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Cuba Launches Bid to Weaken U.S. Embargo

May 31, 1997|JUANITA DARLING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HAVANA — Cuban officials Friday launched a public opinion offensive apparently aimed at reviving international controversy over the Helms-Burton Act, which punishes foreign companies for doing business with firms confiscated from American owners during Cuba's revolution.

Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban National Assembly, noted at an internationally televised news conference that anti-Castro U.S. lawmakers are trying to tighten the American embargo against Cuba.

He charged that the lawmakers are taking advantage of the Clinton administration's failure so far to act on promises to European allies that the U.S. would consider easing some provisions of the year-old law.

European Union officials last month suspended a complaint filed with the World Trade Organization over Helms-Burton in exchange for the Clinton administration's agreement to try to persuade Congress to amend some parts of the law and delay implementation of others.

Canada, Mexico and some other countries were particularly concerned about provisions of the law that punish companies investing in confiscated American property by denying U.S. visas to executives and their families. Several such visas have already been revoked.

Clinton has postponed implementation of another provision that would allow U.S. citizens whose Cuban property was seized to sue companies that have invested in that property.

Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee has prepared, as part of a 238-page omnibus bill, provisions that would close what sponsors feared were loopholes in Helms-Burton, according to a committee staff member.

The bill would also ban U.S. economic aid to any country that supplies nuclear fuel to Cuba or otherwise contributes to Cuba's nuclear power program. Russia is the only country that would be affected by that provision.

"We anticipate taking our bill to the House floor next week, and angry rebukes from dictators will help us pass our measure with bipartisan support," said Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman (R-N.Y.), committee chairman, in a written statement.

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