HomeCubaHelms-Burton 25 Years: Slavery and Hate Law

Helms-Burton 25 Years: Slavery and Hate Law

By: Dinella García Acosta
March 12, 2021
The Helms-Burton law is a law that they teach you in school and that can come out in a question on the university entrance test or any other exam. The Helms-Burton is a standard that could be mistaken for whim if it weren’t so real. It is one country dictating provisions on another. Why? An example: Do the French want Cuba to sell them anticancer drugs? Yes. Does the United States government want a Parisian to save his life with a Cuban drug? No. Well then no, the sale does not happen. Helms-Burton is the opposition to life.
The law has four titles: What do they say?
• The first internationalizes the conflict that the United States has with Cuba and extends it to all the countries of the world. No one can buy or sell to Cuba, Washington decides.
• The second is aimed at presenting the “help” of the North American government to the people of Cuba so that they “move towards capitalism.” Does one country have to decide on the internal affairs of another?
• Title III grants North American citizens or companies –including Cuban nationalized North Americans– the right to file lawsuits before United States courts for alleged possessions in Cuban territory that have changed their legal status as of 1959. If fully applied, every Cuban would lose legal certainty regarding our houses, neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, lands, workplaces …
• The fourth assures that this blockade regime will continue until there is a government in Cuba that, “at the discretion of the United States,” is governed by “democratic norms.” What democratic norms? The ones they decide, of course.
How did it all begin?
It all started when Republican Jesse Helms assumed the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and proposed an agenda to change the direction of President Bill Clinton’s foreign policy. Helms, by the way, had voted against the end of racial segregation, gay rights and AIDS research during his 30-year tenure in the legislative body.
“It’s time to tighten the screws,” Helms said when he presented the proposal in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Burton, who supported him from the Western Hemisphere subcommittee of the House of Representatives, responded that it would be “the last nail in the coffin” of Fidel Castro.
To draft the law, they turned to lawyers and lobbyists for large Cuban businesses that were nationalized in 1960. In particular, the Bacardi company, which played a decisive role in the design and approval process of Helms-Burton.
The rule is far-fetched, and, at the time, even Bill Clinton’s government team said so. According to the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), this position was even officially transmitted to Ricardo Alarcón, then president of the Cuban National Assembly, by Peter Tarnoff, undersecretary of state, in the context of secret talks between the two governments, which were held in Toronto, Canada.
What did the undersecretary of state say at that time?
• The Law violates the constitutional rights of the executive branch to conduct the country’s foreign policy, as well as various international treaties, the United States’ obligations to the IMF and the World Bank, as well as relations with foreign partners, which could take measures in retaliation. similar against US companies.
• He would affect the fragile international legal system, thanks to which tens of thousands of claims were resolved in favor of US citizens in various parts of the world.
• Under international law, the United States has no right to intervene in a matter that corresponds to a foreign state within its own borders.
He said it back then and it is still true today. But what happened? Everything seems to indicate that for Clinton the support of the Cuban-American extreme right in the elections of that year weighed more and to approve the Helms-Burton Act on March 12, 1996 the pretext of the incident of the downing of two planes of the organization was finally used. “Brothers to the Rescue”, which repeatedly violated Cuban airspace in 1996.
Closing doors: Codification of the blockade on Cuba
Helms-Burton was designed to strip Clinton and his successors of the authority to end the blockade on Cuba. How? The Law codified the embargo restrictions, in order to prevent the relaxation of its various elements by the Executive.
As US attorney Robert L. Muse explained, he sought to bury in Congress what they believed to be a currently frozen (“codified”) embargo. This second step would be achieved by stipulating that the blockade could end only if Cuba consented to the transformation of its political, economic and social systems, in accordance with the precise specifications of the Helms-Burton Act. Only then could the US president end the blockade.
When Trump announced his administration’s new policy toward Cuba in Miami in June 2017, there were already previous statements about the primacy of the Helms-Burton Act and its preventive effect on the formulation of US policies toward Cuba by of any political actor other than Congress. The reason for such statements was to convince Donald Trump that he was legally bound by Helms-Burton to maintain a strict blockade on Cuba, until Cuba met the varied and extreme conditions for the termination of the law.
But earlier, according to L. Muse, after the enactment of the Law, a test took place that the authority of the Executive was not affected, when the Clinton administration invented a new category of authorized trips to Cuba under a general license, which was created to allow American citizens to participate in “people-to-people” educational trips. And so Senator Helms did not challenge this rejection of his “coding” attempt.
Curiously, the Helms-Burton Act is in a way an orphan law. Among the 100 active senators at the time of its passage in 1996, fewer than 10 serve today, and none strongly supported the Act at the time. For this reason, for some authors, it is debatable whether any of them would bother to file a lawsuit against the presidential end of the blockade against Cuba.
Title III: Economic, political and psychological effects
For 22 years, the Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump administrations partially suspended the most scandalous of the Helms-Burton components: Title III, which allows former owners on the Island and their heirs to possess nationality. to file lawsuits in US courts.
On May 2, 2019, the title came into force and the plaintiffs became able to demand compensation from companies and investors from third countries whose businesses in Cuba use (or “traffic” in) real estate nationalized and confiscated by the Cuban government under the protection of the Constitution of 1940.
However, “whoever delves into the past a bit – Rosa Miriam Elizalde said – will see that when the Revolution triumphed, the Caribbean government reached compensation agreements with the United Kingdom, Canada, Spain and other countries, except with the United States, because it denied any understanding while secretly was planning the invasion of Playa Girón in 1961 ”.
The day its application was reactivated, the first complaint was filed in the Miami Federal Supreme Court against the Carnival Cruise Company, for the use of the ports of Havana and Santiago de Cuba.
The plaintiffs were Javier García Bongochea, a doctor who emigrated 59 years ago and presented himself as the legitimate owner of the port of Santiago; and Mickael Behn, an American living in the United Kingdom, whose family from Kentucky owned the Havana Docks Corporation, in the port of the capital.
• Due to the presence of the Spanish hotel chain Meliá in the largest of the Antilles, executives and leaders were targeted by the extraterritoriality of the White House policy.
• Against American Airlines, filed by American of Cuban origin Robert M. Glen.
• A lawsuit against Booking, Hotels, Expedia and Orbitz.
• A lawsuit filed against Amazon.
As of May 2020, the northern courts had received 25 claims, where local companies were the most affected (45.4%); while 11.3% corresponded to companies of the European Union, according to the Economic and Commercial Council of the United States-Cuba.
What do the media, organizations and countries say?
Before the activation of Title III and the lawsuits, several press media and countries spoke out. The day after the announcement, for example, they spoke out against Spain, Portugal, China, Russia, Mexico and Canada; also the United States Chamber of Commerce, Engage Cuba and several congressmen, three from Florida.
• El País: “The reactivation of the Helms-Burton law is a calculated blow against Cuba and the European Union. We are facing a case of political abuse of the law and another step in the commercial cold war that characterizes his mandate ”.
• John M. Ackerman (Mexican journalist): “Imagine, for example, that the Mexican courts suddenly allowed lawsuits filed by the indigenous peoples of Texas and California claiming their territories dispossessed by the Americans during the war with Mexico in 1846. and 1848. Or what if Spain decided to enter into the trials of the descendants of King Ferdinand VII claiming their lost territories in the independence of Mexico? “
• Canada: “Canada is deeply disappointed with the United States’ decision to implement Title III of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (Libertad Act), commonly known as the Helms-Burton Act. The blockade has a negative impact on the living conditions of the Cuban people, as well as on Canadians who carry out legitimate commercial and investment activities in and with Cuba.
• France: “France considers Washington’s decision to activate the section that seeks to deprive Cuba of foreign investment, based on its extraterritorial nature, in violation of International Law, unacceptable. The United States violates our economic sovereignty by trying to dissuade companies, especially European ones, willing to enroll in investments on the island ”.
• President of the UN General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa: “Washington’s activation of the Helms-Burton Act has a negative impact on the island’s economy, and access to goods and services.”
• CARICOM: “We denounce what we consider the application of laws and measures of an extraterritorial nature that are contrary to international law and would strengthen the economic, commercial and financial blockade of the United States against Cuba.”
Our law
The Law for the Reaffirmation of Cuban Dignity and Sovereignty —Law 80— declares “the Helms-Burton Law unlawful, inapplicable and without any legal value or effect” in Article 1, so that any claim sustained therein, of person natural or legal, whatever their citizenship or nationality.
This law protects foreign businessmen who invest in Cuba and offers them full legal guarantee before the activation of Title III of the Helms-Burton. Law 80 was approved by the National Assembly of People’s Power in the VII Ordinary Period of Sessions of the IV Legislature, on December 24, 1996.
Damages during 2019-2020
• As a consequence of the activation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, the AMERICAN AIRLINES company decided to suspend the direct postal service between the US and Cuba. As a result, the Correos de Cuba Business Group (GECC) had to find an alternative to guarantee the Universal Postal Service in the national territory and decided to direct it through Panama, as an intermediary country. This action increased the price of the rates, which represented losses for the Cuban postal operator for a value of 6 thousand 736 dollars.
• In May 2019, the FLENDER company, manufacturer of the circulation reducers for the Diez de Octubre Thermoelectric Power Plant pumps, refused to sell new reducers to Cuba after the activation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act.
• Beyond the quantified effects, the dissuasive and intimidating effect of the blockade policy on businessmen and entities in the US and third countries, accentuated as of the activation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, has caused the cancellation of commercial operations, cooperation actions and foreign investment projects that were at different levels of development.
• It has also had a negative impact on financial banking institutions, which refuse to work with Cuban entities for fear of being subject to sanctions.
• On November 13, 2019, the company TRIVAGO, a technology company specialized in products and services in hotels and accommodation, based in Dusseldorf, Germany, eliminated all Cuban hotel facilities from its Internet search platforms, due to the regulations imposed by the blockade on Cuba. TRIVAGO was the subject of a class action lawsuit (along with EXPEDIA, BOOKING and MELIÁ) under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act.
• On December 3, 2019, the multinational Nutricia, established in the Netherlands, refused to deliver to Medicuba an order for nutritional supplements and food for medical use in the dietary management of disorders and diseases, alleging the activation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Law.
• World Health Organization (WHO) / Pan American Health Organization (PAHO): The application of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, from 2019 to date, has had an impact on the development of investments in the health sector . In this sense, both organizations pointed out, as another of the effects of the blockade on public health and on WHO cooperation with Cuba, the fact that in 2019 MINSAP members were unable to obtain a visa to travel to the United States and attend to the 71st session of the Regional Committee for the Americas of WHO, based in Washington.
• United Nations Development Program (UNDP): In its report presented to the UN, UNDP exemplified some of the measures that harm bilateral relations between Cuba and the United States, among which are the suspension of consular services in the United States embassy in Havana to Cuban citizens who wish to travel to the northern country, as well as the non-granting of a tourist visa for five years to Cubans who request it, and the application of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act .
“Various sanctions, including fines and financial asset freezes, were imposed on international crude oil suppliers and financial entities. The most relevant cases were that of the companies Petróleos de Venezuela (34 vessels), Ballito Bay Shipping Inc., based in Liberia, and ProPer In Management Inc., based in Greece, as well as Standard Chartered, based in the Kingdom. Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland ”.
Cuba lost more than 5.5 billion dollars between March 2019 and April 2020, due to the blockade, largely due to the application of the Helms-Burton. And that’s just numbers, some might say. But they are real. Behind it are faces, lives, relationships … The Helms-Burton is a law that they teach you in school and that can come out in a question in the university entrance test or any other exam. Helms-Burton is a standard that could be confused with hate because it brings it. Let’s talk about solidarity, not spoil.


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