Trump Extends Legal Waiver for Companies Investing in Cuba

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(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration extended a waiver to legislation that would allow U.S. lawsuits over property confiscated during the 1959 Cuban revolution, providing a reprieve to companies that feared they might face punishment for doing business in the country.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo enacted a 30-day suspension of Title III of the 1996 Helms-Burton act, according to a statement Monday. The short time period was significant -- Title III had been waived every six months for decades until January, when the State Department broke the status quo with a 45-day suspension. The new waiver goes into effect March 19.

The administration signaled it might not be willing to keep extending the waiver and has been looking to tighten a trade embargo that began to loosen under President Barack Obama. President Donald Trump also wants to punish Cuba over its support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The Trump administration did include an exception to the waiver -- lawsuits may be brought against Cuban entities that are included on the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List. That list includes entities under the control of Cuba’s military, intelligence or security services that are already subject to U.S. sanctions.

While the exception won’t directly impact foreign firms, it appeared aimed at spooking companies that may be weighing whether to ramp up business in Cuba. A State Department official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity Monday, warned that the waiver may not necessarily be extended when it expires April 17.

Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who is a vocal opponent of both the Cuban government and Maduro, suggested that Monday’s move was only the beginning of U.S. action.

“Justice is coming — and it is just getting started,” Rubio said in a statement.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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