Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday confirmed that the U.S. government is lifting a ban on lawsuits making claims on properties seized by the regime of Fidel Castro after taking power in Cuba in 1959.
Under a 1996 act, Americans could sue foreign companies that operated on such property, but every U.S. president since Bill Clinton has suspended a key clause allowing Cubans to sue citing pushback from European allies and concern the move could rattle future negotiations with Cuba.
Mr. Pompeo said the move, which President Trump revealed Tuesday was about to come down, was made “in the hope that doing so would put more pressure on the Cuban regime to transition to democracy.”
The announcement comes as the Trump administration continues to ramp up pressure on the Cuban regime as it reverses a diplomatic rapprochement begun under President Obama. The U.S. accuses Havana of providing key support to the government of Venezuelan socialist President Nicolas Maduro, whom Washington considers illegitimate.
“The Cuban regime has for years exported its tactics of intimidation, repression, and violence,” Mr. Pompeo said during a press conference. “They’ve exported this to Venezuela in direct support of the former Maduro regime.”
Lifting the ban “means a chance at justice for Cuban Americans who have long sought relief for Fidel Castro and his lackeys seizing property without compensation,” Mr. Pompeo said.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, New York Democrat, criticized the move as “ill-advised” and counterproductive, warning the Trump administration “has chosen to isolate itself from those in the EU and the Americas with whom we should be coordinating.”
The reversal of longstanding U.S. policy “will further isolate the United States from our Latin American and European allies and … do nothing to resolve U.S. property claims in Cuba — an important goal toward which we must continue to strive,” Mr. Engel said.
Canada and governments across the European Union, which have invested heavily in Cuba while the U.S. had maintained a 60-year economic embargo, also condemned the move and said they would protect the interests of their companies operating on the island.
European Commission spokesman Alexander Winterstein said the European Union “is ready to protect European interests, including European investments and the economic activities of EU individuals and entities in their relations with Cuba,” the Associated Press reported.
White House National Security Adviser John Bolton is expected to address the move in a speech later Wednesday in Florida, home to the largest U.S. community of Cuban-Americans.