US to tighten financial restrictions on Cuba's military: Bolton

As Cuba continues to support Venezuela's Maduro, the US announces a number of punitive measures against the country.

     US President Donald Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, US [File: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]
    US President Donald Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, US [File: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

    The Trump administration on Monday threatened to put new financial restrictions on Cuba's military and intelligence services amid the political turmoil in Venezuela.

    "Cuba's role in usurping democracy and fomenting repression in Venezuela is clear," White House National Security Adviser John Bolton said in a Twitter post.

    "That's why the US will continue to tighten financial restrictions on Cuba's military and intel services. The region's democracies should condemn the Cuba regime," he added.

    Cuba - as well as China, Russia and Turkey, among other countries - continue to support embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The United States and at least 65 other countries have recognised Juan Guaido, opposition leader and self-declared interim president, as the country's legitimate leader. 

    Bolton's tweet was made just as the Trump administration symbolically tightened a six-decade trade embargo on Cuba by allowing lawsuits against Cuban companies using properties confiscated after its 1959 revolution. 

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    The announcement limits lawsuits to a list of about 200 Cuban businesses and government agencies that are already subject to special US sanctions because they are tied to the Cuban military and intelligence ministries.

    Virtually none of the businesses have any links to the US legal or financial systems, meaning the ability to sue is unlikely to have any effect on the Cuban economy or foreign businesses that work with the socialist government.

    Some of the businesses on the list are hotels operated as joint ventures with foreign companies, but the Trump administration's measure does not allow foreign companies themselves to be sued, a State Department official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

    More sanctions

    Every president since Bill Clinton has suspended a section of the 1996 Helms-Burton act that would allow such lawsuits because they would ensnarl companies from US-allied countries in years of complicated litigation that could prompt international trade claims against the US.

    Along with carving out a small exception to Title III of the act, the Trump administration said it would only be suspended for 30 days, raising the prospect of more sanctions in the future.

    The Cuban government said this was an "unacceptable threat against the world".

    "I strongly reject the State Department's announcement to authorise lawsuits under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act against a list of Cuban companies arbitrarily sanctioned by the Trump administration," Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Twitter.

    Major investors in Cuba include British tobacco giant Imperial Brands, which runs a joint venture with the Cuban government making premium cigars; Spanish hoteliers Iberostar and Melia, which run dozens of hotels across the island; and French beverage company Pernod-Ricard, which makes Havana Club rum with a Cuban state distiller.

    "It is not intended to affect European companies that are currently doing business in Cuba," the State Department official said. "You could not sue a European or Japanese partner in a joint venture."

    Legal pushback

    Lawyers for Americans with claims on confiscated properties said the Trump decision to announce an extremely limited partial lifting of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act may itself be illegal because it violates their clients' rights to sue. 

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    "If this is the first step in a strategic effort that will lead to full enforcement of US law, it may be a good first step," said lawyer Jason Poblete, who represents a group of Americans whose property was confiscated.

    "However, partial waivers are not mentioned in the statute and it raises potential equal protection and maybe other constitutional questions," he added.

    US politicians have applauded the additional measures against Cuba.

    "Today expect the United States to take the first in a series of steps to hold the regime in #Cuba accountable for its 60 years of crimes & illegality which includes its support for the murderous #MaduroCrimeFamily," Florida Senator Marco Rubio wrote on Twitter.

    "Justice is coming. And more to come," he added.

    After nearly 60 years of a trade embargo, the Cuban economy is in a period of consistently low growth of about one percent a year, with foreign investment at roughly two billion dollars, far below what it needs to spur more prosperity.

    But tourism, remittances and subsidised oil from Venezuela have allowed the government to maintain basic services and a degree of stability that appears unshaken by the Trump administration's recent moves against Cuba and its major remaining allies in Latin America - Venezuela and Nicaragua.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies