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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Strikes At U.S. Anti-Cuba Legislation

LUXEMBOURG -- Americans who sue European companies doing business in Cuba face countersuits in European courts, now that the European Union has voted to retaliate against a U.S. law it deems unfair.

The measure, passed Monday, lets Europeans countersue to recoup damages assessed in U.S. courts under the Helms-Burton Act.

The new law also strikes back at U.S. legislation allowing Washington to slap trade sanctions on foreign companies investing in the oil sectors in Libya and Iran.

"Equipped with this weapon of self-defense, we will be much better able to get a genuine negotiation from a fair and balanced position,'' said EU Foreign Trade Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said it was inappropriate for the Europeans to retaliate. He said the Clinton administration wished that the Europeans would instead focus on the plight of the "many, many people in Cuba whose rights are being denied now by the [Fidel] Castro government.''

"We'd like to see more talk from the Europeans about democracy in Cuba,'' Burns said.

The accord was reached after a last-minute compromise with Denmark, which opposed proposals for retaliatory EU trade legislation, arguing it could mean an erosion of Danish sovereignty. Brittan, himself, was vague about the compromise.

Signed by President Bill Clinton in March, the Helms-Burton Act allows U.S. companies to sue foreign firms that use property taken from American businesses after Cuba's 1959 revolution. It also bans executives of such companies from entering the United States.

The U.S. law was passed after Cuban fighter jets shot down two civilian planes piloted by Miami-based Cuban exiles in February. The shooting stirred up American sentiment against Cuba and put pressure on the U.S. government to isolate the Castro regime further.

Under the EU legislation, which takes effect immediately, European nationals who are sued under Helms-Burton and lose in a U.S. court can countersue in Europe to "claw back'' the damages.

The legislation also requires European companies to notify the EU if an action is started against them.

That is intended to discourage European companies from settling out of court in the United States.

President Clinton has deferred implementation of the lawsuit provision of the Helms-Burton law until mid-January.