Carnival Cruise Line has operated cruises to Cuba since 2016 when the Obama administration sought to normalize relations with the Caribbean country.
Two U.S. citizens have filed lawsuits, in a Miami federal court, against Carnival Cruise Line after President Donald Trump effected Title III of the Helms-Burton Act (Libertad Act) ending a waiver of the law permitting such lawsuits.
On Thursday, the Miami-based cruise line became the first company to be sued under the act, which allows U.S. citizens to file lawsuits against foreign companies linked to properties that were nationalized after the Cuban Revolution in 1959.
In the multi-million-dollar suit, medical doctor Javier Garcia Bengochea and United Kingdom-based Michael Behn allege ownership of Cuba’s port of Santiago de Cuba and Havana docks, respectively.
The claim also says the Cuban government “nationalized, expropriated, and seized ownership and control” of the properties owned by the plaintiffs’ families, who left the island in the 1960s.
Carnival Cruise Line has operated cruises to Cuba since 2016 when the Obama administration sought to normalize relations with the Caribbean country. However, the Trump administration has rolled back several of the policies, including restricting U.S. citizen travel and remittances by Cuban-Americans to relatives on the island.
The Carnival Cruise Line will “continuing with our normal cruise schedule to Cuba,” Roger Frizzell, senior vice president and chief communications officer, said in a statement and added that the company’s operations to Cuba “falls under the lawful travel exemption under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act.”
The U.S. president has, on multiple occasions, threatened to impose harsher sanctions on Cuba due to the Miguel Diaz-Canel-led government show of solidarity for the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro - which the United States has tried to oust to futility.
“Our cruise members have been and are now engaged in lawful travel to Cuba as expressly authorized by the U.S. federal government,” Frizzell noted.
The Helms-Burton Act has never previously been activated.
But Trump announced, in March, that the United States would begin to enforce the measure on May 2.
As a result of the removal of the waiver, some 6,000 claims valuing from US$2 billion to US$8 billion have become actionable by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, an independent agency within the U.S. Justice Department.
The Trump administration stated that the act covers U.S. companies and entities, and extends worldwide.
"Any person or company doing business in Cuba should heed this announcement," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in remarks at the State Department and added that implementing Title III in full means a chance for Cuban-Americans to file suits against Cuban-affiliated entities.
Washington also highlighted that the Helms-Burton Act will facilitate the denial of visas to any associated individuals.
Trump’s action has been denounced by Canada and the European Union (EU), whose businesses have billions of dollars of investments in Cuba.
Thursday EU foreign affairs official, Federica Mogherini, said the union "deeply regrets" Washington’s decision to fully implement the act.
"The EU considers the extra-territorial application of unilateral restrictive measures to be contrary to international law and will draw on all appropriate measures to address the effects of the Helms-Burton Act, including in relation to its WTO rights and through the use of the EU Blocking Statute," Mogherini said.
"The EU will continue to work with its international partners who have also voiced their concerns in this regard."