Amid all the excitement over recent progress in restoring normal relations between the US and Cuba, there remains important legislative impediments to dismantling the various ideological ramparts designed to foment Cuba’s destabilization. What is certain is that the cantankerous history between the two countries produced laws that reflect a deep hurt and mistrust. Removing these laws remains a huge challenge.
The Helms Burton Act of 1996 treated Cuba as a tangible malignancy in need of exsanguinating alienation. The Act extended the 1960 embargo to apply to foreign companies trading with Cuba, and penalized foreign companies trafficking in property formerly owned by U.S. citizens but confiscated by Cuba after the Cuban revolution.
The Act also includes a variety of provisions intended to bring about “a peaceful transition to a representative democracy and market economy in Cuba.”
The Act attracted protest from a wide circle of American allies when it was passed; the UK went so far as to pass laws to counter-act the Act by imposing criminal sanctions for compliance with certain provisions of the Act while in the UK.
President Obama’s executive authority to normalize relations with Cuba is limited by the need for legislative action and, in particular, Congress’s repealing or dramatically revising the Helms-Burton Act. It is widely believed such a move by Congress is out of the question until after the 2016 Presidential Election.
The legislation did not work, and a majority of Americans support full normalization with Cuba, by a wide margin.
Here are the key provisions of the Act:
- International Sanctions against the Cuban Government. Economic embargo, any non-U.S. company that deals economically with Cuba can be subjected to legal action and that company’s leadership can be barred from entry into the United States. Sanctions may be applied to non-U.S. companies trading with Cuba. This means that internationally operating companies have to choose between Cuba and the U.S.;
- United States opposition against Cuban membership in International Financial Institutions;
- Television broadcasting from the United States to Cuba;
- Authorization of United States support for “democratic and human rights groups” and international observers;
- Declares United States policy towards a “transition government” and a “democratically elected government” in Cuba;
- Protection of property rights of certain United States nationals;
- Exclusion of certain aliens from the United States, primarily senior officials or major stock holders, and their families, of companies that do business in Cuba on property expropriated from American citizens. To date, executives from Italy, Mexico, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom have been barred;
- Provides power to the Legislative Branch to override an Executive Branch cancellation of the embargo (later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court);
- Prohibits the completion of the Juragua Nuclear Power Plant;
- Prompts for the retirement of former Soviet Union personnel out of Cuban military and intelligence facilities, including the military and intelligence facilities at Lourdes and Cienfuegos;
- Prohibits recognition of a transitional government in Cuba that includes Fidel or Raúl Castro;
- Prohibits recognition of a Cuban government that has not provided compensation for U.S. certified claims against confiscated property, defined as non-residential property with an excess of $50,000 value in 1959;
- Prompts for extradition or otherwise rendition to the United States of all persons sought by the United States Department of Justice for crimes committed in the United States;