April 3, 2019 / 10:50 PM / in 21 days

Pompeo extends ban on U.S. lawsuits against foreign firms in Cuba

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies at a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the State Department's budget request for 2020 in Washington D.C., U.S. March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday extended by two weeks to May 1 a ban on U.S. lawsuits against foreign firms doing business in Cuba.

He did not give a reason for the extension.

The administration of President Donald Trump announced on March 4 it would allow lawsuits by U.S. citizens against dozens of Cuban companies on Washington’s blacklist.

However, it stopped short of the more severe step of allowing legal action against foreign firms who had used property confiscated by the Cuban government since the 1959 revolution - though it left the door open to doing so in the future.

The move marked an intensification of U.S. pressure on Cuba and also appeared aimed at punishing Havana over its support for Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolas Maduro.

A complete lifting of the ban could let potentially billions of dollars in legal claims move forward in U.S. courts and likely antagonize Canada and European partners, whose companies have significant business holdings in Cuba.

State Department spokesman Robert Palladino urged companies doing business in Cuba to examine whether they “trafficked” in confiscated property.

“Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo announced his decision to continue for two weeks, from April 18 through May 1, 2019, the current suspension with an exception of the right to bring an action under Title III of the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act,” Palladino said.

Trump’s administration first announced in January a 45-day review of the matter.

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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