10 Selections from Helms-Burton that Offend All Cubans

By Sergio Alejandro Gómez on March 7, 2019

We condemn Helms – Burton, Photo: Bill Hackwell

The pen with which President Bill Clinton signed the Helms Burton Law on March 12, 1996, was immediately handed over to Jorge Más Canosa, the president of the Cuban American National Foundation, general command for terrorist and subversive activities against Cuba.

More than a symbolic gesture, it proved whose victory it really was, at the cost of international law, the U.S. Constitution and the executive branch, which relinquished its prerogative to conduct U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba.

The names of the congressmen for whom the law was named, Senator Jesse Helms and Representative Dan Burton were a pure formality.  The bill was drafted by among others, Roger Noriega, one of the CIA’s hawks on Latin America, congressional legislators of Cuban origin and Bacardí’s lawyers with the hope, so far frustrated, that this would be the final coup de grace that would overturn the Cuban revolution and return Havana to its previous owners.

“It’s time to tighten the screws,” said Helms when he presented the legislation to the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations.  Burton, who backed the bill from the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, added that this would be “the final nail in the coffin” for Fidel Castro.

Two decades later, their aspirations remain frustrated.  What remains is an illegal, interventionist and unconstitutional law, superciliously written, without the least respect for Cuban sovereignty.  As such, the law constitutes one of the greatest obstacles for civilized coexistence between the two countries.

A simple reading of the more than 50 pages contained in the law is sufficient to offend anyone who considers themselves Cuban or respectful of the most basic principles of international law.

Cubadebate offers its readers the following 10 particularly objectionable selections from the text:

  1. Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996 (“Helms-Burton)

Although the law is better known by the surnames of the congressmen who presented it, its official name is a perfect summary of the hypocrisy of its drafters.  It aims to asphyxiate the Cuban people and prevent their access to international markets, causing hunger and desperation among the Cuban people and undermine their massive support for the revolutionary process.  It was marketed as an effort to extend “solidarity” in order to achieve “liberty” and “democracy” in Cuba.

  1. HB Section 102. (…) The economic embargo of Cuba, as in effect on March 1, 1996, including all restrictions under part 515 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, shall be in effect upon the enactment of this Act, and shall remain in effect, subject to section 204 of this Act.

By signing Helms-Burton, Clinton relinquished a considerable part of the White House powers to direct policy toward Cuba, as it had ever since John F. Kennedy imposed a total blockade toward the island in January, 1962.

Introduced two decades later, the law continues to affect relations between Havana and Washington.

“It not only proposed tightening the screws of the blockade still further but basically, making it eternal, with the result that it would be far more difficult for the Executive branch to lift until its main objective – destroying the Cuban revolution – had been achieved,” says Cuban attorney and University of Havana law school professor, Rodolfo Dávalos.

Dávalos points out that the law sought to “codify” the complex web of distinct measures that make up the U.S.’s aggressive policy toward Cuba.  “All previous norms, regulations, rules and presidential orders relating to the blockade imposed on Cuba were raised to the category of statutory law, without any hierarchical distinction.

“Approving the law was good for an election year in Florida, but it undermined any opportunity that might have existed for lifting the embargo in a second term, in response to positive changes in Cuba,” Clinton later wrote in his memoirs.

Too late.

  1. HB Section 109. (…) the President is authorized to furnish assistance and provide other support for individuals and independent nongovernmental organizations to support democracy-building efforts for Cuba.

Support for U.S. subversion against Cuba needs no law to enable it.  Rather, it’s been a constant ever since the triumphant revolution itself.  But it’s the height of cynicism to put it in writing as though it were immaterial.  “It’s the most hypocritical declaration of intervention in the internal affairs of other countries, violating one of the most basic U.N. principles: that of non-intervention, said (the late) Professor Olga Miranda Bravo in her book Cuba/USA Nacionales y Bloqueo. “It’s unheard of for a government to declare itself as interventionist and aggressive,” she added.

In addition to Section 109, there is also Section 115: “Nothing in this Act prohibits any lawfully authorized investigative, protective, or intelligence activity of a law enforcement agency, or of an intelligence agency, of the United States.”

One need look no further than the uproar in the United States over the suggestion of interference by Russia in the 2016 presidential elections to understand how seriously Washington reacts to being prescribed a dose of its own medicine.

  1. HB Section 110. (…) The Congress notes that section 515.204 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, prohibits the entry of, and dealings outside the United States in, merchandise that (1) is of Cuban origin; (2) is or has been located in or transported from or through Cuba; or (3) is made or derived in whole or in part of any article which is the growth, produce, or manufacture of Cuba.

Helms-Burton makes it practically impossible to export Cuban products to the United States; exports that were already extremely limited after the blockade was imposed in 1962.  Because of these same limitations, U.S. citizens whose properties were legally nationalized by the Cuban revolution would have been fully paid for by 1981, if the U.S. had not cut the sugar quota.  Cuba proposed that a percentage of these sales be set aside to pay the claims.  In the end the Americans were the ones who managed to shoot themselves in the foot.

  1. HB Section 116. The Congress makes the following findings: Brothers to the Rescue is a Miami-based humanitarian organization engaged in searching for and aiding Cuban refugees in the Straits of Florida, and was engaged in such a mission on Saturday, February 24, 1996.

On February 24, 1996, two airplanes belonging to a group led by José Basulto, who admitted to the media shortly afterwards that he’d received terrorist training by the United States – in the “use of violence to achieve certain objectives.”  The repeated incursions into Cuban territory by the Brothers to the Rescue planes, denounced immediately and continually by Cuba to U.S. authorities, violated all international norms and put the safety of Cuban citizens at risk.  Cuban authorities acted in legitimate self-defense and to protect Cuban sovereignty.

  1. HB Section 203. The President shall designate a coordinating official who shall be responsible for (1) implementing the strategy for distributing assistance described in section 202(b); (2) ensuring the speedy and efficient distribution of such assistance; and (3) ensuring coordination among, and appropriate oversight by, the agencies of the United States that provide assistance described in section 202(b), including resolving any disputes among such agencies.

This basically amounts to, at the very least, the designation of a proconsul in Cuba, just as occurred during the military occupation of Cuba after the U.S. involved itself in the 1898 war for Cuban independence.

Title II, with its designated proconsul, is a detailed plan for the restoration of U.S. directed capitalism in Cuba, once the objectives of Title 1 (destruction of the revolution through economic asphyxiation) have been achieved.

This section stipulates the steps that would need to happen in order to meet Washington’s expectations and includes, among many other things, dissolution of the Cuban Ministry of the Interior, the Cuban workers’ movement, and full compensation (unilaterally interpreted) for all those supposedly affected by the nationalizations of properties at the beginning of the revolution.

Adding insult to injury, the occupation is de facto conditioned on resolving one of Washington’s greatest affronts to Cuban sovereignty.  “To be prepared to enter into negotiations with a democratically elected government in Cuba either to return the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo to Cuba or to renegotiate the present agreement under mutually agreeable terms,” says Helms-Burton.

  1. HB Section 205. Requirements and factors for determining a Transition Government: (…) A transition government in Cuba is one that has dissolved the present Department of State Security in the Cuban Ministry of the Interior, including the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and the Rapid Response Brigades (…) has ceased any interference with Radio Marti or Television Marti broadcasts; (…) does not include Fidel Castro or Raul Castro; (…) the President shall take into account the extent to which that government (…) is demonstrably in transition from a communist totalitarian dictatorship to representative democracy; (…) has made public commitments to, and is making demonstrable progress in (…) assuring the right to private property (…) taking appropriate steps to return to United States citizens (and entities which are 50 percent or more beneficially owned by United States citizens) property taken by the Cuban Government from such citizens and entities on or after January 1, 1959, or to provide equitable compensation to such citizens and entities for such property.

The American attorney Robert Muse has pointed out that one of the fundamental legal violations included in Helms-Burton is the “attempt to legislate for Cuba the definition of democracy, including the prohibition of the participation of Fidel and Raul Castro in a Cuban government.  “Like the entire pseudo-legal package that makes up the blockade, Helms Burton is a freakish thing that tries to provide legal window dressing for political aims that lack any legal basis in international law,” says Davalos.

  1. HB Section 301. (…) The United States Government has an obligation to its citizens to provide protection against wrongful confiscations by foreign nations and their citizens, including the provision of private remedies.

This is how Title III of Helms Burton begins.  Perhaps the most contentious part of all, and the one that the administration of Donald Trump, advised by people like Marco Rubio, John Bolton and Mauricio Claver Carone, want to impose.

“It’s absolutely illegal, not only in terms of international law, but in terms of international constitutional, procedural and judicial functions,” says Dávalos.

This section allows U.S. citizens whose properties worth more than $50,000 (at the time) were nationalized or expropriated under Cuban law, to present their claims to U.S. courts, against those “trafficking” their former properties, without taking into account the reasons and basic foundations underpinning the nationalizations.  Among others, the forum with exclusive jurisdiction to hear and resolve such claims is established in Resolution 1803 (XVII), approved by the U.N. General Assembly on December 14, 1962.  Titled “Permanent sovereignty over natural resources” it states: “In any case where the question of compensation gives rise to a controversy, the national jurisdiction of the State taking such measures shall be exhausted. However, upon agreement by sovereign States and other parties concerned, settlement of the dispute should be made through arbitration or international adjudication.”  According to Miranda Bravo, “U.S. courts have no standing to judge Cuban nationalizations.  Furthermore, a State has no right to hold the nationals of third States responsible for claims against another State; and finally, a State does not have the power to present claims against another State that nationalizes the properties of persons who were not its citizens at the time the nationalization took place.”

  1. HB Section 303. Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act and only for purposes of section 302 of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996, a United State district court, for fact-finding purposes, may refer to the Commission, and the Commission may determine, questions of the amount and ownership of a claim by a United States national (as defined in section 4 of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996), resulting from the confiscation of property by the Government of Cuba described in section 503(a), whether or not the United States national qualified as a national of the United States (as defined in section 502(1)) at the time of the action by the Government of Cuba.

The action of including those who were Cuban citizens at the time of Cuba’s nationalizations and later became naturalized U.S. citizens, naturally complicates viable solutions under Cuban law and practice, like those that have been followed by the Government of Cuba in its global indemnification agreements with other countries, said Miranda Bravo in her book.

Until 1972, The Foreign Claims Service Commission in the United States accepted proof presented by US citizens of losses attributed to the property nationalizations.  Later, between 2005 and 2006, the same commission met again to consider properties confiscated after 1967.  In all, the U.S. government has certified 5,913 claims.

Cuba has always expressed willingness to discuss the claims on an equal basis, with mutual respect, as it once again proposed during Barack Obama’s term in office.  As such, it’s essential that the serious and extensive damages suffered by Cuba as a result of a blockade policy be taken into account. 

  1. HB Section 401. Exclusion from the United States of aliens who have confiscated property of United States nationals or who traffic in such property.

Whatever the opinions regarding other aspects of Title IV, the concept of excluding  entry to the United States by the spouse or minor children of a “trafficker” – as ordered by Helms-Burton – is simply repugnant, says Muse.  “It’s obviously offensive to the most elementary, and therefore universal, notions of justice for persons who regardless of the circumstances, are blameless,” he said, at an international seminar on Helms-Burton, held in Havana in 1996.



Source: Cubadebate, Translated by Resumen Latinoamericano, North America bureau