WASHINGTON — President Trump has approved a move intended to further choke off foreign investment in Cuba by lifting longstanding limits on American citizens seeking to sue over property confiscated by the Havana government going back to Fidel Castro’s revolution six decades ago, a senior administration official said on Tuesday.
The decision, a sharp departure from the policy of the last three presidents, could open the floodgates to thousands of lawsuits against foreign companies and individuals accused of “trafficking” in seized property. By doing so, Mr. Trump hopes to raise the pressure on Cuba, but risks another rupture with American allies in Europe and Canada that scrambled to head off the change in recent days.
The action will be announced by the State Department on Wednesday and discussed by the president’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, in a speech in Miami marking the 58th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs operation that failed to topple the Castro government during the early days of John F. Kennedy’s administration. Mr. Trump is trying to force Havana to back off its support for Venezuela’s leader, Nicolás Maduro, whom administration officials said Cuba had propped up with more than 20,000 troops.
In his decision to lift the limits, Mr. Trump brushed aside protests by European leaders who brought their objections to Washington in recent weeks. Spain’s foreign minister met with Mr. Bolton, and other European officials pressed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, arguing that such a move would harm their businesses.
The European Union threatened last week to sue the United States at the World Trade Organization if it proceeded, and suggested that counterclaims could be filed in European courts against American firms that took advantage of the new policy. “The E.U. will be obliged to use all means at its disposal,” the union’s foreign policy chief and trade commissioner wrote in a letter to Mr. Pompeo.
The policy change stems from the Helms-Burton Act passed by Congress in 1996 to target Cuba, but Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama had approved six-month suspensions of the litigation provisions ever since on the grounds that it could cause international upheaval and clog up American courts.
Mr. Trump suspended the provisions as well until this year, when Mr. Pompeo declared in January that the administration would approve a waiver for only 45 days instead of the traditional six months, a move later extended by another 30 days.
Mr. Pompeo opened the door to the change last month by announcing that the administration would lift the litigation limits specifically for about 200 companies or entities controlled by Cuba’s military, intelligence or security services that are already under sanctions by the United States.
In addition to now authorizing lawsuits against a wider array of possible targets, the administration will also invoke another provision of Helms-Burton that allows the government to deny or withdraw visas from those tied to trafficking confiscated American property.
The senior administration official previewed the moves for reporters on condition of anonymity in advance of the official announcement on Wednesday.
Cuba’s Foreign Ministry lashed out at the Trump administration in January for considering the action, calling it “a flagrant violation of international law” and an attack on the sovereignty of other countries.
“Cuba strongly, firmly and categorically rejects such a threat, which is construed as an extremely arrogant and irresponsible hostile action, and repudiates the disrespectful and slanderous language used in the public announcement made by the State Department,” the ministry said in the January statement.