Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
May 1, 2001
After the fall of Communist governments in the Soviet bloc in the early 1990s, members of Congress sought to increase pressure for peaceful democratic change in Cuba and to deter international involvement with property that had been expropriated without compensation by the Cuban Government and claimed by U.S. citizens. This led to the development of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act, known as the Helms-Burton Act after its principal sponsors. In February 1996, Cuban MiGs shot down two civilian aircraft in international air space, killing three U.S. citizens and one U.S. resident. Congress then passed the act by overwhelming margins. Former President Clinton signed it into law on March 12, 1996.
Title II describes U.S. policy toward and assistance to a free and independent Cuba. It required the President to produce a plan for providing economic assistance to a transition or democratic government in Cuba. (The President delivered the plan to Congress in January 1997.)
Title III creates a private cause of action and authorizes U.S. nationals with claims to confiscated property in Cuba to file suit in U.S. courts against persons that may be "trafficking" in that property. The Act grants the President the authority to suspend the lawsuit provisions for periods of 6 months if it is necessary to the national interest of the United States and will expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba. The President has exercised this authority since the legislation was passed, most recently on January 16, 2001.
Title IV requires the denial of visas to and exclusion from the U.S. of persons who, after March 12, 1996, confiscate or "traffic" in confiscated property in Cuba claimed by U.S. nationals. The objective of this provision is to protect the status of confiscated U.S. property and to support existing sanctions against the current regime. The State Department reviews a broad range of economic activity in Cuba to determine the applicability of Title IV. The results of this effort appear not only in the actual determinations of "trafficking," but also in the deterrent to investment in confiscated U.S. property and in the increasing uncertainly of investing in Cuba.