What is Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 a/k/a the “Helms-Burton Act"?

On March 12, 1996, Congress passed the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996, 22 U.S.C. Sections 6021-6091, commonly referred to as the “Helms-Burton Act.'' In addition to strengthening international sanctions against the Cuban Government, under Helms-Burton, Congress sought to “protect United States nationals against confiscatory takings and the wrongful trafficking in property confiscated by the Castro regime.'' 22 U.S.C. Section 6022(6). According to Congress’s findings, “‘trafficking' in confiscated property provides badly needed financial benefit . . . to the Cuban Government and thus undermines the foreign policy of the United States,'' including “protect[ing] claims of United States nationals who had property wrongfully confiscated by the Cuban Government.'' Id. Section 6081(6)(B). “To deter trafficking,'' Congress found that “the victims of these confiscations should be endowed with a judicial remedy in the courts of the United States that would deny traffickers any profits from economically exploiting Castro's wrongful seizures.'' Id. Section 6081 (11).

Congress created a private right of action against any person who “traffics” in confiscated Cuban property. See id. Section 6082(a)(1)(A). The Act defines “traffics” as follows:

(13) Traffics.

(A) As used in title III, and except as provided in subparagraph (B), a person “traffics” in confiscated property if that person knowingly and intentionally—

(i) sells, transfers, distributes, dispenses, brokers, manages, or otherwise disposes of confiscated property, or purchases, leases, receives, possesses, obtains control of, manages, uses, or otherwise acquires or holds an interest in confiscated property,

(ii) engages in a commercial activity using or otherwise benefiting from confiscated property, or

(iii) causes, directs, participates in, or profits from, trafficking (as described in clause (i) or (ii)) by another person, or otherwise engages in trafficking (as described in clause (i) or (ii)) through another person,

without the authorization of any United States national who holds a claim to the property.

Under Title III of the Act, “any person that .. traffics in property which was confiscated by the Cuban Government on or after January 1, 1959, shall be liable to any United States national who owns the claim to such property for money damages.'' Id. Section 6082(a)(1)(A). The Act lists the amount of money damages available under Title III as the greater of: (a) the amount certified by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission under the International Claims Settlement Act of 1949, (b) the amount determined by a special master pursuant to Section 6083(a)(2), or (c) the fair market value of the property. See id. Section 6082(a)(1)(A)(i).

Shortly after the Act was passed into law, the President invoked Title III’s waiver provision, and “Title III has since been waived every six months, . . . and has never effectively been applied.'' Odebrecht Const, Inc. v. Prasad, 876 F. Supp. 2d 1305, 1312 (S.D. Fla. 2012). That changed on April 17, 2019, when the U.S. Department of State announced that the federal government “will no longer suspend Title III.'“ See U.S. Department of State, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo’s Remarks to the Press (Apr. 17, 2019). As a result, Title III became effective for the first time on May 2, 2019.

Please contact Joel Ewusiak for legal assistance with your specific matter relating to the Helms-Burton Act.