Secretary of State Mike Pompeo got most of the attention Wednesday in announcing that Cuban ex-pats can now sue companies who have used their property confiscated by the Cuban government, opening the door to potential lawsuits on Canadian and European companies operating in Cuba even as Cuba is attempting to bring foreign investors to the island.
But Pompeo’s announcement was just part of a larger shift in policy related to Cuba; a shift National Security Adviser John Bolton laid out in a speech Wednesday in Coral Gables, Fla., that represents a broader attempt to address socialism and the Castro regime’s support of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.
Pompeo said that he would not suspend the bar on litigation in the Helms-Burton Act that has been renewed by every presidential administration since Bill Clinton. The move could affect dozens of Canadian and European companies doing business in Cuba – embroiling the businesses in litigation that could cost them billions of dollars and upending relations between Washington and its traditional allies.
“Any person or company doing business in Cuba should heed this announcement,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo said the administration was acting because it recognized the “reality” that the bar on lawsuits, which has been in place since 1996, had not achieved the goal of pressing Cuba to enact democratic reforms or reining in what he called its export of oppression throughout the Western Hemisphere, particularly in Venezuela.
“We see clearly that regime’s repression of its own people and unrepentant exportation of tyranny in the region has only gotten worse because dictators perceive appeasement as weakness, not strength,” he told reporters at the State Department.
Bolton’s speech — delivered at the invitation of Brigade 2506, Cuban exiles who participated in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion — went into greater detail and depth in describing the Trump administration’s new approach to Cuba.
The presidential adviser announced the policy changes during a speech that wove together several threads, starting with a contrast between Trump and Obama policies that was warmly welcome by an audience of Cuban exiles who felt betrayed by the engagement policies of the previous White House.
“To justify its policy of normalizing relations with Cuba, President Obama said Cuba quote ‘poses no genuine threat.’ Tell that to the American diplomats who were attacked in Havana. Tell that to the terrorized people of Venezuela. The reality is that the Obama government sought to normalize relations with a tyrannical dictatorship,” Bolton said. He reminded his audience that Trump met with opposition activists like the Ladies in White and called the late Fidel Castro “a brutal dictator.”
The new approach includes tightening restrictions on travel, unveiling a new, more generous remittance plan for families traveling to see relatives, and “increasing pressure on the island’s government in response to its support of the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela.”
“In no uncertain terms, the Obama administration’s policies toward Cuba have enabled the Cuban colonization of Venezuela today,” National Security Adviser John Bolton said Wednesday during a speech at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. The changes were designed to reverse “the disastrous Obama-era policies, and finally end the glamorization of socialism and communism,” he added.
Under the new rules, travel will be limited to families while “veiled tourism” in the form of cruises, etc. will be restricted. Suspension of an Obama-era policy that allowed Cuban companies and banks to perform “U-turn” transactions in other countries as a way to evade U.S. sanctions were also announced. Bolton also mentioned the recent sanctions on tankers delivering Venezuelan oil to Cuba.
While the new policy could appear to be mostly about rolling back the Obama administration’s attempt to “normalize” relations with Cuba, the focus seems also to be on sending a message to the world about Venezuela and the Maduro regime. And, more broadly, the message is a condemnation of the recent fascination with socialism and communism in this country.
Bolton also announced new sanctions against the Venezuelan and Nicaraguan governments, which alongside Cuba make up what he’s called “the troika of tyranny.”
The Treasury Department will sanction the Central Bank of Venezuela, which has helped the Maduro regime to sell gold for hard currencies, and the Corporative Bank of Nicaragua, used by Daniel Ortega as his “slush fund.” It will also impose sanctions on his son, Laureano, and wife and Vice President Rosario Murillo, accused by U.S. officials of corruption in a Nicaraguan investment company.
“These steps against the Central Bank of Venezuela should be a strong warning to all foreign actors, including Russia, against deploying military units in Venezuela to shore up the Maduro regime,” Bolton said.
“We will need your help in the days ahead,” Bolton told the Florida crowd. “We must all reject the forces of communism and socialism in this Hemisphere—and in this country.”