U.S. President Donald Trump's administration on Wednesday announced Washington will lift the suspension on lawsuits of Cuban entities for using properties confiscated after its 1959 revolution, further tightening a trade embargo on the country.
"Today we are holding the Cuban government accountable for seizing American assets," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters at the State Department.
The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996, or Helms–Burton Act, was created to expand on the trade embargo to pressure foreign entities from stopping trade with Cuban companies using "confiscated property." It penalizes foreign companies operating or doing business on land owned by U.S. citizens that was taken by former leader Fidel Castro.
Following a revolution led by in 1959, Havana's economy has faced six decades of a trade embargo from the U.S. and has been plagued with being in a state of low growth.
Title 3 of the Libertad Act allows American citizens, including Cubans that have become citizens, to file lawsuits in U.S. courts against any entities doing business on lands that were previously owned by an American.
However, every U.S. president offered a suspension which would stop lawsuits toward foreign companies. This announcement marks the first American president to lift this suspension.
"Any person or company doing business in Cuba should heed this announcement," Pompeo said.
The State Department made a similar announcement last month, partially lifting the suspension of Title 3 for around 200 companies and entities who already have special U.S. sanctions placed on them because of ties they have to the Cuban military and intelligence.
"Sadly, Cuba’s most prominent export these days is not cigars or rum, it's oppression," the secretary of state said.
State Department officials estimate claims brought out by this announcement could total in the tens of billions of dollars.
The lifting of suspension will take effect May 2, according to Pompeo.
National Security Adviser John Bolton said the U.S. would be reintroducing limits on the amount of money Cuban Americans can send back home to Cuba, and would introduce restrictions on non-family travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens.
The Trump administration has been working to rollback a number of measures introduced during former President Barack Obama's tenure in office, which saw an opening of detente towards Cuba.
The moves by Washington have been put up as a response to Havana's support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who the U.S. is trying to depose to prop up opposition leader and National Assembly President Juan Guaido.
By Umar Farooq in Washington