A US court has ordered cruise lines to pay more than $400 million to sail to Cuba.
The South Florida U.S. district judge Beth Bloom ordered four Florida-based cruise ships (Carnival MSC SA Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Carnival) to pay US$100 million in damages to Havana Docks.
This latter company was a US-based company that owned a 1934 concession for several Havana Harbor piers. It was expropriated by the Cuban Revolution in 1960. This is the first successful application of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act and it can have a significant impact on Cuba’s economy. It should be strongly rescinded as illegal imperialist bullying.
This decision is a follow-up to a March 2022 ruling. The same judge ruled at that time that the companies were not US registered, but had their principal place of business in Florida. They had also committed “trafficking actions” and engaged in prohibited tourism by sailing to Cuba and using Havana facilities, which had been owned over 60 years ago by the US-based company.
This ruling is based upon the Helms-Burton Act which was initiated by Republican representatives and signed in 1996 by Bill Clinton. The Act makes illegal US imperialist blockade of Cuba extraterritorial by allowing US courts to prosecute non-US businesses if they trade in or invest in Cuban assets that were expropriated after 1959.
This law was clearly intended to cause maximum damage to the Cuban Revolution by threatening potential foreign investors. It was at a time when the Soviet Union collapse had dealt a serious blow to the island and left it at the mercy of the global capitalist market.
Since the Helms-Burton Act was passed, also known as the ‘Libertad Act’ by reactionary Cuban exiles, Title III application has been suspended. This decision is renewed every year. On 2 May 2019, President Trump made a decision not to renew Title III’s suspension and it was reinstated.
This means that any Cuban emigre who had their property expropriated by the Cuban Revolution without compensation can file a US case. They could also do so against US-based or foreign companies doing business with Cuba. This would be in relation to what US imperialism calls “wrongfully confiscated property”.
Let’s go back to 1960, when the US began its blockade of the Cuban Revolution. It is Washington who initiated the attack on Cuba and led the Cuban Revolution into defensive action, expropriating US property.
Oil from the Soviet Union was not accepted by US-owned oil refineries. At the end of June 1960, the Cuban revolutionary government put them under state control. The US responded by reducing the sugarcane quota that it had purchased from Cuba.
In response to the US’s economic aggression, the Cuban Revolution expropriated all US-owned corporations located on the island between July 1960 and October 1960. Despite the fact that the US was involved in terrorist financing against the Cuban Revolution at the time, they admitted to it.
Also, it is incorrect to claim that the nationalizations took place without compensation. The Cuban revolutionary government communicated to the US that it was open to discussing “appropriate compensation.”
The expropriations Law 851 of 6 July 1960 includes a mechanism to compensate the former owners via 30-year Cuban bonds. This was rejected by the US and the US escalated its aggressive response against the sovereign Cuban decisions, culminating with the failed CIA-organized Playa Giron invasion of 1961.
This was the Cuban people who were penalized for their bravery in launching a revolution that freed them from imperialist dominance. They paid a huge price and still pay it. The US blockade of Cuba has cost Cuba US$130 billion over six decades. This is a huge price for a small Caribbean nation.
Not to be forgotten is that all other countries that were affected by the Cuban revolution’s nationalizations have settled their claims with Cuba. This was true for France and Switzerland (1967), Britain, Italy and Mexico (1978), Canada (1980), and Spain (1986). These countries have made investments in Cuba that they profit from, while the US doesn’t.
Most claims arising out of Trump’s lifting of Title III of Helms Burton Act in 2019 were dismissed in the US on different grounds. This is the first successful implementation of this particular vindictive piece of imperialist legislation.
Some details are especially scandalous. Havana Docks has an interest in the Havana Cruise Port Terminal based on a concession it had before the 1959 Cuban Revolution. This concession was due to expire in 2004.
The Obama Thaw was the only time that cruise ships based in the USA began serving Cuban destinations. This is twelve years after the expiration date of the concession upon which the Havana Docks claim rests. In fact, the original District Judge who dealt with the case dismissed the case on these grounds. However, she later changed her mind and allowed it to proceed.
Cruise companies pointed out that US citizens could travel to Cuba under an Obama administration ‘lawful travel exemption‘ from the blockade regulations. The Treasury Department had also granted cruise companies permission to sail to Cuba.
This did not matter to the judge, who ruled March 2022 that “The fact that travel licenses were issued by the Treasury Department and that executive branch officials, such as the president, encouraged defendants to do so does not automatically exempt them from liability for engaging in tourism that is statutorily prohibited.”
The argument was that, in addition to providing travel to Cuba, the cruise companies also provided additional tourist services on Cuban soil. This was illegal.
The judge awarded nearly US$440million in damages, plus attorney fees, and costs. This is because of the Helms Burton Act, which allows the court to triple the amount of damages.
Although the cruise companies have already stated that they will appeal the decision, there is a danger that the first successful Title III application after many others was dismissed will set a precedent that will trigger a flood of claims. This will have a chilling effect on foreign companies that invest in Cuba, especially since Cuba’s economy is being severely affected by the COVID-19 tourism pandemic and higher energy prices.
The US capitalists are pressing Biden to suspend Title III’s application once again. Many US companies could lose out on Title III not only because of successful claims against them but also because of the potential loss of business opportunities.
Biden has so far only repealed two to three of Trump’s 243 separate measures that were meant to strengthen the Cuban Revolution blockade. Two opposing pressures are on Biden. There is the pressure from sections of the US ruling classes to abandon a failed policy and to adopt new methods to defeat the revolution (this is what Obama’s thaw meat).
Some US businesses would be interested in being able to trade and invest with Cuba. However, the powerful and bipartisan reactionary Cuban lobby in Florida is pushing for a policy that confronts the Cuban Revolution head-on. Florida is an important state for a presidential election. There is therefore a strong incentive for Biden to placate the gusano lobby.
The entire US blockade of Cuba is a display of imperialist arrogance, and callousness. Washington believes it has the right and authority to influence foreign countries’ policies and decide which governments they can have.
Washington resorts to illegal meddling, military aggression and economic sanctions if they don’t comply. These measures are based on the principle that “do what you’re told or suffer consequences”.
It is the duty of all revolutionary socialists, as well as all consistent democrats to resist the US imperialist bullying of the Cuban Revolution.