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The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996 (Helms–Burton Act, Pub.L. 104–114, 110 Stat. 785, 22 U.S.C. §§ 6021–6091) is a United States federal law which strengthens and continues the United States embargo against Cuba. The act extended the territorial application of the initial embargo to apply to foreign companies trading with Cuba, and penalized foreign companies allegedly "trafficking" in property formerly owned by U.S. citizens but expropriated by Cuba after the Cuban revolution. The act also covers property formerly owned by Cubans who have since become U.S. citizens.
The law was passed on March 12, 1996 by the 104th United States Congress. The bill, which had been tabled in late 1995 after Senator Helms was unable to overcome several Democratic filibusters, was reintroduced prompted by an episode that happened a month earlier. On February 24, 1996, Cuban fighter jets shot down two private planes operated by a Miami based anti-Castro Cuban refugee support group called Brothers to the Rescue (Spanish: Hermanos al Rescate).
This law includes a wide variety of provisions intended to bring about "a peaceful transition to a representative democracy and market economy in Cuba":
- 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., which is a much larger market.
- 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.
- 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.
Title I strengthened sanctions against the current Cuban Government. Among many other provisions, it codified the U.S. embargo on trade and financial transactions which had been in effect pursuant to a Presidential proclamation since the Kennedy Administration.
Title II describes U.S. policy toward and assistance to a free and independent Cuba. It required the President to produce a plan for providing economic assistance to a transition or democratic government in Cuba. (The President delivered the plan to Congress in January 1997.)
Title III creates a private cause of action and authorizes U.S. nationals with claims to confiscated property in Cuba to file suit in U.S. courts against persons that may be "trafficking" in that property. The Act grants the President the authority to suspend the lawsuit provisions for periods of 6 months if it is necessary to the national interest of the United States and will expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba. The President has exercised this authority several times, most recently in January 2013.
Title IV requires the denial of visas to and exclusion from the U.S. of persons who, after March 12, 1996, confiscate or "traffic" in confiscated property in Cuba claimed by U.S. nationals. The objective of this provision is to protect the status of confiscated U.S. property and to support existing sanctions against the current regime. The State Department reviews a broad range of economic activity in Cuba to determine the applicability of Title IV. The results of this effort appear not only in the actual determinations of "trafficking," but also in the deterrent to investment in confiscated U.S. property and in the exacerbation of the uncertainty of investing in Cuba. <http://www.state.gov/www/regions/wha/cuba/helms.html>
- October 19, 1995: Passed Senate, 74–24.
- March 6, 1996: Passed House, 336–86.
- March 12, 1996: Signed by President Bill Clinton.
The Helms–Burton Act was condemned by the Council of Europe, the European Union, Britain, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and other U.S. allies that enjoy normal trade relations with Cuba. The governments argued that the law ran counter to the spirit of international law and sovereignty.
After a complaint by the European Union with the World Trade Organization, a dispute settlement panel was established. Later, the work of the panel was suspended to find a solution through negotiations. After a year, the panel lost its jurisdiction over the matter, and the EU did not pursue the matter any further before the WTO.
The law has also been condemned by humanitarian groups because these groups argue that sanctions against an entire country will affect only the innocent population.
The law provides for compensation of only the largest of claims for confiscated property, primarily only the claims of large multinational companies (valued at roughly $6 billion). It fails to provide for the claims of individuals of the exiled Cuban-American community whose personal residences were confiscated.
The European Union introduced a Council Regulation (No 2271/96) (law binding all member states) declaring the extraterritorial provisions of the Helms–Burton Act to be unenforceable within the EU, and permitting recovery of any damages imposed under it. The EU law also applied sanctions against US companies and their executives for making Title III complaints.
The United Kingdom had previously introduced provisions by statutory instrument extending its Protection of Trading Interests Act 1980 (originally passed in the wake of extraterritorial claims by the U.S. in the 1970s) to United States rules on trade with Cuba. United Kingdom law was later extended to counter-act the Helms–Burton Act as well. This included criminal sanctions for complying with certain provisions[clarification needed] of the Helms–Burton Act whilst in the UK.[not in citation given]
Mexico passed a law in October 1996 aimed at neutralizing the Helms–Burton Act. The law provides for a fine of 2.2 million pesos, or $280,254, against anyone who while in Mexican territory obeys another country's laws aimed at reducing Mexican trade or foreign investment in a third country.
Similarly, Canada passed a law to counteract the effect of Helms-Burton. In addition, its legislature proposed (but did not pass) the Godfrey-Milliken Bill that satirized Burton-Helms. Sponsored by a Loyalist descendant, it demanded recompense for United Empire Loyalists and proposing similar travel restrictions on those "trafficking" in property confiscated during the American Revolution.
The following are laws that were passed in different countries to counteract the effects of Helms-Burton:
- Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act of Canada
- Law of Protection of Commerce and Investments from Foreign Policies that Contravene International Law of Mexico
- CNN http://www.cnn.com/US/9602/cuba_shootdown/26/3pm/
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- "Clinton moves to punish Cuba for downing planes". CNN.
- Senate roll call 494
- House roll call 47
- "Bill Summary & Status, 104th Congress (1995 - 1996), H.R.927, All Congressional Actions with Amendments". Library of Congress. Retrieved June 14, 2011.
- Roy, Joaquín (2000). Cuba, the United States, and the Helms-Burton Doctrine: International Reactions. Gainsville, FL: University of Florida Press. ISBN 978-0-813-01760-0.