Date: Mon, 25 Mar 1996 05:44:06 -0600
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Governments oppose US anti-Cuba bill
By Jill Hickson, Green Left Weekly, #225, 27 March 1996
In the clearest example of its hostile intentions and a blatant grab for votes from the Cuban exile community in the November US presidential elections, the Clinton government has signed the Helms-Burton bill into law. The bill, escalating the United States' 35-year war on Cuba, flouts international law and the regulations of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The bill arrogantly asserts extraterritorial rights over the rest of the world by imposing sanctions on governments, businesses or individuals from any nation who trade with or invest in any former US holdings on the island. Any raw materials or goods totally or partially made in Cuba will be barred from entry into the US, and visas will be denied to anyone who has a family member with trade links in Cuba, regardless of their nationality.
The bill's passing has caused an outcry around the world. The European Union and Canada have been the most vocal, calling the bill a violation of WTO rules and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
The EU's 15 governments have collectively rejected the law as "a dangerous precedent", repeating their intention to continue trade with Cuba. Canada has denounced Washington's attempt to impose its own political agenda on businesses which act in full compliance with their own countries' laws. Canada plans to challenge the bill within the context of NAFTA. Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien also met with Italian Prime Minister Lamberto Dini with a view to coordinating an offensive against the bill. Italy is currently president of the EU.
Mexico's foreign minister, Jose Angel Gurria, stated that his government will not change its position of support and respect for Cuba. He stated that the extraterritorial nature of the Helms-Burton bill is against international law. Gurria also pointed to the contradictions between provisions which punish other countries for doing business with Cuba and the concept of free trade embodied in NAFTA. Mexico, like Canada, has initiated a complaint under NAFTA.
Other countries which have stated opposition to the bill include Bolivia, Russia, Haiti, Vietnam, Nicaragua and the Caribbean nations (Caricom).
The Caribbean islands have moved that Cuba be made a member of the Association of Caribbean States, an economic bloc of 24 countries which includes Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela, the Central American countries, the Caricom members, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Brazil's foreign minister, Luis Felipe Lampreia, condemned the US bill. The South American regional organisation Rio Group issued a strongly worded statement rejecting the bill and urging Washington to reflect on the negative effects the legislation will bring.
Panama officially announced that it will maintain its growing trade links with Cuba in violation of the new bill. Venezuelan foreign minister Miguel Angel Burelli said that his country rejected the bill because it involves not only the US and Cuba but also third nations.
Chilean business executives and politicians have rejected the imposition of sanctions on companies trading with Cuba. Businessmen Carlos Cardoen and Max Marambiao told journalists that the bill is a "continuation of a policy of commercial terrorism which the United States has carried out over many years". Both men had received threats from US officials to pull out of their commercial operations in Cuba.
Over the past month, national US newspapers have editorialised against the embargo and criticised the Helms-Burton bill as its practical implications become clear.
Pope John Paul II has sent a special envoy to Cuba to ratify the position of the Catholic Church against any economic blockade which "affects the population first".
Newly included provisions in the bill bar executives of foreign companies which invest in Cuba and their families from entering the US. It also allows for confiscation of any company property or funds within reach of the US courts.
The most outrageous provision is Clause Three, which offers Cubans living in the US the opportunity through the US judicial system to sue the Cuban government for property over $50,000 lost in nationalisations during the '60s. This allows only the biggest companies to make claims.
Claims are said to amount to $5.6 billion; the highest claims include those of the Cuban Electric Company, the Bacardi Rum Company, the North American Sugar Company and the Moa Bay Mining Company. It also allows for claims to be made by US citizens, including Cuban nationals who became US citizens after 1959, against anyone investing in Cuba in these nationalised properties. These provisions make it clear that the US is backing the old exploiters and landowners who ruled Cuba before 1959.
The bill legislates the aggressive policy the US has been carrying out against Cuba. US violations of Cuban territory have increased since the disappearance of the USSR, which offered some measure of help for Cuba in resisting US aggression.
Since 1990 there have been 14 infiltrations and pirate attacks involving boats coming from the south of the US and dozens of terrorist attacks. Daily broadcasts beamed from the US incite the Cuban people to violence. The "Brothers to the Rescue" organisation has violated Cuban airspace 25 times in the last 20 months.
The Helms-Burton bill could backfire on the US government. Many US businesses are keen to invest in Cuba. The number of US businesses on information-gathering trips to the island increased from 400 in 1994 to 1300 in 1995. In the last 18 months, the value of US business on the island increased to US$300 million.
Many countries, led by Canada, have stated that the law could lead to retaliation against US business interests overseas. "The United States has not the least bit of respect for any state on this planet, and it allows itself the luxury of signing a law which is itself illegal", said Ricardo Alarcon, Cuba's parliamentary president.
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