Practice Update

For the first time in 23 years, the United States government announced on April 17, 2019, its intention to activate Title III of the Cuban Liberty and Solidarity Act of 1996, popularly known as Helms-Burton. This unprecedented move means that certain individuals whose property was confiscated by the Cuban government beginning in 1959 will—as of May 2, 2019—be able to sue in U.S. federal courts anyone who “traffics” in (i.e. derives any economic benefit whatsoever from) the property in question.

Given the complex nature of Helms-Burton and the fact that Title III had been suspended by every presidential administration for consecutive six-month periods since its enactment in 1996, many companies have questions about what the activation means and how it could affect their interests.

Akerman’s Cuba practice has been at the forefront of U.S.–Cuba relations for more than 20 years, and recently teamed up with Akerman litigators and government affairs professionals to identify key issues, explain what Title III activation means, and assess how events could unfold moving forward.

What is Helms-Burton? 

Named for its United States Senate and House of Representatives sponsors, former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-SC, deceased) and former Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), the law’s principal objectives were to:

  1. Codify the U.S. embargo on Cuba in law, thereby making it more difficult for future presidents to modify the sanctions without consent from congress;
  2. Lay out explicit conditions that must be met before the embargo can be lifted (e.g. no Castros in power in Cuba);
  3. Discourage foreign businesses from doing business in Cuba by allowing U.S. property claimants to sue them in American courts for “trafficking” in their confiscated property.

While the law was not expected to pass when it was first introduced in 1995, Fidel Castro’s February 1996 decision to shoot down two U.S. civilian aircraft engaged in humanitarian and other activities over the Florida Straits, prompted then President Bill Clinton to reconsider and sign the bill into law in March of 1996.

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