September 23, 2019
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Havana-based cigar maker says it doesn't foresee Helms-Burton lawsuits

Havana, Sep 13 (efe-epa).- Habanos S.A., a Spanish-Cuban joint venture that is a leading maker of Premium cigars, said Friday it does not believe it is at risk of being hit with lawsuits under Title III of the United States' 1996 Helms-Burton Act.

"We're aware of other foreign companies in Cuba that have been the target of lawsuits. In our case, no. The truth is we're at ease and don't foresee any action against us," the company's co-president, Luis Sanchez Harguindey, told EFE.

Title III, which allows US citizens (mainly Cuban-Americans) and corporations to sue entities that have been "trafficking" in property that was seized by the island's government on or after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution on Jan. 1, 1959, had not gone into effect until May 2 due to rolling six-month waivers.

US President Donald Trump, however, allowed waivers to Title III to expire as part of efforts to bring about political change on the Communist-ruled island and roll back predecessor Barack Obama's efforts to forge closer ties with Cuba.

Sanchez Harguindey said Habanos is not aware of any risk that lawsuits will be filed seeking compensation for its use of lands in the western region of Vueltabajo, where the company grows and harvests its tobacco.

It also does not expect to be sued over the factories or land used to manufacture its prestigious cigars.

"We're focused on our business and unconcerned about an eventual situation with Title III," the co-president said.

Habanos is a Cuban-Spanish joint venture that markets its products in much of the world - though not the US because of the decades-old embargo - and earned record revenues of $537 million in 2018.

Since Title III was activated, several lawsuits have been filed targeting foreign companies operating in Cuba, including Spanish (Melia, Iberostar and Barcelo), Canadian (Blue Diamond) and French (Accor) hotel groups.

Travel booking platforms Trivago, Booking and Expedia also have been sued.

In a press release in May, the European Union slammed the Trump administration's decision to fully activate the 1996 Helms-Burton Act.

The bloc said that move constituted a "breach of the commitments undertaken in the EU-US agreements of 1997 and 1998, which had been respected by both sides without interruption since then," adding that it "will cause unnecessary friction and undermines trust and predictability in the transatlantic partnership." EFE-EPA


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