The hijacking of presidential prerogatives

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Gráfico: Granma bloqueo granma
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Two decades ago, on March 12, 1996, William J. Clinton, then President of the United States, signed and put into effect the Helms-Burton Act formally designated the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act. It was identified in Congress by the names of its main promoters, North Carolina Republican Senator Jesse Helms and Illinois Democratic Representative Dan Burton, with the backing of the most conservative and right-wing sectors in the US political spectrum and of Cuban emigration.


It was a legal instrument that clearly violated the United States Constitution and numerous acts of international law which regulate international political relations and US legal norms. It was aimed at attacking the laws and achievements of the Cuban people.


This law has been characterized as an infringement on the freedoms of trade and investment; a source of conflict with major US partners; and a violation of several rules governing the economic, commercial and financial relations between states. It is considered by experts, governments and organizations around the world as a legal aberration, against which numerous mirror-laws and antidote-laws have been adopted worldwide.


The Helms-Burton Act forces non-US companies to choose between having dealings with Cuba or the United States. This is achieved through threats of legal reprisals, including the eventual prohibition to enter US territory of non-complying company leaders.


Supposedly, the Helms Burton was the US government's response to an incident that took place in February 1996, when Cuban government jet fighters shot down two private planes operated by a paramilitary group, "Brothers to the Rescue", founded by counterrevolutionary Cubans based in South Florida. They were supposedly dedicated to providing help to Cuban rafters who left from the island to the United States.


In fact, these aircraft illegally and repeatedly carried out intelligence and subversive propaganda missions flying over Cuban airspace, ignoring warnings from the Cuban authorities about the serious risks these missions entailed.


In 1995, the draft law was presented to the Senate by Jesse Helms who was acting chair of its Foreign Relations Committee, and a similar one by Burton was presented in the House. Thereafter, they were amended, modified and adjusted, all intended to harm, not only the interests of the island of Cuba, but also those of any country deemed Cuba's partner in any investment or commercial business.


Between September and October that year, both initiatives were approved. And although the Clinton administration had been opposed to signing the law, a majority vote in the Senate and House blocked the presidential veto.


The incident of the downed aircraft served as a pretext for pressing Clinton to give the presidential approval.


On 5 March, Congress approved the proposal; and on March 12, before television cameras, Clinton signed it into law in the presence of the main Washington-sponsored Cuban counterrevolutionary "leaders". In May of the same year the first penalties arising from the new law were given. The first impacted were Canadian, Swiss and French venture capital companies: Sherritt, Cementos Curacao, Domos and BM Group, that had invested in Cuba and were accused of "trading in confiscated property".


The Helms Burton Act states that Cubans in exile were not compensated by the Cuban government when it confiscated their properties. According to its provisions they remain owners --in exile-- of lands and possessions in Cuba, and no transaction could be made without their authorization. (It obviated the fact that the United States prohibited persons or entities under their jurisdiction to negotiate with the government of Cuba any compensation for the expropriation of those properties, as had their European matching numbers).


The legal monstrosity embodied in the Helms Burton was designed not only to cause economic damages to Cuba, but also to prevent that any US administration that had the leadership in the future could repeal it. To this end, it raised the normative category of all regulations, rules and executive orders adopted since 1962 in relation to the blockade imposed on Cuba, regardless their previous normative hierarchy.


This is the reason why today the President of the United States does not have the authority to rectify the seizing of a faculty so essential for the exercise of the sovereign international relations of his country. A faculty that would allow him to rectify the shame of having subjected to a criminal siege a neighbor country –modest but dignified- which has been able to resist and overcome the empire.


March 13, 2016.


- Manuel E. Yepe,

A CubaNews translation. Edited by Walter Lippmann.
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