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President Trump To Pull The Title III Trigger – And Let Exiles Sue Foreign Firms In Cuba

National Security Advisor John Bolton is expected to announce a tightening of the Cuban embargo when he visits Miami on Wednesday.
Emily Michot
Miami Herald
National Security Advisor John Bolton is expected to announce a tightening of the Cuban embargo when he visits Miami on Wednesday.

There is a provision of the Cuban trade embargo that no U.S. president has ever used. President Trump has decided to be the first, according to White House officials. But it’s far from clear if it will do much to dislodge the island’s communist government.

It’s called Title III. It allows Americans – in this case mostly Cuban-Americans – to use U.S. federal courts to sue foreign companies that do business in Cuba on property taken from them by the Castro revolution.

Conservative Cuban exiles insist President Trump’s activation of Title III (part of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act that tightened the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba) will have a chilling effect on foreign investment in Cuba – particularly for European and Canadian companies. That, they insist, will undermine the island's economically failing regime.

“I do think it will be a turning point," says Cuban-American attorney Marcell Felipe, who heads the Inspire America Foundation, a pro-democracy NGO in Miami. "For too long the Spanish and Canadian governments and their business interests have promoted respect for human rights everywhere in the world while they support a regime that imprisons anyone who dissents.”

But critics of Trump’s Title III move says it’s primarily another political bone tossed to his Cuban exile supporters – who he believes won Florida for him in the 2016 election.

Cuban-American attorney Pedro Freyre, who heads international practice at the Akerman law firm in Miami and represents firms that may face Title III lawsuits, warns it will be hard to collect money from those suits. Countries like Spain and Canada already have laws in place to block Cuban embargo-related litigation, and he points out that no U.S. president ever triggered the provision before for fear it could lead to retaliation against U.S. business interests around the world.

Freyre also believes it will probably take much more to topple Cuba’s repressive government.

“After watching the Cuban regime navigate 60 years of sanctions and having a rotten economy and a bad political system," says Freyre, "it’s clear it's particularly adept at survival. So I am skeptical that this will accomplish that.”

National Security Advisor John Bolton is expected to formally announce the Title III decision when he visits Miami on Wednesday. Sources close to the Trump administration tell WLRN the Title III decree may also include tightening U.S. government officials' interaction with Cuban officials on the island – and possibly a dramatic scaling back of the amount of remittances Cuban-Americans can send to Cuba and the trips they can take there each year.

Copyright 2019 WLRN 91.3 FM

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.