By Caribbean News Now contributor
WASHINGTON, USA – US president, Donald Trump on Wednesday enforced new sanctions and other punitive measures on Venezuela and Cuba, seeking to intensify US pressure on Havana to cease its backing of Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolas Maduro.
US national security adviser, John Bolton, in Miami, while speaking to a Cuban exile group, said that the US was targeting Cuba’s intelligence services and military, as well as a military-owned airline, for new sanctions and was tightening travel and trade restrictions against the island regime led by President Miguel Diaz-Canel.
Bolton’s speech followed the State Department’s statement on Wednesday declaring that it was reinstating Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, which allows US citizens to file suits in US courts against those “trafficking” in properties confiscated in Cuba. Its reach is extraterritorial and allows suits to move forward against foreign defendants.
The move by the State Department is in contrast to presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush, and Barack Obama who all waived Title III of the Helms-Burton Act.
However, the State Department said that the Trump’s decision could unleash hundreds of thousands of legal claims worth tens of billions of dollars. The potential for such lawsuits drew immediate criticism from Canadian and European allies, whose corporations have substantial investments in Cuba.
The Cuban government condemned Trump’s decision as “an attack on international law,” citing that it could hinder Cuba’s efforts to attract new foreign investment.
Trump is also facing opposition at home in the US from representative Eliot L Engel, chairman of the house committee on foreign affairs, who said that Trump’s rejection of over two decades of bipartisan consensus on a key piece of US policy toward Cuba will further isolate the United States from their Latin American and European allies and diminish their ability to promote democracy in Cuba and Venezuela.
Engel added that this decision will do nothing to resolve US property claims in Cuba—an important goal toward which the US must continue to strive.
Bolton, undeterred, added that the US was also imposing sanctions on Venezuela’s central bank, restricting US transactions and prohibiting access to dollars by a bank that he described as crucial to keeping Maduro in power. Bolton also revealed new sanctions on Nicaragua.
While accusing Cuba of supporting Maduro with its military in Venezuela, Bolton also took the occasion to warn “all external actors, including Russia,” against positioning military assets to back the Venezuelan leader.
Bolton noted that Moscow recently sent in military flights to Venezuela carrying 35 tons of unknown cargo and a hundred military personnel, to which he said, “The United States will consider such provocative actions a threat to international peace and security in the region.”
However, Havana seems unlikely to be deterred by the United States’ demands to cut ties with Maduro, a longtime ally of Cuba, and Maduro has also shown little sign of losing the allegiance of the Venezuela military notwithstanding harsh oil-related US sanctions on the OPEC member-nation.
Diaz-Canel wrote on Twitter that, “No one will rip the (fatherland) away from us, neither by seduction nor by force. We Cubans do not surrender.”
Opposition leader Juan Guaidó invoked the constitution in January to assume the interim presidency amid Venezuela’s economic and political crisis. The US and most Western countries continue to back Guaidó as head of state. However, Russia, Cuba and China, support Maduro and have denounced Guaidó as a US puppet.
A longtime Cuba hardliner, Bolton was repeatedly interrupted by applause in his speech to a group of veterans of the US-backed ‘Bay of Pigs’ invasion on the 58th anniversary of the unsuccessful mission to oust Cuba’s Communist government. His address was a follow-up to one he made late last year describing Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba a “troika of tyranny.”
His revelations comprised of broadening measures designed to roll back parts of President Obama’s historic opening to Cuba, an old Cold War foe.
Bolton stated that President Obama’s approach provided the Cuban government with the essential political protection to increase its malign influence and ideological imperialism across the territory.
Among the Cuba measures revealed by Bolton was the reinstatement of limits on US citizens sending funds to Cuba at $1,000 per person per quarter, and other changes aimed at terminating the use of transactions that he said allows Cuba to bypass sanctions and acquire access to hard currency.
Since Obama started easing restrictions on remittances in 2009, they surged and became an essential part of the Cuban economy and fuelled the growth of the private sector by providing start-up capital.
Bolton stated the US would also further restrict “non-family” travel by Americans to Cuba – though he presented no specifics – and mentioned Aerogaviota, a military-owned Cuban airline as one of five names that were added to the US sanctions blacklist.
President Trump has previously sought to curtail Venezuela’s subsidised oil shipments to Cuba.
Bolton also Wednesday, revealed that the US was imposing sanctions on Laureano Ortega, a son of President Daniel Ortega and Nicaragua’s Bancorp.
Engel warned that there are very serious repercussions of Trump’s decision on US cooperation with its allies in support of democracy in Venezuela. He explained further that instead of understanding the impact of this action on partners of the US, the Trump administration has chosen to isolate itself from those in the EU and the Americas with whom the US should be coordinating.