing a suspension for only 45 days starting from February 1.

Pompeo said in a statement that US President Donald Trump’s administration would conduct a “careful review” over the period.

The administration will look at “efforts to expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba and include factors such as the Cuban regime’s brutal oppression of human rights and fundamental freedoms and its indefensible support for increasingly authoritarian and corrupt regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua,” he said.

“We call upon the international community to strengthen efforts to hold the Cuban government accountable for 60 years of repression of its people,” he added.

“We encourage any person doing business in Cuba to reconsider whether they are trafficking in confiscated property and abetting this dictatorship.”

The warning was another sharp reversal from the policies of former president Barack Obama, who normalized relations with Cuba and said that decades of US policy to overthrow the communist state had failed.

Even before Obama’s reconciliation drive, successive US administrations determined that the Libertad Act would jeopardize key relationships as European allies and Canada have invested widely in Cuba.

The Libertad Act was spearheaded by late far-right Republican senator Jesse Helms after Cuba in 1996 shot down two aircraft flown by exiled Cuban activists.