Clinton decision due on penalties for Cuba investors Helms-Burton Act provisions may be waived

July 15, 1996|By NEWSDAY

MEXICO CITY -- For foreign investors doing business with Cuba, this is judgment day: the deadline for President Clinton to make a decision on the thorny issue of tightening the economic noose around Fidel Castro, and in doing so alienating some of the United States' closest allies.

Clinton has until midnight to decide whether to waive enforcement of the most controversial provision of a new law aimed at the hemisphere's last Communist regime.

The law allows Clinton to waive, in six-month periods, sanctions that could cost foreign companies hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Title III provision, part of legislation introduced by Republican Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana, would allow lawsuits against foreign companies that do business on property that was seized from U.S. citizens after the 1959 Cuban revolution. The measure, which involves nearly 6,000 uncompensated properties, takes effect next month.

The measure, known as the Helms-Burton law, has infuriated major U.S. allies and trading partners, including Mexico, Canada and the European Union.

Clinton's decision also looms as a potential campaign issue this fall, with conservative politicians and influential Cuban-American exiles pressuring his administration to stick with the new anti-Castro policy.

Long opposed to the legislation, Clinton reluctantly signed it in March after Cuban fighter planes shot down two small civilian aircraft flown by exiles, killing four men off the Cuban coast.

"It's a lose-lose situation for the president," said Jeffrey Schott of the Institute for International Economics, a Washington think tank. "He loses if he invokes the waiver because of the demagoguery that will ensue from political opponents who will correctly charge him with waffling. On the other hand, if he doesn't invoke the waiver he's going to put down the welcome mat for avid lawyers to begin litigation, which will create numerous problems for our courts and our relations with important trading partners."

Last week, for the first time, the Clinton administration struck against a foreign company dealing with Cuba when it informed nine executives of Sherritt International Corp., a Canadian mining firm, that they will be barred from the United States within 45 days unless the company pulls out of Cuba.

Pub Date: 7/15/96

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