Trump Administration Announces New Restrictions on Dealing With Cuba
The Trump administration on Wednesday imposed new restrictions on dealing with Cuba amid a broader toughening of its Latin American policy, limiting nonfamily travel to the island and how much money Cuban-Americans can send to relatives there, and allowing exiles to sue for property seized by the Castro government.
“In our most fervent dreams, we could not have conceived that a U.S. administration would do this,” Nicolás J. Gutiérrez, president of the National Association of Sugar Mill Owners of Cuba and whose family lost property there, said in praising the decision to allow the lawsuits. “No administration has ever done this. Forget Reagan. Forget Bush.”
By allowing the lawsuits — a departure from nearly a quarter-century of policy — the administration dismissed passionate opposition from officials in Europe and Canada who had lobbied in recent weeks against the move, which could unleash a torrent of proceedings against companies and people accused of “trafficking” in the confiscated property.
The decision, announced by Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, was part of a broader set of policies that also targeted Venezuela and Nicaragua and were outlined in a speech in Miami by John R. Bolton, the president’s national security adviser.
“The ‘troika of tyranny’ — Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua — is beginning to crumble,” Mr. Bolton said in the speech, which marked the 58th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion, the failed 1961 attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro, Cuba’s communist leader. “The United States looks forward to watching each corner of this sordid triangle of terror fall.”
In the speech, Mr. Bolton announced new sanctions on the Central Bank of Venezuela and Nicaragua’s Bancorp, which he described as a “slush fund” for that nation’s president, Daniel Ortega. Earlier this month, the Trump administration imposed sanctions against Venezuela aimed at oil shipments between that country and Cuba.
Mr. Bolton also announced sanctions on Laureano Ortega, one of Mr. Ortega’s sons, who Mr. Bolton said had been groomed as a successor.
The bulk of the speech, however, was focused on the restrictions on dealings with Cuba, reversing the Obama administration’s embrace of the country.
The Trump administration will further restrict nonfamily travel to Cuba, which Mr. Bolton described as “veiled tourism.” It will also limit money sent to the country to $1,000 per person, per quarter.
Emilio Morales, who studies the Cuban economy closely for his firm, the Havana Consulting Group, said the cutback in remittances to Cuba would have virtually no effect, because the average monthly remittance to Cuba is $200 to $220.
Limiting nonfamily travel, however, will seriously hurt the tourism sector on the island, he said.
“The Obama era is over,” he said. “It’s all over.”
Still, the details of the travel restriction were not clear. There are up to a dozen categories of such travel, and the administration did not say whether they would be prohibited.
“I have spent the day on the telephone with current and former State and executive branch officials and industry and policy experts, and nobody knows what the actual restrictions are,” said Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, which organizes cultural and university trips to Cuba.
Cuban-Americans with property claims on the island hailed the decision to allow them to sue over their lost holdings.
Conchita Beltrán, 76, remembers well the day that the Cuban government confiscated more than 1,500 acres of her family’s sugar cane fields. Her grandmother, who had been meticulously managing the lands that had been in the family since the 1800s with the expectation of leaving it to her eight grandchildren, saw the announcement on television.
“Castro used to give the bad news around 9 at night,” Ms. Beltrán said. “She was watching the news at night, her head went down and she said: ‘I cannot believe it; my grandchildren are penniless. I have nothing to give them.’”
Her beloved grandmother had a heart attack and died that same night in 1960. Ms. Beltrán, who was a teenager then, has always dreamed of recovering the land.
The Helms-Burton Act, passed by Congress in 1996, gave Ms. Beltrán and others like her hope that they could someday get compensated. But administration after administration waived the provision that would allow them to sue.
“We have written to every president, and everybody ignored us,” Ms. Beltrán said. “We are very grateful to Trump. He is doing something nobody else had the courage to do.”
For weeks, though, foreign officials have lobbied Washington against allowing the lawsuits, arguing that it would harm their businesses and the Cuban people.
“The E.U. will consider all options at its disposal to protect its legitimate interests,” the European Commission said in a statement. Canada’s foreign minister said that the country was “deeply disappointed” by the announcement.
Collecting any judgment by suing the Cuban government is a long shot. Cuba does not recognize United States courts or defend itself against such lawsuits. In the past, courts have seized Cuban assets in the United States, but there are none left to confiscate.
Anyone who sues Cuba would be doing so for symbolic reasons, said Mr. Gutiérrez, of the National Association of Sugar Mill Owners of Cuba.
Suing foreign companies could also be difficult. People must prove they are the rightful owner and be able to show that the foreign company currently using it has assets in the United States, which could be an obstacle.