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U.S. allows lawsuits related to confiscated property in Cuba

HAVANA, Cuba – The Trump administration announced Monday that it is tightening the six-decade trade embargo on Cuba by allowing lawsuits against Cuban companies using properties confiscated after its 1959 revolution.

The announcement limits lawsuits to a list of about 200 Cuban businesses and government agencies that are already subject to special U.S. sanctions because they are tied to the Cuban military and intelligence ministries. Most of the businesses have no ties of any sort to the U.S. legal or financial systems, meaning the ability to sue them will almost certainly be symbolic.

Other businesses, like hotels, are joint ventures with foreign companies, but it is does not appear that the Trump administration measure allows the foreign companies themselves to be sued. That means the new measure will likely have very little real-world impact.

Every president since Bill Clinton has suspended a section of the 1996 Helms-Burton act that would allow such lawsuits because they would snarl companies from U.S.-allied countries in years of complicated litigation that could prompt international trade claims against the United States.

Major investors in Cuba include British tobacco giant Imperial Brands, which runs a joint venture with the Cuban government making premium cigars; Spanish hoteliers Iberostar and Melia, who run dozens of hotels across the island; and French beverage-maker Pernod-Ricard, which makes Havana Club rum with a Cuban state distiller.

The measure is being presented as retaliation for Cuba's support of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who the U.S. is trying to oust in favor of opposition leader Juan Guaido.

After nearly 60 years of trade embargo, the Cuban economy is in a period of consistently low growth of about 1 percent a year, with foreign investment at roughly $2 billion, far below what it needs to spur more prosperity.

But tourism, remittances and subsidized oil from Venezuela have allowed the government to maintain basic services and a degree of stability that appears unshaken by the Trump administration's recent moves against Cuba and its major remaining allies in Latin America - Venezuela and Nicaragua.