…again. This time it’s over the US’ decision to implement all of the Helms-Burton Act, to stop waiving Title III of the Act. Helms-Burton, you’ll recall, is a law passed in 1996 that pressured Cuba and its trading partners to not traffic in Cuban government-appropriated -stolen private property, property that was seized by that government over the course its power-grabbing in the days following Fidel Castro’s successful rebellion.
Title III created a private cause of action, allowing private citizens whose property had been confiscated by the Cuban government to sue those trafficking in that property for monetary compensation for the loss, plus court and attorney costs associated with the suit. The Title also contained within it authority for the President to waive the Title for six-month periods.
The EU is up in arms over this.
The EU considers the US move to be “contrary to international law” and “will draw on all appropriate measures to address the effects of the Helms-Burton Act, including in relation to its WTO rights,” according to a statement from the EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini.
Because it’s contrary to international law and a violation of WTO rights for persons whose property has been stolen to go into court in order to be compensated for the loss ensuing from the theft. No, the EU and a few member nations simply are worried about the inconvenience of protecting justice:
[A]ctivation of the Title III provision could bring about dozens, if not hundreds, of lawsuits and also generate trade conflicts between the US and European countries such as Spain, France and Britain. It is also likely to negatively affect the already lagging levels of foreign investment in Cuba.
That last is especially risible. The point of Helms-Burton is to pressure the Cuban government to cut it out and make its victims whole. Negatively pressuring Cuba’s reception of foreign investment is a valuable tool in gaining the compensation. Beyond that, if European companies lose money as a result of the suits, that’s on them for trafficking in stolen goods in the first place, and their beef is between them and the Cuban government, not between them and the victims of the crimes.
And there’s the matter of perspective.
The US State Department has certified some 6,000 claims worth some $8 billion (€7.14 billion) in current values. Another 200,000 claims have yet to be certified, but could have a value amounting to tens of billions of dollars.
Tens of billions. The level of trade between the US and the EU (because Spain and France, and Great Britain so far, cannot conclude trade agreements apart from the EU), even in the present parlous trade environment, is $1.1 trillion (€1.23 trillion). The Europeans are raising their misguided tempest deep inside a teacup.
The Helms-Burton Act is summarized here, and the Act itself can be read by following the first link in that cite.