US targets Nicolás Maduro with new measures against Cuba
The Trump administration has placed new sanctions and other tough restrictions on Cuba and Venezuela in a series of measures designed to increase the pressure on Havana and try to force it to end its support for Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s de facto president.
Speaking in Miami to survivors of a Cuban exile group that once led the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, John Bolton, the US national security adviser, said that Washington was targeting Cuba’s military and intelligence services through these sanctions, and that it would also restrict travel and cap exile remittances to the island.
His speech followed an announcement earlier on Wednesday by Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, that opened the door for US citizens to sue foreign companies deemed to be trafficking in Cuban properties nationalised after the island’s 1959 revolution.
Mr Pompeo’s legal move, which could lead to thousands of multimillion-dollar lawsuits against companies such as France’s Pernod Ricard and Canada’s Sherritt International, drew immediate criticism from Europe and Canada.
Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, and Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign minister, said in a statement that they would join forces to protect their companies and allow counterclaims against any US lawsuits.
“This is the sharpest turning away yet of any US policy of engagement with Cuba,” said Pedro Freyre, a Cuban expert at the US law firm Akerman. “The overarching point is that the US policy is now in full-blown isolation mode.”
For Donald Trump, the US president, the moves are his latest attempt to try to end what Washington has called the region’s “Troika of Tyranny” — the loose tripartite alliance of Cuba, Venezuela and socialist Nicaragua.
“When Venezuela is free, and Cuba is free, and Nicaragua is free, this will become the first free hemisphere in all of human history,” Mr Trump said in a statement.
In Miami, Mr Bolton announced a range of fresh measures. He sought to squeeze the estimated $3bn that Cuban émigrés currently send to the island annually by limiting remittances to $1,000 every three months per person.
He warned that travel restrictions to the island by US citizens would be tightened, a move likely to hurt Cuba’s fledgling private sector entrepreneurs who mostly work in tourism.
Mr Bolton also accused Cuba of providing security forces to prop up Mr Maduro, announced fresh sanctions against Venezuela’s central bank and issued a warning to “all external actors, including Russia,” against deploying military assets to support Venezuela’s socialist leader.
Cuba, which has endured a 60-year US embargo, appears unlikely to be swayed by the Trump administration’s demands to drop Mr Maduro, a longtime Havana ally. “We will never change our attitude,” Cuba’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, wrote on Twitter. “We Cubans do not surrender.”
Despite tough US oil sanctions, Mr Maduro has also shown little sign of losing the loyalty of the Venezuelan military, or the support of allies such as Russia or China. The US and most western countries recognise opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate president.
Mr Pompeo’s decision to greenlight legal claims will further complicate the situation as it gives US citizens the right to sue companies that operate out of Cuban properties nationalised after Fidel Castro took power in 1959, as well as Cubans who subsequently became US citizens.
The justice department has already certified 5,913 claims by US citizens for nationalised Cuban property, with a value of $1.9bn. However, Kim Breier, assistant US secretary of western hemisphere at the state department, said it knew of another 200,000 claims, which could have a value of “tens of billions of dollars”.
The two largest single claims, which stem from the post-revolution nationalisations of the Cuban Electric Co and International Telephone & Telegraph Co, are currently held by Office Depot and Marriott International.
Marriott told the Financial Times that it had not been canvassed by the US government ahead of the move.
“The US government did not call any meetings with the current largest claimants or their lawyers prior to this move,” said John Kavulich, president of the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. “This is not a strategy to settle the claims, but rather one to maintain and expand them.”