CORAL GABLES, Fla. — The Trump administration on Wednesday intensified its crackdown on Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, rolling back Obama administration policy and announcing new restrictions and sanctions against the three countries whose leaders national security adviser John Bolton dubbed the “three stooges of socialism.”
“The troika of tyranny — Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua — is beginning to crumble,” Bolton said in a hard-hitting speech near Miami on the 58th anniversary of the United States’ failed Bay of Pigs invasion of the island, an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government.
Bolton announced a new cap on the amount of money families in the United States can send their relatives in Cuba. The Obama administration had lifted limits on remittances, but the new limit will be $1,000 per person per quarter, Bolton said. Remittances to Cuba from the United States amounted to $3 billion in 2016, according to the State Department.
Bolton also announced that the U.S. was sanctioning the Central Bank of Venezuela, which the Trump administration says has been instrumental in propping up the embattled government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. He also announced sanctions against financial services provider Bancorp, which he claimed is a “slush fund” for Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega.
“The United States looks forward to watching each corner of this sordid triangle of terror fall: in Havana, in Caracas, and in Managua,” Bolton said in South Florida, which is home to thousands of exiles and immigrants from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
He said Obama administration policies gave the Cuban government “political cover to expand its malign influence” across the region, including in Venezuela. Cuba has trained Venezuelan security forces to repress civilians and support Maduro, Bolton said.
“Havana continues to prop up Maduro and help him sustain the brutal suffering of the Venezuelan people,” Bolton said. “As President Trump has said, Maduro is quite simply a ‘Cuban puppet.'”
“Thousands of Cuban doctors in Venezuela are being used as pawns by Maduro and his Cuban sponsors to support his brutal and oppressive reign.”
Bolton’s pledge to “never, ever abandon” the people of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua in their fight for freedom also might ring hollow in light of the historical events he sought to highlight at the event hosted by the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association.
Many Cuban Americans to this day resent the late President John F. Kennedy for not deploying American troops at a critical moment in the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Meanwhile, with the high stakes of the Cold War a fading memory, some critics of U.S. policy toward Venezuela worry that the Trump administration’s stance that all options are on the table, including a military one, to oust Maduro is an empty threat that will only serve to ignite the streets and geopolitical tensions with Russia, compounding the misery of Venezuelan citizens.
“Honoring one of U.S.’ greatest military fiascos from 60 years back suggests U.S. policy to Latin America owes more now to a perverse Cold War nostalgia than practical benefits for people of the region,” said Ivan Briscoe, the Latin American director for the International Crisis Group, a think tank headquartered in Brussels.
Bolton spoke just hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in Washington a new policy that allows lawsuits against foreign firms operating on properties Cuba seized from Americans after the 1959 revolution. The United States has enforced a trade blockade against Cuba since the early 1960s.
The announcement comes at a moment of severe economic weakness for Cuba, which is struggling to find enough cash to import basic food and other supplies following a drop in aid from Venezuela and a string of bad years in other key economic sectors.
Pompeo said he won’t renew a bar on litigation that has been in place for two decades, meaning that lawsuits can be filed starting on May 2 when the current suspension expires. The decision could cost dozens of Canadian and European companies tens of billions of dollars in compensation and interest.
Pompeo’s decision gives Americans the right to sue companies that operate out of hotels, tobacco factories, distilleries and other properties Cuba nationalized after Fidel Castro took power. It allows Cubans who became U.S. citizens years after their properties were taken to sue.
The Justice Department has certified roughly 6,000 claims as having merit, according to Kimberly Breier, the top U.S. diplomat for the Americas. Those claims have an estimated value of $8 billion: $2 billion in property and $6 billion in interest, she said. In addition, another 200,000 uncertified claims could run into the tens of billions of dollars, she said.
Breier said there would be no exceptions to the decision, which has already prompted stern responses from Canada and Europe as they have vowed to protect their businesses from lawsuits.
“European companies that are operating in Cuba will have nothing to worry about if they are not operating on properties taken from Americans,” she said.
The decision deals a severe blow to Havana’s efforts to draw foreign investment to the island and comes as Trump steps up pressure to Venezuela’s Maduro , who is holding power with help from other countries, including Cuba, China and Russia.
Spain, which has large investments in hotels and other tourism-related industries on the island, was the first to react. A senior government official told The Associated Press that Madrid would ask the European Union to challenge the U.S. move in the World Trade Organization.
Businesses from Canada, France and Great Britain among other countries also conduct business in properties nationalized after Castro took power.
Johana Tablada, Cuba’s deputy director of U.S. affairs, said on Twitter: “Before they try to euphorically ride a wave of wickedness and lies, they should take a dose of reality. The world has told John Bolton and the U.S. government to eliminate the criminal blockade against Cuba and the Helms-Burton Act” of 1996.
Countries with large investments in Cuba have ferociously protested the law.
“The extraterritorial application of the U.S. embargo is illegal and violates international law,” said Alberto Navarro, the European Union ambassador to Cuba. “I personally consider it immoral. For 60 years the only thing that’s resulted from the embargo is the suffering of the Cuban people.”
Michael Weissenstein and Andrea Rodriguez in Havana and Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.