THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (St. Thomas, Virgin Islands) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release January 3, 1997
President's Title III Decision
President Clinton has suspended for an additional six months, effective February 1, the right to file suit under Title III of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (LIBERTAD), as provided for in the Act. He certified that a suspension is in the national interest and would expedite the transition to democracy in Cuba, and has reported his determination to the appropriate Congressional committees, as required by the Act.
The President allowed Title III to enter into force in July 1996, but suspended the right it grants to American nationals to bring suit against foreign firms trafficking in confiscated properties in Cuba for six months. He did so in order to work with our allies and trading partners -- not against them -- to develop a more common approach to advance democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba. The President praised the progress made over the past six months toward that goal and renewed the suspension for another six months in order to consolidate and build on the momentum generated for democratic change in Cuba.
The President said he will review the application of Title III every six months as required by the law. He said that he would expect to continue to suspend the right to file suits as long as our friends and allies continue their stepped-up efforts to promote a transition to democracy in Cuba -- the central goal shared by the Act, the Clinton Administration and the community of democratic nations.
The President also noted that his Administration will continue to enforce Title IV of the Act, regarding denial of visas and exclusion of persons found to be trafficking in confiscated properties in Cuba.
On March 12, 1996, in the wake of the shootdown of two U.S. civilian aircraft by Cuban MiGs in international airspace, President Clinton signed the LIBERTAD Act. Title III of the Act provides a private right of action to U.S. nationals who hold claims to property confiscated by Cuba, allowing lawsuits against persons that "traffic" in such property.
The Act permits the President to suspend this right to file suit if he determines that to do so is in the national interest and would expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba. On July 16, the President announced his decision to allow Title III to go into effect on August 1, but to suspend the right to file suit for six months. He intended this period to be used to work with our friends and allies to strengthen efforts to promote democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba. On August 16, he appointed Commerce Under-Secretary Stuart Eizenstat as his Special Representative for the Promotion of Democracy in Cuba to spearhead this effort.
Ambassador Eizenstat's work has been part of a high-level coordinated campaign by the Administration, which has included efforts and interventions by the President, Vice President, Secretary Christopher, Ambassador Albright, senior White House officials, former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dante Fascell, and literally dozens of U.S. ambassadors throughout Europe and Latin America.
Since his appointment, Ambassador Eizenstat has traveled more than 50,000 miles, including five trips to Europe, Canada and Mexico, and has met with senior officials from 18 countries, the European Community, and the Vatican. He has met with and worked to involve private business and non-governmental organizations in each of the countries he visited. He has vigorously promoted the goals of the LIBERTAD Act and worked closely on a bipartisan basis with the Congress and consulted frequently with the Cuban-American community.
The President's initiative to gain international support and action for democracy in Cuba -- the most ambitious since Castro seized power 38 years ago -- has yielded tangible positive results.
Progress in the International Effort to Promote Democracy in Cuba
On December 2, the 15 nations of the European Union (EU) approved a strong "Common Position" that explicitly links the EU's future political and economic relations with Cuba to progress in human rights and freedom. The Common Position, which is binding on all member states, formally commits the EU to press publicly and privately the Cuban government to respect human rights, including freedom of speech and association; reform the criminal code; release all political prisoners; end harassment of dissidents; and comply with international human rights conventions.
The EU committed to channel humanitarian aid only through non-governmental organizations, churches and international organizations, rather than through the Cuban government.
At a December 13 European Council meeting, EU heads of state and government strengthened the Common Position by adding that "any future agreement that is reached [with Cuba] would contain a suspension clause in the event of a serious breach in the human rights provisions."
In addition, the EU has issued strong public statements on Cuba:
On December 13, Prime Minister Bruton of Ireland (then the EU Presidency) stated "the EU has adopted a very strict position on restoration of democracy and human rights in Cuba -- a position which will be applied with consistency and vigor." EU Commission President Santer made a similarly strong statement.
On November 7, Sir Leon Brittan, Vice President of the European Commission, gave a speech entitled "Time to Encourage Reform in Cuba," calling for common EU-U.S. actions to promote democracy and human rights in Cuba. Brittan elaborated on the EU's position on supporting human rights and called for the release of political prisoners and endorsed many of the ideas proposed by Ambassador Eizenstat.
In an October 23 announcement, the EU made note of the "new wave of repression and restrictions on the opposition, as well as a closed attitude towards international pressure, culminating in the shootdown of two U.S. civilian airplanes." These Cuban actions "have led to a `freezing' of the EU-Cuban bilateral dialogue."
The EU has launched other efforts focused on Cuba, including the preparation of weekly television programs for Cuban television to be continued only if they are broadcast unedited and uncensored.
A number of democratic countries are discreetly maintaining contact with and providing moral support to human rights activists on the island.
In early December, for the first time ever, all members of the EU, as well as two Latin American countries (Costa Rica and El Salvador), joined with the United States in co-sponsoring a strong U.N. resolution calling on the Cuban government to end human rights abuses. The margin in favor of the resolution was the largest ever -- evidence of Castro's increasing isolation.
Latin American leaders have also become increasingly vocal. At the November Ibero-American Summit in Santiago, Chile, several heads of state called for democratic reform in Cuba in Fidel Castro's presence. This amplified a strong Summit communique calling for democracy and human rights throughout the hemisphere. Summit host President Frei said in his keynote speech that the only legitimate democracy is one that "respects the exercise of human rights, and which is decided on the basis of electoral majorities."
Prior to the Summit, the Chilean Parliament passed a resolution urging democracy in Cuba and expressing "solidarity with the Cuban people, who are the victims of Castro's Communist regime."
While the U.S. seeks to discourage investment in Cuba, we recognize that some foreign investment will go forward. Where it does, we seek to ensure that any investment benefit the Cuban people, not the government. Ambassador Eizenstat accordingly has met with dozens of business associations throughout Europe and North America to encourage adoption of what have come to be called "best-business practices" in Cuba. Such practices include respect for internationally recognized labor rights, safe workplaces, non-discriminatory employment, protection of the environment, employers' right to hire and pay workers directly, and workers' right to organize.
The Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD), an annual meeting of approximately 70 CEOs from both sides of the Atlantic, endorsed at its November session the concept of responsible business practices, including "providing non-discriminatory employment and safe places to work." The TABD's European Chair, Dutch Businessman Simon DeBree, called for "an effort, consistent with applicable law, to directly hire and pay workers in Cuba and elsewhere," and added that "we fully support the objectives of promoting democracy in Cuba."
Several international business confederations are adding their voices to this effort. For example, the largest Dutch business group -- VNO/NCW -- which represents some 85,000 Dutch businesses and 80 percent of the Dutch private sector, on December 10 publicly endorsed the TABD's statements on business principles. The Confederation of British Industries has also approved a strong statement on best-business practices.
The concept of best-business practices has received the support of the German government, and we are confident of success in our efforts to encourage other governments to do so as well.
Non-Governmental Organizations' Initiatives
The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) in December issued a stinging report on restrictions the Cuban government places on workers' rights to organize independent labor unions. It contradicts the Cuban government's claim that there are independent unions in Cuba. The report calls for Cuban workers' freedom to organize and continued ICFTU monitoring of the situation.
Various European NGOs, including the Dutch group Pax Christi, have decided to establish the "European Platform for Human Rights and Democracy in Cuba" to support the pro-democracy, non-violent opposition in Cuba.
The Liberal Party International is planning a conference in Europe on Cuban democracy in early 1997.
While international NGOs have generally wished to conduct activities as discreetly as possible, many are pursuing efforts to encourage reform in Cuba and strengthen civil society. We understand that many plan to increase their Cuba activities.
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