Op-Ed: US to allow some suits against foreign firms in Cuba

Posted Apr 18, 2019 by Ken Hanly
Both Canada and the UK vowed yesterday that they will protect their business from the new Trump policy which will allow lawsuits against foreign companies connected to properties seized from American firms during the Cuban revolution.
Old American cars are seen in February 2019 near the Habana Libre Hotel  the former Havana Hilton  w...
Old American cars are seen in February 2019 near the Habana Libre Hotel, the former Havana Hilton, which could be the focus of legal action as the US Helms-Burton Act comes fully into effect
Canada warns US move could create chaos and uncertainty
Canada warned that the move would create chaos and uncertainty in North American boardrooms and courtrooms. The Trump administration followed through on a long time threat to allow legal action. This move places many Canadian resource, tourism and financial services companies at risk in US courts.
About a million Canadians take annual vacations in Cuba. Sherritt International has been in Cuba for ages. European countries also have Cuban interest including Britain, France, and Spain that are active in rum, cigars, and tourism.
The EU ambassador to Cuba, Alberta Navarro immediately claimed that the extraterritorial application of the U.S. embargo is illegal and also contrary to international law. He also considered it immoral.
Foreign Affairs minister Freeland and EU's Mogherini respond
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a joint statement with Federica Mogherini and EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom: "The EU and Canada consider the extraterritorial application of unilateral Cuba-related measures contrary to international law. Our respective laws allow any U.S. claims to be followed by counter-claims in European and Canadian courts, so the U.S. decision to allow suits against foreign companies can only lead to an unnecessary spiral of legal actions."
The CBC reported: "Canada is "deeply disappointed" with the Trump administration's decision to allow lawsuits against foreign firms operating on properties Cuba seized from Americans after the 1959 revolution, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Wednesday." Mike Pompeo that US Secretary of State he will not renew a bar on litigation that has been in place for two decades. Lawsuits can be filed starting on May 2 when the present bar ends. Imagine this is happening sixty years after the revolution. The US never gives up on harassing Cuba.
Freeland said the Canadian government has regularly met with US officials ever since January when the issue resurfaced. In a recent trip to Washington she urged Mike Pompeo not to resurrect Title III of the Helms-Burton Act that allows Americans to sue foreign companies linked to Cuban properties confiscated after the 1959 revolution.
US Justice Department already has certified merited claims worth $8 billion
Kimberly Brier, head of the State Dept. America's branch said the US Justice Department has certified about 6,000 claims as having merit for legal action. She believes there could be as many as 200,000 uncertified claims worth tens of billions.
On Wednesday Pompeo said: "Any person or company doing business in Cuba should heed this announcement."
Sherritt Gordon responds
The director of investor relations for Sherritt, Joe Racanelli, said in an email: "Implementation of Title III is not expected to have any material impact on Sherritt or our operations in Cuba." He said it was "business as usual" for its drilling and exploration projects.
Mark Agnes the director of international policy for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce was less optimistic claiming that the move had opened up a giant Pandora's Box. He said many Canadian firms are privately suggesting they fear they will be targeted by a policy they have not had to deal with for decades.
Foreign legislation passed not recognizing Title III judgments
The Canada Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act as amended in January 1997 provides that any judgment under the Helms-Burton Act will not be recognized or be enforced in any manner in Canada. Other countries have passed similar legislation. It will be very difficult for the US to collect for any claims found justified. The US law came into force in 1996 but then president Bill Clinton postponed the implementation of Title III after Canada, the EU and Mexico lobbied against it. Subsequent presidents have renewed the exemption every six months until Trump's decision.
Aim of the decision
The decision is meant to punish foreign firms who have carried on operating in Cuba in spite of the US ban and also to discourage further foreign business development in the country. What is more likely is that it will even add to the irritants that the US has lately caused some of its allies. It may also provide a boon for lawyers without compensation for those filing suits.