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Senate Approves Tougher Cuba Embargo Bill Imposes Property-Buying Penalties; Clinton Ok Expected

The Senate voted 74-22 Tuesday for a bill tightening the Cuban trade embargo and imposing penalties on foreigners who buy property confiscated by the Cuban government.

The bill is expected to win final congressional passage today in the House, and President Clinton has indicated he will sign it.

Critics of the bill said it would hurt ordinary Cubans more than the government of President Fidel Castro and that it would strain relations with U.S. allies who trade with Cuba.

Action on the long-delayed “Libertad” bill came 10 days after Cuban jets shot down two small unarmed airplanes being flown by members of the Miami-based exile group Brothers to the Rescue. Two Cuban-Americans in each plane were killed.

“It’s time for tough talk to give way to tough action,” said Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla., as the Senate voted for the bill.

Clinton, in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., called the bill a “strong bipartisan response that tightens the economic embargo against the Cuban regime and permits us to continue to promote democratic change in Cuba.”

Clinton’s opposition to a key provision in the House version had delayed action since both houses passed differing versions last fall.

That provision would allow former owners of large properties confiscated by the Cuban government after the 1959 revolution to file suit in U.S. courts against anyone purchasing those properties. For the first time - and only in the case of property seized by Cuba - the right to sue would be extended to naturalized citizens who were not U.S. citizens at the time their property was confiscated.

Senate attempts to include the provision failed three times last fall when supporters were unable to cut off debate.

The Clinton administration opposed the provision until last month, but that opposition evaporated after Cuba shot down the two exile planes. The stipulation then was included in the version approved by a House-Senate conference committee.

The property provision is billed as a deterrent to foreign investors who might be interested in purchasing confiscated property which the Cuban government has been selling in an attempt to raise hard currency for its struggling economy.