Trump administration escalates sanctions against Cuba

UPDATE: On 17 April, US National Security Advisor John Bolton announced in a speech in Miami that the suspension on Title III of the Helms-Burton Act would be fully lifted, a dramatic expansion of the US's illegal blockade. This will allow US nationals to sue foreign companies that do business with Cuba. Bolton also announced: individuals who 'traffic' in property that was nationalised by Cuba will not be issued visas to travel to the US; all travel to Cuba from the US will be restricted only to those visiting their immediate family; and limits on remittances (money sent by individuals in the US to their families in Cuba) will be tightened from $1,000 per month to $1,000 per three months. These policies will not only put greater pressure on the Cuban economy, but due to their illegal extraterritorial nature, they will increase tensions between the US and Cuba's trading partners including Canada and the EU. The Revolutionary Communist Group stands in solidarity with the people of Cuba in the face of this aggression. More news and analysis of Cuba's resistance to US imperialism will appear in the next issue of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! as we report on our 14th solidarity brigade to Cuba which visited the country in April 2019.


As of 19 March, Title III of the Helms-Burton Act has been partially implemented, allowing United States (US) citizens to file lawsuits before US Federal Courts against over 200 Cuban companies included on the List of Restricted Entities set out by the US government in 2017. Since 1996, Title III has always been fully suspended for six-month periods by every US President, including Trump in 2017 and 2018. This practice of suspension was started by President Bill Clinton as a compromise when the Act was first introduced, due to heavy opposition from some of the US’s closest allies; it is a formality that Trump has been able to easily jettison. This is just part of US imperialism’s increasing efforts to unleash reactionary forces against Latin America’s progressive and socialist governments. Billy Rapley reports.

What is the Helms-Burton Act?

The Helms-Burton Act, named after anti-Cuban Senator Jesse Helms and Representative Dan Burton, was enacted into law by President Bill Clinton in March 1996. Comprising four titles, the key objective of the Helms-Burton Act was to asphyxiate the Cuban economy. It codified and tightened the brutal economic blockade against Cuba, with the intention of generating shortages to cause social unrest – and therefore better conditions for the overthrow of the Cuban government. It sought to universalise the blockade to ruin Cuba’s economic relations with third countries, their governments and companies, thereby undermining Cuba’s ability to get direct foreign capital investment for development. The Helms-Burton Act is incompatible with international law and after it was adopted in the US, blocking regulations were put in place by the European Union (EU), the Council of Europe, Britain and Canada to counteract the possible effects of the Act.

What is Title III?

Title III permits US citizens, including Cuban-Americans, to bring lawsuits before Federal courts against any entity that ‘traffics’ property formerly belonging to them before it was nationalised in Cuba in the 1960s.

The law is based around two fictions; the first of which is that the nationalisations, carried out for reasons of public/social utility or national interest, were illegitimate, unjust and inappropriate. Nationalisations after the triumph of the Revolution were carried out in accordance with the law, strictly abiding by the Constitution and international law. Fair and appropriate compensation was offered in the nationalisations; the US, however, instructed private interests not to accept compensation, believing the revolution would be short-lived.  Cuba was able to reach and honour compensation agreements with other nations which are today investing in Cuba, such as Spain, Switzerland, Canada, Britain, Germany and France.  The second fiction, even more fanciful than the first, is that Cuba is a threat to US national security.

Britain, Canada, the EU and Mexico have all passed laws directly in response to the Helms-Burton Act which bring sanctions against those who comply with the extraterritorial provisions of the act. Title III represents the grossest aspect of the Helms-Burton Act and is completely incompatible with International Law and the sovereignty of other states due to its extraterritorial nature, as it is a US law which affects not only Cuba but the nationals of third countries. The introduction of Title III would also result in an administrative nightmare for US courts, with the State Department predicting over 200,000 claims. Current, outstanding claims are estimated to value over $2bn. While legal costs are likely to deter low-value claims, and lawsuits cannot be brought over the former homes of exiled Cubans, the true purpose of the Helms-Burton Act is to discourage investment in Cuba’s productive assets, such as land and factories, by creating legal risk.

Restricted Entities

On 4 March, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed that Title III will be only partially suspended for a further 30 days from the 19 March running until 17 April while the White House evaluates whether to lift the suspension entirely. This means US courts can now process lawsuits against more than 200 Cuban businesses, blacklisted by Washington for having alleged ties with the island’s military and intelligence services. This arbitrary and illegitimate list of ‘Restricted Entities’, which is the product of some of the most viciously reactionary anti-Cuban politicians such as Marco Rubio, bans US citizens from purchasing any products from the companies named. The State Department was keen to point out that this action would only affect Cuban-owned entities and sub-entities and not foreign investors. The US wants to punish Cuba while, as far as possible, avoiding confrontation with third countries who would contest the implementation of Title III.

The US has no interest in bringing democracy to the world, but rather the opposite. Wherever true democracy begins to flourish it seeks to stamp it out. The US wishes to destroy socialism in Cuba, and re-open the doors for US capital. It has never forgiven Cuba, a people who dared to stand up in the face of imperialism, build socialism and give an example to the world that an alternative to wars, starvation and subordination to imperialism is possible.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 269 April/May 2019


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