Angry at a U.S. law that punishes them for doing business with Cuba, European nations agreed Monday on possible retaliations, including blacklisting U.S. companies and requiring visas for business travelers.
The countermeasures approved by European Union foreign ministers will take effect if President Clinton does not waive enforcement of the U.S. legislation today.
The ministers ordered ambassadors from the 15 EU countries to start preparing countermeasures.
These include taking the matter to the World Trade Organization, establishing a list of U.S. companies who file suit under the new law, and requiring visas for U.S. business travelers visiting EU countries.
“The best way to get change in Cuba is not to clobber your allies,” said Sir Leon Brittan, EU vice president and trade commissioner.
“Because we are longstanding allies of the United States … does not mean that we should lose the right to defend ourselves,” he said.
The target of European anger is a law passed in March to provide relief to Americans who lost property in Cuba when Fidel Castro seized power. A section of the bill allows Clinton to waive enforcement for six months at a time. The foreign ministers called on Clinton to use his waiver and expressed concern at parts of the Helms-Burton Act.
“We don’t believe the United States penalizing its allies is going to help the cause of democratic reform in Cuba,” said British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind.
Helms-Burton was passed after Cuban fighters shot down two private planes flown by Cuban-Americans. It allows U.S. citizens to sue foreign companies using property in Cuba confiscated from American owners in 1959.
In an election year, Clinton almost must worry about the impact of his decision on political swing states, like Florida and New Jersey, which have large Cuban-American populations.