HAVANA, Cuba - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday he won't renew a bar on lawsuits against companies that profit from U.S.-linked properties confiscated after Cuba's 1959 socialist revolution. The decision is a blow to Havana's efforts to draw foreign investment to the island.
President Donald Trump is stepping up pressure to isolate embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who is holding power with help from other countries, including Cuba, China and Russia.
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 lawsuits by Cubans who became U.S. citizens years after their properties were taken.
Pompeo says, "Those citizens' opportunities for justice have been put out of reach for two decades."
Word of the move prompted stern responses from Canada and Europe, which have vowed to protect their businesses from lawsuits.
National security adviser John Bolton tweeted that the decision effective May 2 serves as a warning to the Cuban regime that the US is prepared to hold it accountable for its violations of human rights and continued repression of the Cuban people.
"We will always fight for the freedom of the Cuban people," Bolton wrote, adding that Trump "will continue to break the reprehensible links that have contributed to Venezuela's downfall. The United States will continue to take strong actions against regimes that prop up the failed Maduro dictatorship."
Sen. Rick Scott released a statement Wednesday saying he was applauding the Trump administration’s decision to fully implement Title III of the Libertad Act of 1996.
"Americans can finally sue for property stolen by the Cuban regime," Scott said. "We must continue to do everything we can to cut off the money supply to the Castro regime, which continues to prop up dangerous dictators like Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua."
Sen. Marco Rubio also released a statement commending the Trump administration for ending decades of impunity and for helping exiles and their descendants to hold the Cuban regime accountable.
"The United States is opening the door to justice and enabling victims of the Cuban dictatorship to rightfully sue their perpetrators," Rubio said. "Today, as we commemorate the valor of the fallen heroes in the Bay of Pigs invasion, history is once again being written."
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart echoed the statements of Rubio and Scott saying Trump demonstrated "remarkable solidarity" with the victims of the Castro regime. He said the position is also important for Venezuelan exiles because the Cuban dictatorship has had a "malignant influence" in Venezuela.
"Cutting off resources and investment to the regime in Cuba will benefit both U.S. national security interests and regional security interests for neighbors in our hemisphere," Diaz-Balart said in a statement.
After the announcements, Emily Mendrala, the executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, released a statement saying the Trump administration is "doubling down on isolation and, in so doing, causing great pain to the people of Cuba" and U.S. businesses. Cubans on the island were concerned about the limitations that Bolton announced on remittances and travel.
Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez reacted to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's announcement on Twitter.
"I strongly reject Sec. of State Pompeo announced activation of Title III of Helms-Burton Act. It is an attack against International Law and the sovereignty of Cuba and third states," Rodriguez wrote. "Aggressive escalation of US against Cuba will fail. As in Giron (Bay of Pigs), we shall overcome."
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