US pressure in the 1990s

In 1996, a US election year, Cuba faced another crackdown by the US administration. In February, Cuba shot down two light aircraft piloted by Miami émigrés, allegedly over Cuban air space and implicitly confirmed by the findings of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) report in June. The attack provoked President Clinton into reversing his previous opposition to key elements of the Helms-Burton bill to tighten and internationalize the US embargo on Cuba and on 12 March he signed into law the Cuban Freedom and Democratic Solidarity Act. The new legislation allows legal action against any company or individual benefiting from properties expropriated by the Cuban government after the Revolution. Claims on property nationalized by the Cuban state extended to persons who did not hold US citizenship at the time of the expropriation, thus including Batista
supporters who fled at the start of the Revolution. It brought universal condemnation: Canada and Mexico (NAFTA partners), the EU, Russia, China, the Caribbean community and
the Río Group of Latin American countries all protested that it was unacceptable to extend sanctions outside the USA to foreign companies and their employees who do business with Cuba. In 1997, the EU brought a formal complaint against the USA at the World Trade Organization (WTO), but suspended it when an EU/US agreement was reached under which Clinton was to ask the US Congress to amend Title IV of the law (concerning the denial of US entry visas to employees and shareholders of 'trafficking companies'). Clinton was also to carry on waiving Title III (authorizing court cases against 'trafficking' of expropriated assets).

In 1999, Human Rights Watch produced a report that strongly criticized the US embargo, arguing that it had helped Castro to develop and maintain his repressive regime, restricting freedom of speech, movement and association. It had also divided the international community, alienating Washington's potential allies who, it argued, should be working together to push for change in Cuba. The same year, the UN Human Rights Commission expressed concern about 'continued repression' in Cuba, following the trial and conviction of four Cubans for sedition. They were jailed for receiving funds and instructions from the USA aimed at obstructing foreign investment. A civil suit brought in Cuba claimed US$181 bn in damages from the US government for its aggressive policing over the previous 40 years, causing the deaths of 3478 Cubans. The case was seen partially as a retaliation for the Helms-Burton Law.

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