Royal visit illustrates widening transatlantic rift over Cuba

In a very visible if indirect indication of the growing transatlantic divide between the US, the UK and other EU nations over Cuba, Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and his wife arrived in Havana on 24 March on a two-day official visit.

The Royal visit takes place just as the US Administration is attempting to tighten its policy towards Cuba and isolate globally Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, nations it describes as a ‘Troika of Tyranny’.

Although the British crown is apolitical, the visit was encouraged by the British Government as a demonstration of its belief that in the case of Cuba, engagement and dialogue are required despite fundamental differences over human rights and other issues.

Perception of the visit in Washington is expected to add to the effect of recent demarches and other high-level interventions by the UK, and other EU nations indicating their opposition to the possible lifting of the waiver on Title III of Helms Burton next month (Cuba Briefing 11 March 2019). Furthermore, all EU member states have made known their concern about the possible use of Title IV of the 1996 US legislation which would prohibit EU and other third country executives alleged to be involved in trafficking in expropriated assets from entering the US. They have also indicated that the introduction of other possible US measures relating to Cuba that would be extra-territorial in their effect, would be deemed unacceptable.

The decision by the UK and other EU nations to push back on US policy towards Cuba is understood to have caused the State Department, but not senior officials at the National Security Council, to be more cautious about the implications of a further tightening of the embargo in areas where it affects the US’s allies. It is said to be the reason why a senior US official at a State Department briefing on 4 March said on a non-attributable basis, that the shortening of the period before the waiver on Title III expires was to enable the US Administration to make a determination on ‘how this is affecting the calculus of others’.

Despite having other strategic concerns in common with the US, the British Government has taken a decision that the US measures are counterproductive and undermine legitimate trade and international attempts to bring Cuba into the international fold. UK thinking at the highest levels is that the US approach could become an obstacle to free and frank discussion on reform in Cuba, will not bring about the changes the US is pursing, and is divisive. There are also concerns that the policy creates significant new openings for non-EU players, a reference understood to refer to Russia and China.

At the same time, the EU is understood to have made clear to Washington that it has met all its previous commitments to the US on Cuba and until recently had full confidence in mutual commitments made in 1997/98. However, the decision by the US to reopen earlier agreements by the announcement of shorter waiver periods for Title III of Helms Burton without any indication of non-compliance on the EU’s part is regarded as important and leading to the design of a strong EU reaction.

The EU believes too, that the extraterritorial aspects of the Helm Burton legislation relates to important principles in international trade and touch on wider matters of concern at the World Trade Organisation.  Officials say that a strong European reaction is likely should Title III and IV of Helms Burton cease to be waived by the Trump Administration, while warning that its decision making should not be linked to cooperation with the US on other issues.


Cuba Briefing is available on a subscription-only basis. Please click here to sign up to a free trial.