Responding to Cuba's shooting down of two small American planes, President Bill Clinton cut a dramatic deal with the Republican-controlled Congress yesterday on a bill aimed at curtailing other countries' investments in Cuba with the specific aim of toppling Fidel Castro.
Although Mr Clinton had announced on Monday he would work with Congress on tighter sanctions, yesterday's deal came much more quickly, went much farther than expected and is bound to enrage Britain, its European partners, Canada, and other major investors in Cuba. There appeared little doubt that Mr Clinton had one eye on November's elections, notably on what could be the key votes of Cuban Americans in Florida.
Agreeing to back the so-called Helms-Burton bill, Mr Clinton unexpectedly accepted inclusion of a clause he had long and vehemently opposed. It would allow Americans (including Cuban exiles) to sue foreign investors who made use of any Cuban property or business confiscated during Mr Castro's 37-year communist rule.
Since Mr Castro nationalised virtually all major farms, businesses and properties after the 1959 revolution, the new US law could threaten countless investments by British and other foreign firms and discourage potential investors. In a compromise, the President will have the right to waive the controversial clause but only for six months at a time and only when the United States' national interests are deemed at stake.
Delighted supporters of the bill predicted it would be "the last nail in the coffin" for Mr Castro's long rule. Critics, however, said it would cause greater suffering for Cubans and that the Cuban leader would use it as an effective weapon for America-bashing and winning domestic grass-roots support.
The Helms-Burton bill had been passed by both the House and Senate, the latter somewhat watered down, but blocked by the White House until now.
The hard-hitting bill would allow the US to deny entry to any foreign company executive whose investment in Cuba had involved Castro-confiscated property. It turns the US embargo against Cuba into law, calls on the President to urge the rest of the world to join the embargo and authorises him to assist dissidents on the island.
Meanwhile, Cuban-Americans plan to fly and sail on Saturday to the area where Cuban MiG fighters shot down two Miami-based light aircraft last weekend, apparently killing all four crew. The exiles say they will toss flowers into the Straits of Florida, outside Cuba's territorial waters, and hold a memorial service while twoplanes of the Brothers to the Rescue group fly overhead.
US officials and Cuban exile moderates, who believe the downed planes were provoking Castro's government by approaching Cuba, fear the plan may lead to further incidents.