The European Union informed the United States government that it will resort to the World Trade Organization (WTO) if the US tightens its economic blockade against Cuba by enforcing chapter III of the Helms-Burton law.

The United States has announced that it will enforce Title III of the Helms-Burton Act (Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Freedom) Act of 1996), thereby authorizing so-called "Cuban-Americans" to pursue legal claims for properties which were confiscated after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, 60 years ago.

The implementation of Title III, which forms part of the framework of laws regulating the US commercial and financial embargo against Cuba, could result in some 200,000 lawsuits against foreign companies - mainly European - which operate on the island.

In fact, the owners of all movable or immovable property which was nationalized in the past did receive compensation from the Cuban revolutionary government but those who chose to go into exile in the United States, as well as US transnational corporations, refused to accept the compensation in order to keep the conflict with the Cuban Revolution alive.

Among the companies which would be most affected by the enforcement of Title III of the US Helms-Burton law - approved by President Bill Clinton - are the Spanish tourist chains which manage at least 2 thirds of Cuba’s existing hotels. Former Cuban owners who have acquired US citizenship could appeal to the US courts, which in turn could even order the confiscation of assets of European investors in order to compensate the plaintiffs.

In 1996, the European Union and Canada negotiated the suspension of Chapter III of the Helms-Burton Act with the Clinton administration. Since then, successive US governments have confirmed the suspension every 6 months. But in January 2019, the Trump administration reduced the suspension period to 45 days and is now ready to repeal it definitively.

According to the Spanish newspaper El País, which had access to a letter from the European Union to the US government, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, states
that the EU will be obliged to put the issue to the World Trade Organization. [1].

The EU’s letter to Washington, signed by Mrs. Mogherini and by the European Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, underlines that in order to compensate European companies for damages, the EU could retaliate with the confiscation of American interests in Europe.

At the same time, an EU legal challenge against the United States via the World Trade Organization could open the door to an avalanche of similar procedures from the numerous companies affected by the unilateral "sanctions" which Washington is currently imposing against other countries, such as Iran.

Artemis Pittas

[1«Bruselas amenaza a EE UU con represalias si reactiva el castigo a los inversores europeos en Cuba», Bernardo de Miguel y Amanda Mars, El País, 17 de Abril de 2019.