Freeland to visit Havana as tensions rise over Venezuela, Trump’s anti-Cuba talk

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland will travel to Cuba today to meet with Communist leaders in Havana as the situation in Venezuela worsens and U.S. President Donald Trump adopts a far more aggressive posture toward the Caribbean island nation.

In a press release sent to the parliamentary press gallery, Freeland’s office said she will meet with her Cuban counterpart, Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Eduardo Rodríguez Parrilla, to discuss Venezuela and the increasingly fraught U.S.-Cuba relationship.

President Trump has taken a markedly different stance on Cuba than his immediate predecessor, Barack Obama, who sought to improve relations with the country after decades of Cold War-era tensions.

Instead, Trump has enforced a long-dormant part of the U.S. trade embargo against that country, known as Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, which could seriously threaten foreign investment by Canadian and European companies in Cuba.

The action is designed to punish Cuba for its support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, called a “Cuban puppet” by Trump in February.

By enforcing Title III of the embargo, Cuban Americans and other U.S. citizens will be able to file lawsuits in U.S. federal court against businesses that operate on property the Cuban government appropriated after the 1959 revolution. Title III has never been fully enforced since the law was passed in 1996.

“Any person or company doing business in Cuba should heed this announcement,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in announcing the policy shift earlier this month.

“Implementing Title III in full means a chance at justice for Cuban Americans who have long sought relief from Fidel Castro and his lackeys seizing property without compensation.”

This move could spell trouble for major Canadian companies that operate in Cuba, including the Montreal-based National Bank of Canada, which operates a branch in Havana focused on trade financing, and Toronto-based resource company Sherritt International.

Sherritt is thought to be particularly vulnerable to these U.S. changes since it is one of the largest foreign investors in Cuba through its ownership stake in nickel and cobalt mines, a power plant and oil and gas operations in that country.

The company’s executives are already banned from travelling to the U.S., or doing any sort of business there, under existing provisions of the Helms-Burton Act, which is also known as the Cuba Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act.

Cuba’s former President Raul Castro, center, listens to a translator as Ian Delaney, president of Canadian Sherrit International Corp., right, looks on during a visit to a gas processing plant in Boca de Jaruco, Cuba, Wednesday, June 6, 2007. Sherritt International has investments in power and metals mining projects in Cuba. Delaney has since retired from his position with the company. (Adalberto Roque/AP Photo)

Canada’s airlines, which ferry tens of thousands of Canadians to Cuban resorts each year, also could face legal challenges, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc., a group that tracks investments in Cuba.

The U.S. law is designed to have a chilling effect on investment and business activities in Cuba in the hopes that such economic pressure will lead to regime change and a democratically elected government in Cuba.

“It is of critical importance that our two countries meet to discuss the economic, political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and the work we can undertake together to address it,” Freeland said in a statement.

“I also look forward to discussing how we can work together to defend Canadians conducting legitimate trade and investment in Cuba in light of the United States ending the suspension of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act.”

Canada is part of the Lima Group of countries that opposes Maduro’s presidency and has recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate leader.