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U.S. Puts New Sanctions on Cuba Targeting Venezuela

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Branding the Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan leaders as the “three stooges of socialism,” the “troika of tyranny,” and the “sordid triangle of terror”—this was not exactly a subtle speech—National Security Adviser John Bolton argued that “the walls are closing in” on Maduro, that the Castros’ successor Miguel Díaz-Canel “will be next,” and that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega would follow.

In his address, Bolton unveiled new sanctions against Venezuela’s central bank, a Nicaraguan financial institution and the Nicaraguan president’s son. But the most consequential measures related to Cuba, in a near-wholesale rejection of Barack Obama’s efforts to eliminate decades-old U.S. policies of isolating the island to oust the Castro regime. Bolton put a limit on how much money U.S. citizens could send back to Cuba ($1,000 per person per quarter) and restricted “non-family” travel to the country, potentially dealing a major blow to the cruise and air travel that blossomed under Obama. Bolton also promised a crackdown on the subsidized oil Venezuela ships to Cuba.

The enforcement of that section of the LIBERTAD Act, which was announced earlier in the day by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, means that certain U.S. nationals will soon be able to sue foreign companies in Cuba that “traffic” in property seized in the 1959 Cuban Revolution. You could, for example, sue a European hotel company for operating on land the Castro regime stole from your family half a century ago. This right has been on the books for more than 20 years, but no president has ever implemented it. The measure implicates thousands of properties worth billions of dollars, and raises the risks of anybody doing business anywhere in Cuba given the likelihood they may end up profiting, somehow, from stolen land.  

What the action also does, however, is highlight the administration’s difficulty in achieving its goals in another country entirely: Venezuela.

“The Cuban regime has for years exported its tactics of intimidation, repression, and violence,” Pompeo told reporters at a briefing about the new policy.  “They’ve exported this to Venezuela in direct support of the former Maduro regime. Cuban military intelligence and state security services today keep Maduro in power.”

Trump began to reverse his predecessor’s Cuba opening back in 2017—a thaw Pompeo on Wednesday called “a black mark on this great nation’s long record of defending human rights.”

Since then, though, the Trump administration has developed another interest in pressuring Cuba, which provides a vital source of support to Maduro. Bolton also asserted that U.S. sanctions should be a warning to Moscow, whose support the Trump administration has acknowledged is a “shot in the arm” for Maduro. Economic interventions such as tightening restrictions on Cuba could punish or deter international investors, the U.S. believes.

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