Trump plans to 'financially strangle the Cuban regime’
Joel Gehrke, Washington Examiner
The Trump administration is preparing to “financially strangle the Cuban regime” because of its support for Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro, according to a senior administration official.
“We are fully willing to keep it up financially,” said the official, who requested anonymity, when asked to forecast the pressure the United States intends to apply to Cuba. "They're going to have to reconsider.”
The administration found the way to apply pressure in Title III of the LIBERTAD Act, a never-enforced legal provision that authorizes Americans who had their property nationalized by Fidel and Raul Castro’s communist dictatorship to sue the foreign companies who control that property now. Their initial move to allow the lawsuits covered only a modest number of cases, targeting only Cuban entities tied to the regime’s security services, but the administration could add other foreign companies to that list in as little as “two weeks,” according to the official.
“We have made very clear to them that the intent of our enacting Title III, and of looking to do so in the future, is to essentially create a completely inhospitable foreign investment environment for Cuba, to pressure it economically for its actions in Venezuela,” the senior administration official said.
Cuba hawks love that idea. They are pushing for an aggressive implementation of the law, which is estimated to authorize about 200,000 people to seek restitution from companies partnering with the regime.
“I’m sick and tired of people being able to use somebody’s stolen property and get ahead,” Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., told the Washington Examiner.
Trump doesn’t have much choice, according to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. The law only authorizes a waiver if the State Department believes that doing so advances U.S. national interests and hastens Cuba’s transition to democracy.
“The companies exposed are the seaports and a lot of the hotel operations are from expropriated properties,” Rubio said. “And that’s the lifeblood. That and remittances is how they generate all their hard currency in Cuba.”
The administration has been considering the crackdown since November, when White House national security adviser John Bolton identified Cuba and Venezuela as two partners in a “troika of tyranny” in the Western Hemisphere, along with Nicaragua. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in January that he would renew the suspension for 45 days beyond Feb. 1, a startling departure from the biannual rubber-stamp that previous top diplomats have provided.
He compounded the maneuver on Monday, when the department revealed that the 45-day window would be followed by an even shorter 30-day extension, scheduled to conclude on April 17.
“Just the fact that it's on a 30-day extension now strangles investment,” Rubio said. "What general counsel worth a damn in the world is going to allow their client to invest in something that could bring about such severe legal ramifications and liability?”
The issue is a tricky one for proponents of former President Barack Obama’s outreach to Cuba, who still support engagement but believe that Cuba’s repressive human rights violations and their operations in Venezuela are “not acceptable,” as a top Democrat put it.
“I like to have as much unity as we can internationally," Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told the Washington Examiner. "Our policies to Cuba are outlier policies.”
European allies could try to protect their companies from the consequences of a lawsuit, but Trump might be able to force the corporations to follow his lead due to fears of consequences for their U.S. operations.
“Obviously, when push comes to shove, that foreign company is going to far prefer having a relationship with a U.S. company or the U.S. government over the Cuban regime,” Ana Quintana, a Latin America expert at the Heritage Foundation, told the Washington Examiner.
The tactic could exacerbate tensions with European allies who are already frustrated by the administration’s renewal of sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program, which came largely at their expense, but the Trump administration has plenty of motivation to pick the fight.
“We know for a fact that there is nothing the Cuban regime fears more than Title III,” the senior administration official said. “They recognize it would be disastrous for them and they've gone on a diplomatic offensive to try to prevent it.”
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