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WHO ARE THE DIRECT BENEFICIARIES OF THE HELMS-BURTON LAW?

Return to FactFile In the fall of 1995, [Jesse] Helms, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act. One section of the bill, which has no basis in international law, would allow Cubans who fled after Fidel Castro took power in 1959 and later became US citizens, to advance claims in US courts on property nationalized by the Cuban government. They could even sue foreign nationals and companies which have indirectly benefited from the use of their former property.

The major beneficiaries of this legislation would be the people who mose successfully plundered Cuba under the Batista dictatorship which Castro overthrew: Florida-based sugar barons, cattle ranchers and distillers.

This is no coincidence. Among those drafting the Helms legislation was Nicolas Guitierrez, who sits on the board of the Miami-headquartered National Association of Sugar Mill Owners of Cuba and whose family had 100,000 acres of land expropriated by Castro, and Ignacio Sanchez, a lawyer for Bacardi Rum Co., which has long been seeking a means to sue Pernod Ricard, a French firm which distills rum in Bacardi's old plant in Santiago de Cuba.

Also backing the legislation was Juan Prado, a retired Bacardi executive, whose family lost $76 million (in 1960 dollars) when Castro took power, and Manuel Cutillas, head of both the US-Cuba Business Council and of Bacardi Rum Co. For this reason, Wayne Smith, the former chief of the US Interests Section in Havana who is now billeted at Washington's Center for International Policy, tagged the Helms-backed legislation as "the Bacardi Claims Act."

Helms's efforts have further endeared him to the fanatical exiles massed in the Cuban American National Foundation, headed by Jorge Mas Canosa. Pleased by the work of the senior senator from North Carolina, Cuban groups in Miami have organized two major fundraisers for Helms, who is set up for re-election in 1996, netting him $85,000 and $75,000, respectively. Last May, Radio Marti, which is controlled by the Foundation, give Helms six minutes to deliver a personal "message to the Cuban people."

Bill Clinton, with his habitual eye to the Florida vote, supported most sections of the Helms legislation, but refused to endorse the Bacardi Claims Act, forcing it to be stripped from the bill before Congress approved it. Expect Helms and Bacardi to try again in the near future.

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