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Bush extends ban on Cuba lawsuits

President cites 'national interests'

Cuban leader Fidel Castro
Cuban leader Fidel Castro  

From Kelly Wallace

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Despite pressure from Cuban-Americans, President Bush alerted Congress he was extending for six months a measure barring Americans from suing any Cuban person or organization over property confiscated by the nation's communist government.

In a letter Tuesday to House and Senate leaders, Bush said the continued suspension was "necessary to the national interests of the United States" and would "expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba."

Under a 1996 law, known as the Helms-Burton Act -- for Sen. Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina, and Rep. Dan Burton, R-Indiana -- Americans whose property was seized after Cuban President Fidel Castro took power in 1959 may sue any individual or business in Cuba that uses that property.

Former President Bill Clinton repeatedly signed waivers suspending the measure after Helms-Burton took effect. This is the third time Bush has signed such a waiver, a move that is likely to disappoint many Cuban-Americans.

Despite the action, the president sought to reaffirm his support of policies designed to topple Castro. The White House said that Bush remains committed to travel and trade restrictions against Cuba to encourage a "rapid transition" to democracy.

"The administration strongly opposes any effort to loosen sanctions against the Cuban regime until it undertakes meaningful political, economic and labor reforms and respects human rights," the White House said.

The White House also noted that Cuba remains on the State Department's list of countries which support terrorism and said the Cuban regime "remains hostile to United States national security interests."

During a speech in May, Bush unveiled proposals that the White House said would encourage democratic overhauls in Cuba, including providing scholarships to Cubans whose family members are political prisoners or dissidents, resuming direct mail service between the United States and Cuba and broadening "people-to-people" contacts.




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