The Trump administration announced a wave of new measures Wednesday targeting Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua – a group US National Security Adviser John Bolton previously dubbed the “troika of tyranny.”
First, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the US will enforce a controversial provision of the decades-old trade embargo on Cuba that will allow US citizens to file lawsuits in US federal court against businesses that operate on property seized by the Cuban government during the revolution – the first administration to do so since the law’s creation in 1996.
Pompeo said Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, also known as the Libertad Act, would be implemented in full effective May 2. He had already informed Congress of the decision, he said.
“Any person or company doing business in Cuba should heed this announcement,” Pompeo said in remarks at the State Department. “Implementing Title III in full means a chance at justice for Cuban Americans who have long sought relief from Fidel Castro and his lackeys seizing property without compensation.”
The move comes as the Trump administration attempts to ratchet up the pressure on Nicolas Maduro’s regime in Venezuela and countries that they see as sustaining it.
“The Cuban regime has for years exported its tactics of intimidation, repression and violence. They’ve exported this to Venezuela in direct support of the former Maduro regime,” Pompeo said.
Speaking in Miami on Wednesday, National Security Adviser John Bolton also announced additional restrictions on Cuba, including visas and travel, as well as new sanctions on Venezuela and Nicaragua.
“At this moment, Havana continues to prop up Maduro and help him sustain the brutal suffering of the Venezuelan people,” he said. “As President Trump has said Maduro is quite simply a Cuban puppet.”
In addition to reiterating the administration’s decision regarding Title III, Bolton said the Treasury Department would “implement further regulatory changes to restrict non-family travel to Cuba.”
“These actions should be a signal to all that working with the Cuban military and intelligence services will not be tolerated,” he said.
Cuban officials have decried the increased sanctions on the communist-run island and offered to enter into negotiations to repay US companies for seized property.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez on Wednesday did not explicitly mention the US but tweeted a defiant message in Spanish shortly after Bolton’s remarks.
“It will not change the attitude towards those who hold the sword against us. We Cubans do not surrender, nor do we accept laws about our destinies that are outside the Constitution. In # Cuba we send Cubans. # Cuba trusts in its strengths and in our dignity. # SomosCuba,” he said according to a translation of the tweet.
Some US allies in opposition
The decision by the Trump administration to fully implement Title III is likely to be met with opposition from European nations and Canada, whose businesses have billions of dollars of investments in Cuba.
Federica Mogherini and Cecilia Malmstrom, two top EU officials involved with trade and foreign affairs, wrote to Pompeo last week and voiced their opposition to the move and threatened to launch a case with the World Trade Organization.
“We believe that the issue of outstanding US claims should not be conflated with the cause of furthering democracy and human rights in Cuba, or by our shared desire urgently to find a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis in Venezuela,” the two EU officials wrote in a letter obtained by CNN. “We are fully invested to promote both of these objectives, and are convinced that the emergence of protracted judicial proceedings between US claimants and bona fide EU companies will not further them.”
In a joint statement Wednesday, Mogherini, Malmstrom, and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said they “consider the extraterritorial application of unilateral Cuba-related measures contrary to international law.”
“We are determined to work together to protect the interests of our companies in the context of the WTO and by banning the enforcement or recognition of foreign judgements based on Title III, both in the EU and Canada. Our respective laws allow any US claims to be followed by counter-claims in European and Canadian courts, so the US decision to allow suits against foreign companies can only lead to an unnecessary spiral of legal actions,” they said.
In a separate statement, Freeland said she had met with Pompeo to register Canada’s concerns.
Kimberly Breier, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said Wednesday the US “has been in very deep and close contact with our allies in Europe and Canada and around the world as we consulted on this decision over the past several months.”
Breier said there would be no exemptions to Wednesday’s actions. She said that the US government has certified approximately eight billion dollars with interest in claims over confiscated property. She said the thousands of uncertified claims could be in the tens of billions of dollars.
“The European companies that are operating in Cuba will have nothing to worry about if they are not operating on property that was stolen from Americans post-revolution,” she said.
“I think it’s clear if you look in the macro-sense, we have broad agreement with our allies in Europe and Canada and around the world on the policy objective, which is to promote democracy in Cuba and to free the Cuban people from the tyranny that they live under,” Breier said. “We are in broad agreement on this. Where we sometimes disagree is on the best way to achieve that.”
‘Troika of tyranny’
During a speech in Miami last year, Bolton promised a tough US approach to the “troika of tyranny,” his term for Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, saying they represented “the perils of poisonous ideologies left unchecked.
On Wednesday, he declared that the “troika of tyranny” is “beginning to crumble.”
Bolton also made it clear that the Trump administration intends to keep squeezing all three countries.
Specifically, he announced new sanctions on the Central Bank of Venezuela and hit Cuba over its support for the Maduro regime.
“Treasury is designating the Central Bank of Venezuela to prevent it from being used as a tool of the illegitimate Maduro regime, which continues to plunder Venezuelan assets and exploit government institutions to enrich corrupt insiders,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement released shortly after Bolton’s remarks.
Bolton also said the US will target the finances of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s regime and the Nicaraguan bank, Banco Corporativo SA (BanCorp).
He described Bancorp as “the Ortega slush fund,” and specifically called out Laureano Ortega Murillo, who he said “has been groomed as the successor by the regime and is engaged in vast corruption under the guise of leading Nicaragua’s investment agency.”
CNN’s Donna Borak and Patrick Oppmann contributed reporting.