HAVANA – European Union authorities committed themselves on Tuesday to protecting the interests of businessmen from the bloc in Cuba and urged them to “counterattack” if they are sued by US companies when, later this week, the Donald Trump administration authorizes actions to recover property nationalized by the Havana regime.
“We have a rule that allows European companies to counterattack prospective (legal) initiatives by US companies,” said the general director of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development, Stefano Manservisi, at a press conference in Havana.
Manservisi’s remarks come a few hours after it became known that on Wednesday Washington will announce the activation, as of May 2, of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, which makes more stringent the US embargo on Cuba and will allow companies to sue in US courts to recover assets expropriated by Cuba after the 1959 Revolution.
Meanwhile, the EU ambassador in Havana, Alberto Navarro, promised to “protect our businessmen who have invested or have wanted to invest here,” and he also alluded to “antidote legislation” from 1996 that protects Europeans “in the case of lawsuits or rulings by a US judge.”
“European citizens have the obligation not to cooperate and, at the same time, the possibility of making claims against (US) companies who may have asked for indemnities for alleged uses made of properties confiscated here in Cuba,” he said.
A top US official told EFE and other media outlets on Tuesday in Washington that on Wednesday the US government “will put an end to some 20 years of suspensions of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act,” a measure that will become effective on May 2.
The formal announcement will be made on Wednesday by the State Department and will be confirmed by Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, in a speech he will deliver in Miami and during which he will announce more sanctions against Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Title III was created to allow US citizens, including naturalized Cubans, to be able to sue in US courts companies that allegedly have benefitted from the use of properties in Cuba that belonged to the US firms before the Revolution headed by Fidel Castro.
When that law was approved in 1996, the European bloc and other countries with business interests on the communist island vehemently opposed it because they feared that their companies would be sued in the US and, in addition, the EU filed a complaint against Washington before the World Trade Organization on the matter.
The controversy concluded with a compromise by the US to keep Title III suspended in exchange for the withdrawal of the EU’s complaint, a standoff that had been maintained for more than two decades until the Trump administration began threatening to break that agreement and then moved to do so.
Spain and other countries in recent weeks asked the US government not to carry out its threat to activate Title III, something that could affect Spanish companies such as the Melia group, which owns numerous hotels in Cuba, several of which occupy properties nationalized six decades ago.
The EU envoy to Cuba also remarked on the US financial and trade embargo against Cuba, saying that it runs counter to international law and all European countries are against the punitive measure that has been in place for almost 60 years.
The Helms-Burton Act, otherwise known as the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996 is a US federal law which strengthens and continues Washington’s embargo against Cuba.