WASHINGTON (AP) President Bush, ignoring pleas from Cuban-American supporters, refused Monday to allow Americans to sue people or companies who now control properties confiscated from the Americans in Cuba.
A 1996 law co-authored by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., gives Americans the right to sue but also gives the president the authority to waive enforcement. President Clinton used that authority eight times during his second term, and Bush decided not to change the policy even though he is more allied with anti-Castro Cuban-American groups than was Clinton.
The law requires the president to waive or enforce Title III of Helms-Burton at six-month intervals.
Bush was asked at a picture-taking session if he intended to issue the waiver. I do, he said simply, without elaboration. The deadline for him to act was midnight Monday. The White House was working on a statement giving a fuller explanation for Bushs action.
The anti-Castro Cuban-American National Foundation strongly supported an end to the waiver. But it has placed higher priority on Justice Department action to seek a murder indictment against President Fidel Castro in an attack on two Miami-based private planes north of Cuba in 1996. The attack killed four Cuban-Americans.
The waiver is bound to please the European Union, which sees the law as an attempt by the United States to apply its anti-Cuba policy on others. European companies which have invested in Cuba over the years would be subject to legal claims if Americans were granted the right to sue under the provisions of Helms-Burton.
European officials had threatened to file a complaint against the United States before the World Trade Organization if Bush had failed to renew the waiver.
European leaders almost certainly would have registered their displeasure with Bush later this week at the Group of 7 meeting of industrialized countries in Genoa, Italy.
Bushs decision was widely expected. On Friday, he announced a series of measures to punish Castro in what appeared to be an attempt to soften the impact among Cuban-Americans of the anticipated Title III waiver.
The measures included stricter enforcement of the U.S. trade embargo and greater support for dissidents on the island.
Rep. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., sharply criticized Bushs waiver.
It is shameful to have the President waive Title III only days after promising to fully enforce U.S. law vis-a-vis Cuba, Menendez said in a statement.
As expected, last weeks hollow rhetoric was exactly that hollow rhetoric. His bait and switch is insulting to Cuban-Americans, and will continue to hurt Cubans suffering under the Castro dictatorship.
Helms, who has complained about the lack of redress for Americans whose assets were taken, said Bushs policy on Cuba is sound. The president is, in fact, taking a very tough line, which is certain to make Fidel Castro squirm, Helms said. And besides, six months is not a very long trial period.
Cuba has never questioned the right of compensation but has said agreement should come as part of an overall political settlement between the two countries.
Sally Grooms Cowal, a former ambassador who heads the liberal Cuba Policy Foundation, welcomed Bushs action and expressed hope he will move toward repeal of Helms-Burton and the U.S. embargo as well.
Robert Muse, a specialist on U.S. laws relating to Cuba, also welcomed the decision. He said the waiver avoids the likelihood of federal courts being inundated with thousands of lawsuits and all the problems that they may entail.
The U.S. government has certified 5,911 claims of confiscation of American property after the revolution. In addition, there are several hundred thousand potential claims by Cubans whose property was seized after they came to the United States.
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