There Is No Historical Precedent for the Helms-Burton Law

Article excerpt

Marc Thiessen is quoted in The Washington Times as welcoming the passage of a Canadian bill giving Canadians the right to sue Americans in Canadian courts for compensation for properties confiscated by the United States after the American Revolution ("Helms aide offers no aid to Canadians on Cuba law," Oct. 24). The Canadian law is, of course, a parody of the Helms-Burton provisions that allow Americans to do the same, as all Canadians understand.

Amazingly, Mr. Thiessen says he welcomes the bill because it affirms a nation's rights to sue for seized foreign property of its citizens. But that is the crux of the matter. The British government negotiated a settlement with the American government, as has been the accepted method before and after that time. Private citizens had no standing to sue a foreign citizen or state under international law.

In 1965, a Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes was set up in the United Nations, which the United States signed. The U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, as authorized by the convention, was created, and claims by U.S. nationals and corporations against Cuba were filed at that time. Cuba has offered from time to time as late as 1993 to negotiate compensation on U.S. claims. Cuba has settled claims from all other nations. …