Sat | May 25, 2019

Trump move could affect Cuba-Jamaica trade - Ambassador says businesses could feel pinch if US fully imposes Title Three of Helms-Burton Act

Published:Tuesday | May 14, 2019 | 12:20 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
People wait in line to buy chicken at a government-run grocery store in Havana, Cuba, last Saturday. The Cuban government said last Friday that it will begin widespread rationing of chicken, eggs, rice, beans, soap and other basic products in the face of a grave economic crisis.
People wait in line to buy chicken at a government-run grocery store in Havana, Cuba, last Saturday. The Cuban government said last Friday that it will begin widespread rationing of chicken, eggs, rice, beans, soap and other basic products in the face of a grave economic crisis.

Inés Fors Fernández, Cuban ambassador to Jamaica, says that it is a foregone conclusion that her country will be massively affected should the United States go ahead with full implementation of the Title Three provision of the Helms-Burton Act .

Title Three allows Americans to file suits in US courts against those “trafficking” in properties confiscated in Cuba during the nationalisation process after the 1950s revolution bringing Fidel Castro into power. The act also covers property formerly owned by Cubans who have since become US citizens. Its reach is extraterritorial and allows suits to move forward against foreign defendants.

United States President Donald Trump recently broke with the precedence of previous administrations suspending the Title Three provision of the Helms-Burton Act every six months. The Helms-Burton Act codifies the Cuban embargo into law.

Fors Fernández said that Cuba’s nationalisation was done in accordance with the Cuban constitution and international law at the time.

DIFFICULT ENVIRONMENT

“It is a process, but this threat in relation to the act could damage this environment of trade between Cuba and Jamaica [for example], and at the same time, it creates a difficult situation for the Jamaican market to have the opportunity to receive some Cuban products, including medication,” she noted.

Fors Fernández mentioned that although Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO) has been visible in Cuba for a decade and that a number of Jamaican companies have been eyeing investment in that country, the threat of imposing Title Three has created a difficult environment in the relationship and also on the commercial side of things between Cuba and Jamaica.

“The whole law is based on the false premise that those nationalisations that occurred in Cuba at the beginning of the Cuban revolution were wrongful nationalisations or were illegal, which is totally untrue,” Fors Fernández told a Gleaner Editors’ Forum last week.

She said that every administration since the passage of the act into law in 1996 has routinely suspended implementing that singular provision.

“It is the first time that a US administration decides to implement the Title Three; because Canada has told them that their companies will remain on the island, Mexico and Spain also. So were they to fully implement Title Three, it would definitely have an impact. This is the United States’ way of trying to discourage investment in Cuba for obvious reasons,” she said.

Spain, Canada and France would be among the countries most affected by a full implementation of Title Three, as they have investments in tourism and mining on the island.

A United States Department of Justice commission has certified 5,913 claims held by Americans for the loss of land, factories, merchandise and bank accounts, among other assets, for a current value of more than US$8.5 billion. The commission only certified the cases of US citizens at the time of confiscation. Unlike that process, Title Three allows Cubans who later acquired US citizenship to file lawsuits in US courts.

There are reports that the Trump administration has decided to postpone its decision on whether to fully implement the Helms-Burton Act for two weeks.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com