Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 178 | Mayo 1996



Helms-Burton Law: Cubans Speak

envío offers extracts of several selected documents and speeches by Cubans who analyze, criticize and challenge the Helms Burton Law. While the law hardens the blockade by internationalizing it, it is also hardening Cubans and the rest of the world against a foolish and outmoded policy.

Envío team

On March 12, US President Bill Clinton signed into law the controversial legislation formally titled Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity, but better known as the Helm Burton bill for its promoters, Republican Senator Jesse Helms and Democratic Congressman Dan Burton. The new law, which, among other thing, tightens the triangulation of the US economic blockade against Cuba, triggered worldwide protest from governments, think tanks, businesses and civic organizations around the world. Opponents both inside the United States and abroad argue that it violates free trade and even jeopardizes US interests, in blatant contradiction to the capitalist free market ideology.

Clinton's pretext for signing it was the downing by Cuban fighter planes of two small aircraft belonging to the Florida based anti Castro group called Hermanos al Rescate. At the time, the International Civil Aviation Organization had not yet determined whether the planes were in Cuban air space when shot down or not. Clinton's underlying motive, however, was that he needs New Jersey and, hence, its Cuban American vote if he is to win the November elections. He also wants to give Dole a run for his money in Florida.

Clinton's reelection obsession, however, does not hold a candle to the anti communist obsession of the bill's main author. Senator Helms is obsessed not only with Cuba, but also with Nicaragua and even with the United Nations. A month before Clinton signed his bill, Helms wrote of that international body in a letter to one of its members, "The UN is a huge mechanism for the promotion of socialism," adding that "for that reason I have for some time been advocating that our country leave that organization and vice versa."

An even more important obsession, unconfessed but long cherished by important power blocs in the United States, is behind Helms Burton: their longing to control that 200 kilometer long island just off the US coast. It is ideally situated for trade routes and its 11 million well educated inhabitants, the majority of them young, would provide a skilled labor force able to operate the most modern of technologies.

"A Legal and Political Absurdity"

From a letter by Cuban Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina to UN Secretary General Boutros Ghali, October 1995.

For Cuba, the scarce and expensive foreign financing it receives (despite being largely guaranteed through contracts for sugar, nickel and other export products) includes in its cost itself high since it comes from commercial suppliers surcharges of never less than 3%, only because of the "country risk" that negotiating with blockaded Cuba implies.

This is due to the absence of backing by the main international
financing institutions and a good number of private agencies in anticipation of reprisals by the United States of America, and to the business world's generalized knowledge of the restrictions of all kinds under which Cuba trades due to the blockade....

Maritime transportation is another concrete example of effects on the development of Cuban foreign trade as a consequence of the blockade. For each trip by a ship from Europe or Asia for trade with Cuba, the additional expenditure compared to a similar operation from the United States

of America adds up to $215,800 from Europe to Havana and $516,700 from Asia to Havana. After the Torricelli Law went into effect, many shippers began requiring higher freight charges, alleging that once having touched Cuban ports, the ship would not then be admitted to ports in the United States for six months....

Summarizing, losses due to the overpricing of certain imported products and their increased freightage cost reached $60 million in 1994 alone, a level similar to the losses for the same reason in 1993....

The government of the United States has continued its meticulous and systematic monitoring of the agreements and development of all trade or investment negotiations that Cuba initiates with third country capital with the goal of frustrating them.

Last year the government of the Republic of Cuba was informed by representatives of two important firms from developed countries that major investment projects each was gestating in the area of tourism would be halted as a consequence of direct pressure exercised on them by US authorities...

The pressure has been particularly intense in the energy area. The executives of a Mexican company that is participating in an important project to launch one of the main refineries in the country were visited by US officials who told them that their business with Cuba went against established agreements between Mexico and the United States and could damage relations between the two countries.

At the beginning of this year [1995], the government of the United States of America again forwarded a document to a group of important countries in which it warned their respective governments, economic bodies and investors of the impropriety of investing in Cuba and the negative consequences that this could have for their business dealings....

To the above should be added the influence exercised on governments of developing countries so that they not acquire new products from Cuba's biotechnological industry, in some cases unique products, paying no attention to the thousands of children whose lives could be saved by these products of recognized efficacy. If we do not present more examples of pressure on businesses, institutions or governments, it is due to the fact that in many cases they cannot be revealed without inviting greater risks and sanctions.

According to preliminary estimates, the effects on the Cuban economy, considering the income opportunities lost and the additional expenses caused by the blockade, reached a billion dollars in 1994, a figure that represents around 50% of the country's total imports that year. If the blockade did not exist, Cuba would not only have this billion dollars to increase its imports by a similar amount, but would also have access to additional sources of financing that are today prohibited.

The continuation of the aggressive measures by the United States against Cuba and their escalation in recent years are aimed at creating a "whirlpool" effect in the economy; in other words, to provoke the progressive reduction of available resources until inducing a total economic collapse. According to the calculations of the promoters of this policy, it would provoke an erosion of such magnitude of the population's living conditions that spontaneous public demonstrations of discontent would result, thus putting an end to the revolutionary social process begun some 36 years ago, which has been the central objective of US foreign policy toward Cuba during its last nine administrations....

Far from assuming a sensible and realistic position in its relations with Cuba, the United States is moving toward an ever greater hardening of the blockade, even trying to internationalize the policy of unilateral sanctions and aggressions that it has imposed on Cuba for over three decades. The bill sponsored by Senator Jesse Helms was introduced into the Congress of the United States against the [UN] General Assembly's stipulation calling on all states to abstain from promulgating and applying laws and measures of the type referred to in the preamble to Resolution 49/9, in fulfillment of their obligations to conform to the United Nations Charter and international law. The principal objective of said bill is to internationalize the economic blockade against Cuba, including measures such as:

* Impeding Cuba's access to any foreign financing and its entry into the international financing institutions;

* Hindering investment flows into Cuba, and in fact the country's economic recovery, through sanctions against businesspeople and companies that "traffick" with US properties nationalized at the time of the triumph of the Revolution, including among these the expropriated properties of Cuban nationals who later went to the United States and adopted US citizenship;

* Establishing prescriptions, concepts and definitions to set up what would be a "government of transition or a democratic government" in Cuba, thus obviating the free determination of the Cuban people.

* Pressuring third countries to the hilt to eliminate even the most minimal economic link with Cuba, hence marking well its elements of extraterritoriality. The United States could not only coerce other states not to invest in Cuba, but even punish the citizens of other countries that do not comply with US wishes, subjecting them to the jurisdiction of its courts.

* Interfere in the trade of third states by prohibiting the import of sugar, molasses, syrups and products that contain these inputs by countries that in turn import these products from Cuba.

This aspect also goes against the principles of the recently founded World Trade Organization, which proposes the reduction of trade obstacles and the elimination of discriminatory treatment in international trade relations.

This bill evidently constitutes an absurdity from the legal, economic and political standpoints.


"Not with a Law, but with a Machete"

From the presentation by Ricardo Alarcón, president of Cuba's National Assembly, at the close of a public hearing on the Helms Burton Law, May 3, 1995.

The Helms project was analyzed by a US government agency. Speaking of the issue of property claims I don't know the exactness of the figure or the scientific rigor of the calculation they used, but it can at least be a point of reference the problem was mentioned of extending and broadening the criterion for defending properties of individuals who were not US citizens when their properties were nationalized but are now. In this document, they calculate that this would imply a volume in money terms equal to a hundred billion dollars. They calculate how many sugar harvests, how many tobacco harvests, how many productions of nickel, how many years of tourist visits to our country, how many efforts, how much work this population would have to do to accumulate a hundred billion dollars.

The issue of [property] nationalizations has been at the center, the origin, of the Cuban US dispute. In the 1960s, the whole debate developed around this issue. But up to now one could say that the conflict was conceived in terms more or less in accord with international law and practice. The discussion was about business properties or properties belonging to US citizens at the time the revolution decreed the dispositions to nationalize.

In the United States, the Federal Claims Commission developed a process that took seven years to adjudicate, to determine the value of the properties of these genuine US citizens whose properties had been nationalized in Cuba. No one has the least idea how much time would be required now to adjudicate, to determine what each of these other new individuals of the United States should supposedly recover. Among other things, the US contributor would have to pay a bit more in taxes than was paid in the 1960s to finance the expenses of this commission to determine the values of the properties of those who were really US citizens in the legal sense.

In those years and one can look back in the US press of that period there was some debate, more than there has been now. In the mid 1960s there were even editorials in the US media that spoke of people protesting what it would cost them, the contributors, in taxes to finance the operation, the inquiries, the analyses and the bureaucratic work that each of those businesses would require. Now no one has even been able to name the complete list of Cubans who are making claims, much less know exactly what they are claiming.

Some 30 years ago this issue was the cause of very serious concern and there was even a controversy between President Johnson and the Congress to define who was going to pay for all this activity. Anyone can understand that if it was to determine properties whose value was between $1.6 and 1.8 million, but now the issue is to adjudicate and determine what, according to this official agency, would have a value of $100 billion.

In some publications in Florida, declarations have appeared of people who speak of their house, identify it and explain how they aspire to recover this house of theirs. Declarations like those of what calls itself the National Association of Property Owners in Exile, which some years ago defined a policy laying out that the "solution" to the problem is to return their lands, their sugar complexes, their old properties.

The Helms Burton Law speaks of "devolution" or "compensation"
and broadens and extends the concept to Cubans who are today legally North Americans. We are thus speaking of a vast number of very concrete, very tangible, very material claims that are expressed in a piece of land or a home or a building. What is aimed at, literally, is to evict the 11 million Cubans who are living there, from our home or the school where our children go, or the hospital that treats us or the social circle that we enjoy, or the children's circle where many of our children go, etc....

Let these coalitions of the ultra right and of the Cuban American mafia be clear: they are not going to impose themselves on the will of our people. There should not be the slightest doubt that anyone is going to decide our destiny for us, either with this law or with a thousand laws dictated in Washington. No matter how many laws they dictate in Washington, they are not going to snatch anything away from us. To recover your little farm, my absentee landowner friend, you will have to come here, not with a law in your hand, but preferably with a machete, because you will find a number of peasants who will know how to defend that land, which is theirs. And we must say the same about each piece of this country. And we should make each Cuban understand it, touch it with their hands, identify and know who wants to grab what from whom, and know how to express their absolutely irrevocable, absolutely invincible decision that no one is going to take anything away from us.


"Against International Coexistence"

From a communiqué from Cuba's Foreign Trade Ministry, March 1996.

The most evident objective of the Helms Burton Law is to intimidate business leaders all over the world so that thy do not participate in the foreign investment opening in Cuba.

It is trying to ignore that the expropriation and nationalization process carried out by the revolutionary Cuban government was rigorously adjusted to the norms established by international law.

Cuba has resolved its indemnification commitments based on agreements with the respective governments, with the single exception of the United States. In the case of US properties, Law 851 of July 6, 1960, established the procedure for their nationalization and compensatory payment based on the exports of Cuban sugar to that market, but this could not be effected due to the arrogant position of the government of the United States, which proceeded to cancel the Cuban sugar quota and to later apply the blockade.

With respect to properties of Cuban nationals, a theme is being taken up over which no foreign government has jurisdiction, and hence no capacity to legislate; and the Cuban government will never permit such a violation of its sovereignty....

This law violates important principles of international coexistence. In particular, it challenges the sovereignty of the Republic of Cuba, by trying to determine internal affairs that no foreign nation has competency in, and, worse yet, to involve third parties in such a practice.

Technically, it goes against the objective of the World Trade Organization, which enunciates a substantial reduction of the obstacles to trade relations between countries, as well as the elimination of discriminatory relations in this type of relations. It also contravenes the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the postulates of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) as well as other international forums.

It should thus suffer rejection by the international community in its aspiration to promote increasingly free trade, free of all types of coercive measures, repression and blackmail.


August: In reprisal for the revolutionary government reducing the electricity rates of the US grid for the Cuban Electricity Company by 30%, $15 million in financing to expand electricity service in Cuba is cancelled.

March: The US government suspends the sale to Cuba of helicopters for agricultural development.

May: A subtle boycott begins by reducing the frequency of stops in Cuba by US ships carrying merchandise to the United States.

June: Texaco, Esso and Shell interrupt the supply of oil to Cuba by refusing to process the petroleum that Cuba is beginning to receive from the Soviet Union.

July: President Eisenhower cuts the sugar quota that Cuba has been selling to the United States by agreement, rejecting the purchase of 700,000 tons of already harvested sugar.

September: The US government notifies Cuba that the operations of Nicaro, a US nickel plant, are suspended.

October: The United States prohibits all exports to Cuba, except for non subsidized foods, medicines and certain medical
supplies. On the same day the White House makes the crossing, transfer or contracting of US boats by the Cuban government or citizens illegal.

December: Cuban US trade collapses when acquisitions
between the two countries drop to zero.

January: The United States breaks diplomatic and consular relations with Cuba.

February 3: Presidential Resolution 3447 of the US government declares a total embargo on trade with Cuba: with purchases from Cuba already prohibited, all sales to the island are now prohibited.

July 19: Public Law 2370 declares a total embargo on all commerce with Cuba.

May: To the embargo is added the prohibition against selling food and medicines to Cuba. From here on out the blockade is exercised through economic pressures on countries or businesses that trade or try to trade with Cuba. (This blockade procedure is maintained through the 1980s, such that the enumeration of each action of this type would make the chronology interminable.)

September: In the IX Consultative Meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS), held in Washington, the US government pushes through a resolution favoring trade restrictions between Latin America and Cuba.

December: The US Congress approves an amendment to the Foreign Aid bill asking countries that receive aid from the United States to take measures to prevent their cargo ships and planes from carrying merchandise to Cuba.

1987 1991: Access to the United States by ships traveling to Cuba or trading with the island is limited.

October 23: President Bush signs the so called Torricelli Law, which prohibits subsidiaries of US businesses in third countries from engaging in trade operations with Cuba and activates other already established procedures to harden the blockade against Cuba.

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