U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release
April 17, 2019
Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Kimberly Breier
April 17, 2019
Press Briefing Room
MS ORTAGUS: Good morning, everybody.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BREIER: Good morning, everyone.
MS ORTAGUS: Let’s start with Matt.
QUESTION: Thank you. Ms. Secretary, I – even before the announcement just now, the Canadians, the Europeans, and – have come out against this and vowed to protect their companies – European, Canadian companies that could be sued under – with this decision. And I’m just wondering how much of a concern that is for the administration and whether there will be any exemptions at all. As you know, it’s not just Europe and Canada that have companies there. There’s some significant Israeli investment in Cuba. So I’m just wondering how you’re going to respond to their unhappiness, to put it mildly. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BREIER: Thank you. Thanks for the question, and good morning, everybody. I think the first thing to highlight is that obviously we’ve been in very deep and close contact with our allies in Europe and Canada and around the world as we consulted on this decision over the past several months as the Secretary had been shortening the period of suspension with his previous decisions. I think it’s clear if you look in the macro sense we have broad agreement with our allies in Europe and Canada and around the world on the policy objective, which is to promote democracy in Cuba and to free the Cuban people from the tyranny that they live under.
We are in broad agreement on this. Where we sometimes disagree is on the best way to achieve that. And I think at the end of the day, you’ll need to speak to the European Union and to our allies as to what response they will have, but I would like to emphasize that European companies that are operating in Cuba will have nothing to worry about if they are not operating on property that was stolen from Americans post-revolution. So I think the vast number of European companies will not have any concerns operating in Cuba.
MS ORTAGUS: Lesley.
QUESTION: Yep, good morning. How does – so how are you going to deal with the unhappy Europeans? They have now threatened to take you to the WTO. And so how are you going to deal with that? And to what extent do you put – how does this in any way tie to cutting off any funds to Maduro, or how does this enhance the anti-Maduro campaign?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BREIER: Thanks for the question. First, I would defer you to the Europeans for their response. They certainly – we took a decision today based on our laws and our sovereign concerns for the property of American citizens and Europeans will respond as they see fit, and we will continue to work closely with them on this policy and on the policy in Venezuela.
I think it’s important to note that the decision today is part of the trajectory that started with the Trump Administration’s NSPM-5, which was announced in June of 2017. The objective of that was of course to support the Cuban people and to deny resources to the regime, and in particular to the security services in Cuba. So this is part of a trajectory. We have since published a Cuba restricted list. We have since amended the restricted list several times, and this is part of the trajectory of the administration trying to ensure that we support the people of Cuba and not the regime of Cuba.
And going forward, I would say the decision – the Secretary’s decision was about the actions of the Cuban regime; certainly, the actions of the Cuban regime in Venezuela are part of the context of the moment in which we are living. And we are very clear, and I think our allies – and this is something very important – the Lima Group, which is a group of 12 countries in the Western Hemisphere, for the very first time this week announced its concern over Cuba’s role in Caracas and made public its concern, and called on the Cuban regime to support the transition in Caracas. So I think it’s a very important moment in our relations in the hemisphere as well.
MS ORTAGUS: Rich.
QUESTION: How much – thank you. How much further is the administration considering going on its Cuba policy, whether there’s deliberations about the terrorism list or – I mean, is this a trajectory that you see continuing?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BREIER: I think that’s – it’s a great question. I do put it in context of we’ve been over the past two years building off of NSPM-5 and looking at the various tools that we have to implement the President’s vision for how we would conduct this policy. I think you’re going to be seeing quite a bit more from us, and that this is the beginning of a new process on this that recognizes the reality on the ground in Cuba, which is in the past 20-plus years the underlying reality in Cuba has not changed for the average Cuban.
MS ORTAGUS: Nick.
QUESTION: Assistant Secretary, can you talk – just to follow up on Matt’s question on the issue of exemptions, are there any exemptions under the decision announced today specifically with any U.S. company that is doing business in Cuba?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BREIER: There will not be any exemptions.
MS ORTAGUS: Great. Kim, do you have time for one more?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BREIER: Sure.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: How much property are you talking about in terms of value, money and number of properties?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BREIER: Let me flip to – so this is actually one of these questions where I can tell you what I know, and then what I don’t know is actually a larger – what we understand, the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission has – it’s an independent agency within the Department of Justice – has certified nearly 6,000 claims for property confiscated in Cuba with a total value of approximately 2 billion. With interest, we believe that value is somewhere in the $8 billion range. The most recent estimate we have from 1996, at the time that the law was enacted, that there could be up to 200,000 uncertified claims that were not certified by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, and that value could very easily be in the tens of billions of dollars. But it will depend on, of course, whether claimants decide to pursue legal cases or not.
QUESTION: Could I just ask you to clarify what you said? What was the 8 billion from —
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BREIER: The 8 billion is with interest.
QUESTION: With interest.
QUESTION: So 2 billion of the actual property or what it was worth when it was taken.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BREIER: At the time it was – when it was confiscated, correct.
QUESTION: And then with interest that amounts to 8 billion.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BREIER: Correct.
QUESTION: So the total then would be 8 billion.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BREIER: Eight billion of certified claims, yes.
QUESTION: And then on the 200,000 uncertified claims, they haven’t been rejected, right? They could still be certified?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BREIER: They could still be if the window were open.
QUESTION: And that would be hundreds of billions.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BREIER: That could be.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Oh, tens.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BREIER: Tens of billions. Yeah, sorry.
MS ORTAGUS: Thanks, Matt.
QUESTION: Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BREIER: Thank you so much. Thanks, everybody