The Trump administration on Wednesday intensified its crackdown on Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, rolling back Obama administration policy and announcing new restrictions and sanctions against the three countries whose leaders national security adviser John Bolton dubbed the “three stooges of socialism.”
“The troika of tyranny — Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua — is beginning to crumble,” Bolton said in a hard-hitting speech near Miami on the 58th anniversary of the United States’ failed Bay of Pigs invasion of the island, an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government.
Bolton announced a new cap on the amount of money families in the United States can send their relatives in Cuba. The Obama administration had lifted limits on remittances, but the new limit will be $1,000 per person per quarter, Bolton said. Remittances to Cuba from the United States amounted to $3 billion in 2016, according to the State Department.
Bolton also announced that the U.S. was sanctioning the Central Bank of Venezuela, which the Trump administration says has been instrumental in propping up the embattled government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. He also announced sanctions against financial services provider Bancorp, which he claimed is a “slush fund” for Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega.
“The United States looks forward to watching each corner of this sordid triangle of terror fall: in Havana, in Caracas, and in Managua,” Bolton said in South Florida, which is home to thousands of exiles and immigrants from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
He said Obama administration policies gave the Cuban government “political cover to expand its malign influence” across the region, including in Venezuela. Cuba has trained Venezuelan security forces to repress civilians and support Maduro, Bolton said.
“Havana continues to prop up Maduro and help him sustain the brutal suffering of the Venezuelan people,” Bolton said. “As President Trump has said, Maduro is quite simply a ‘Cuban puppet.’”
“Thousands of Cuban doctors in Venezuela are being used as pawns by Maduro and his Cuban sponsors to support his brutal and oppressive reign.”
Bolton’s pledge to “never, ever abandon” the people of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua in their fight for freedom also might ring hollow in light of the historical events he sought to highlight at the event hosted by the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association.
Many Cuban Americans to this day resent the late President John F. Kennedy for not deploying American troops at a critical moment in the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Meanwhile, with the high stakes of the Cold War a fading memory, some critics of U.S. policy toward Venezuela worry that the Trump administration’s stance that all options are on the table, including a military one, to oust Maduro is an empty threat that will only serve to ignite the streets and geopolitical tensions with Russia, compounding the misery of Venezuelan citizens.
“Honoring one of U.S.’ greatest military fiascos from 60 years back suggests U.S. policy to Latin America owes more now to a perverse Cold War nostalgia than practical benefits for people of the region,” said Ivan Briscoe, the Latin American director for the International Crisis Group, a think tank headquartered in Brussels.
Bolton spoke just hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in Washington a new policy that allows lawsuits against foreign firms operating on properties Cuba seized from Americans after the 1959 revolution. The United States has enforced a trade blockade against Cuba since the early 1960s.
The announcement comes at a moment of severe economic weakness for Cuba, which is struggling to find enough cash to import basic food and other supplies following a drop in aid from Venezuela and a string of bad years in other key economic sectors.
Pompeo said he won’t renew a bar on litigation that has been in place for two decades, meaning that lawsuits can be filed starting on May 2 when the current suspension expires. The decision could cost dozens of Canadian and European companies tens of billions of dollars in compensation and interest.
Pompeo’s decision gives Americans the right to sue companies that operate out of hotels, tobacco factories, distilleries and other properties Cuba nationalized after Fidel Castro took power. It allows Cubans who became U.S. citizens years after their properties were taken to sue.
The Justice Department has certified roughly 6,000 claims as having merit, according to Kimberly Breier, the top U.S. diplomat for the Americas. Those claims have an estimated value of $8 billion: $2 billion in property and $6 billion in interest, she said. In addition, another 200,000 uncertified claims could run into the tens of billions of dollars, she said.
Breier said there would be no exceptions to the decision, which has already prompted stern responses from Canada and Europe as they have vowed to protect their businesses from lawsuits.
“European companies that are operating in Cuba will have nothing to worry about if they are not operating on properties taken from Americans,” she said.
The decision deals a severe blow to Havana’s efforts to draw foreign investment to the island and comes as Trump steps up pressure to Venezuela’s Maduro , who is holding power with help from other countries, including Cuba, China and Russia.
Spain, which has large investments in hotels and other tourism-related industries on the island, was the first to react. A senior government official told The Associated Press that Madrid would ask the European Union to challenge the U.S. move in the World Trade Organization.
Businesses from Canada, France and Great Britain among other countries also conduct business in properties nationalized after Castro took power.
Johana Tablada, Cuba’s deputy director of U.S. affairs, said on Twitter: “Before they try to euphorically ride a wave of wickedness and lies, they should take a dose of reality. The world has told John Bolton and the U.S. government to eliminate the criminal blockade against Cuba and the Helms-Burton Act” of 1996.
Countries with large investments in Cuba have ferociously protested the law.
“The extraterritorial application of the U.S. embargo is illegal and violates international law,” said Alberto Navarro, the European Union ambassador to Cuba. “I personally consider it immoral. For 60 years the only thing that’s resulted from the embargo is the suffering of the Cuban people.”
Michael Weissenstein and Andrea Rodriguez in Havana and Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.
Trump administration announces new measures against Cuba
The Trump administration levied new sanctions on Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua on Wednesday, using the language of the Cold War — and of President Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign — in a vow to combat socialism, communism and human rights abuses.
The heaviest measures were directed at Cuba. U.S. citizens will now be allowed to sue any entity or person found to be “trafficking” in property that was expropriated from U.S. citizens after the 1959 revolution. Trump’s three immediate predecessors in office had suspended that right, sustaining a 1996 law containing Cuba sanctions, on the grounds that it would interfere with trade and national security.
The administration is also reimposing limits on the amounts of money that Cuban Americans can send to relatives on the island, as well as the frequency of transactions, and ordering new restrictions on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens. Those actions further reverse President Barack Obama’s moves to normalize relations with Havana, which Trump has called “terrible and misguided.”
New sanctions were announced against people and entities in Venezuela and Nicaragua, as well as prohibitions on U.S. dollar transactions by the Central Bank of Venezuela and a Venezuelan subsidiary bank in Nicaragua.
The actions were outlined in a fiery speech by national security adviser John Bolton to veterans of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion — the failed, CIA-orchestrated attempt to overthrow the government of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Speaking in Miami on the 58th anniversary of the invasion, Bolton compared the aging Cuban Americans to “the brave men of Bunker Hill, Belleau Wood and Normandy,” and said the new measures were being undertaken to “honor your courage . . . by boldly confronting the evils of socialism and communism in the hemisphere.”
The administration has blamed Cuba, and to an increasing extent Russia, for its unsuccessful efforts to force the removal of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. The United States, along with many governments in Latin America and Europe, recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president.
“Tragically, the Obama administration’s misguided Cuba policy provided the Cuban regime with the necessary political cover to expand its malign influence and ideological imperialism across the region,” Bolton said. Trump has described many of his own key foreign policy initiatives as antidotes to Obama’s “mistakes” in Syria, North Korea, Israel, Latin America and beyond.
The author of Venezuela’s own revolution, Hugo Chávez, was an acolyte of the late Cuban leader, as is Maduro. Especially under Maduro, Venezuela has devolved into a bankrupt and oppressive system of patronage and mismanagement that has left millions of Venezuelans with little access to food and medicine, and driven millions more to flee the country.
Under a 2002 agreement between Castro and Chávez, oil-rich Venezuela provides free and subsidized oil to cash-strapped Cuba in exchange for Cuba’s dispatch of thousands of doctors, teachers and other professionals to assignments in Venezuela.
The administration has charged that the tens of thousands of Cubans in Venezuela are actually military and intelligence agents who control Venezuela’s own military and keep Maduro in power. It has already placed sanctions on Venezuela’s state oil company, as well as companies and ships carrying Venezuelan oil to Cuba.
The new sanctions, Bolton said, should be a “strong warning to all external actors, including Russia,” which has provided financial support to Venezuela, sold military equipment to its government, and last month deployed about 100 military personnel there.
Quoting Trump, who has charged the Democratic Party with seeking to install Venezuela-like policies in this country, Bolton said that “the twilight hour of socialism has arrived in our hemisphere.”
Trump, amid growing frustration over Maduro’s staying power, has also threatened military action to unseat him, although U.S. partners in the campaign to squeeze him from office have rejected that option.
Earlier Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the administration would no longer waive a 23-year-old provision giving U.S. citizens, including naturalized Cuban Americans, the right to sue over property they owned there that was confiscated without reimbursement by the Cuban government. Most of the confiscations took place in the early years of Castro’s revolution, when U.S. citizens and many Cubans fled.
The provision, which Pompeo said will take effect May 2, could affect a wide swath of foreign and U.S. investors in Cuba who are utilizing land and buildings that are claimed by litigants. Those judged “traffickers” in uncompensated property can see their U.S. assets threatened and have U.S. visas denied or revoked.
In a joint statement following the announcement, Canada and the European Union, whose companies have substantial investments in Cuba, called the measure “regrettable . . . and an “extraterritorial application of unilateral Cuba-related measures contrary to international law.”
The State Department said that nearly 6,000 claims have already been certified by the Treasury Department as eligible for litigation, and many more could result in judgments totaling more than $10 billion.
Pedro Freyre, chairman of international practice at Akerman LLP, a major Miami law firm, said that “out of a fairly substantial universe” of possible claims, the number of actual lawsuits “could be fairly narrow.”
But the “return to the Cold War” will “definitely have a chilling effect on [future] investment” in Cuba by both U.S. and third country companies, he said.
Although the State Department said there would be “no exemptions” for Cuba investments, Freyre said the law contains a cutout for technology and travel-related business that would appear to exempt U.S. airlines and cruise ships traveling to Cuba.
Bolton said that Cuban Americans would be limited to sending $1,000 every three months to relatives on the island, reversing the Obama-era removal of restrictions on remittances, but he provided no details on what he said were new limits on U.S. citizens’ travel there. A Treasury Department official said regulations would be issued “in the coming months.”
In Florida, which the Trump campaign sees as a key part of its reelection plans, some Cuban Americans worried that the measures would increase the suffering of relatives on the island.
“I don’t think there should be an embargo, because it affects regular Cubans,” said Rosalina Gonzalez, 65, a Miami resident who sends supplies to her sister and extended family.
But at his speech, Bolton was cheered by veterans who frequently interrupted to cheer and chant his name.
“It’s very important for all this to be done,” said Guido Conill, 78, a retired investment banker who participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion. He also said that he hoped the measures would force the Cuban government to stop interfering in Venezuela.
In terms of the effect it may have on Cubans, he said, “you can’t get rid of cancer without suffering.”
Another invasion veteran, Rafael Torres, said: “If at 79, I need to go and fight, I will.”
By Karen DeYoung
The Washington Post