27 Feb 2020
The Trump administration’s campaign of “maximum pressure” on Cuba has hit the country so hard that foreign companies refuse to sell planes to the island’s government and ships refuse to dock at its ports, the Cuban minister of transportation says.
In a remarkably candid appearance on Cuban television Tuesday night, Transportation Minister Eduardo Rodríguez detailed how badly the island has been affected, in an effort to explain the mounting problems facing public transport.
Over the past year Cuba has been hit by a double whammy: U.S. sanctions to punish the island for propping up the government of Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro, and a newly strengthened federal law that has allowed Cuban Americans whose commercial property or land was expropriated by the Castro government to sue foreign companies that use those properties in Cuba.
The U.S. sanctions have had a “real and direct effect on the transportation of passengers” and revenues in foreign currency, Rodríguez said, giving details:
- A foreign company canceled the sale of two planes to the island’s flag carrier, Cubana de Aviación.
- A ship carrying oil already bought by Cuba refused to dock at any of the island’s ports, and the government had no choice but to buy the vessel.
- A foreign company that had been working for two years to modernize Havana’s José Martí International Airport called it quits.
- A foreign firm that had been modernizing the island’s aging railway system for two years also canceled its contract.
CUBA CAN’T BUY PLANES
In October 2019, the U.S. Department of Commerce made it difficult for any company in the world to export to Cuba any products if more than 10 percent of its parts were made in the U.S.
Citing that new rule, a company that had sold two planes destined for Cubana canceled the transaction, Rodríguez said.
Randy Alonso, the anchor of the show “Mesa Redonda,” or Round Table, complained that the new rule would prevent Cuba from buying “virtually” any aircraft, as most commercial airplanes contain a significant number of parts made in the U.S.
The transportation minister went so far as to read on live TV a letter from a foreign company that canceled its contract to modernize Havana’s main airport. The president of the company said that due to “recent events in North America,” it was pulling out of the deal. The reference was to the Helms-Burton Act, the law that lets Cuban Americans sue in U.S. courts.
Rodríguez did not identify the company. In 2018, the French construction company Bouygues Batiment International, which has built several hotels on the island, contracted to expand Havana’s international airport. A recent lawsuit in Miami federal court claims the Cuban government illegally expropriated much of the land and the facilities at the airport at the beginning of the Castro revolution, and asked for damages from companies using the airport, including American Airlines.
Although the Helms-Burton law has been on the books since 1996, in May 2019 Trump authorized a part that allows those who lost property confiscated by the Castro government to file suit in federal courts against companies that “traffic with stolen property.”
By Nora Gámez Torres, Miami Herald, 26 February 2020
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