- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 23, 2001

Before going to Genoa, Italy, George W. Bush became the second president to suspend the most potent provisions of the Helms-Burton (Cuban Liberty) Act, a decision that many see as more Clinton-like than Reaganesque.
Helms-Burton's Title III was first suspended by Bill Clinton in 1996. Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Clinton's first suspension preceded a European meeting and followed the announcement of a hard line on Cuba. Mr. Clinton waived Title III eight times. For this, Fidel Castro's nephew-by-marriage, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (Florida Republican), described Mr. Clinton as having the "character of Jell-O, backbone of Jell-O." Sen. Jesse Helms (North Carolina Republican) offered similar words.
The same did not befall Mr. Bush. Another Cuban-American, Rep. Bob Menendez (New Jersey Democrat), who often criticized Mr. Clinton for suspensions of Title III, quickly noticed that Republicans had applied a double standard. Mr. Menendez noted the "deafening" silence of congressional Republicans, but added his own consistent voice. "Failing to enforce Title III clearly sends a message that the United States just means to continue business as usual as it relates to the Castro regime."
Despite the silence, the decision did not go unnoticed by observers of America's fortitude toward Cuba. Canadian and European leaders applauded it. One week later, the House of Representatives voted 240-186 to end Cuba travel restrictions.
Title III does nothing one way or another with respect to travel restrictions or trade embargo. The yet-to-be-enforced law simply permits Americans with legal claims to property unlawfully taken by the Cuban government to seek compensation in U.S. courts from any foreign entity doing business in the States that profits from the confiscated American property in Cuba.
Sound fair? It did when adopted five years ago, at least to the 6,000 Americans and companies (representing shareholders) with claims exceeding $6 billion. More than fair, the law was politically astute. Title III addressed the original cause for our Cuban policy, and the second greatest political hurdle to normalization, second only to democratic reform on the island how to resolve the question of confiscated American property. Though most claims are small, American claimants include giants such as Boise Cascade, Borden, Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, Citicorp, Firestone, Ford, Goodyear, GE, GM, ITT, Pepsi, International Paper and so on. Get the picture?
Beyond U.S interests, longtime Cuba analysts consider Title III a turnkey measure to deflate the megalomaniacal Castro regime. "My colleagues and I have consistently said that the single most powerful weapon against the Castro regime that has not been used is the enforcement of Title III," Mr. Menendez said. The rabid opposition suggests that many others agree.
Title III was a timely tactical move in the face of Mr. Castro's extraordinary survivor instinct. Before its demise, the Soviet Union subsidized the Cuban state to the tune of $6 billion a year. After Cuba lost its Soviet sugar daddy, the island prison opened to foreign investors. Since 1990, billions have been injected, undermining the U.S. embargo and bolstering the Castro regime even as it had finally begun to tear apart under the strains of its control economy.
After 10 years, capitalist adventurers have almost replaced the Soviet tit, allowing the totalitarian regime to maintain its welfare state and army, buy oil, supplies and spare parts, and even renew its funding of Latin American unrest.
Helms-Burton had intended to stop this flow of cash. But two administrations have now suspended its reach, arguing concern over the European Union's reaction. Yet, just last week the World Trade Organization ruled against the Europeans over Bacardi rum's Havana Club label, and recognized America's right not to protect trademarks confiscated by the Castro regime.
Unlike our NAFTA partners, who profit from Cuba's poverty without a peep about U.S. policy, Europeans have flayed us repeatedly over our Cuba policy. They don't mean it, and it wouldn't matter if they did.
Mexican, Central American and Caribbean business and political leaders will say frankly, but never publicly, that they dread the end of the U.S. travel embargo. That day will begin a period of destabilization for every economy in the Caribbean Basin. From the Bahamas to Belize, the tourism goose will stop laying golden eggs. Europe, likewise, has no interest in seeing the embargo end, losing an investment opportunity uniquely free of U.S. competition.
Our friends simply do not want Helms-Burton enforced against their multinationals, requiring them to choose between assets and interests in the United States and their investments in Cuba.
In six months, Mr. Bush will have seen into the heart of Mr. Castro's expected successor, Raul Castro, who, in 1961, said his great desire was to drop three atom bombs on New York City. He might also have observed that 10 years of capitalist investment and tanned tourists (2 million this year) has done nothing to bring down the police state.
Authorization of Title III will send the message to Cuba's imprisoned and brave dissidents that Mr. Bush does not intend business as usual. It will be an act of moral leadership to end an immoral abuse of Cuba's misery, and to pave the road of freedom.

Manuel Miranda is an international investment attorney in Washington.


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