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Hispanic American Historical Review 82.1 (2002) 204-205

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Book Review

Cuba, the United States, and the Helms-Burton Doctrine:
International Reactions

Cuba, the United States, and the Helms-Burton Doctrine: International Reactions. By JOAQUIN ROY. Contemporary Cuba. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000. Figures. Notes. Bibliography. Index. xxii, 281 pp. Cloth, $55.00.

The Helms-Burton Law (the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Society Act of 1996 ) is one of the most controversial actions of the United States Congress in the realm of foreign policy. Consequently, it has been widely debated in scholarly literature, attracting the attention of legal analysts as well as authorities on Latin America, United States diplomatic history, political scientists, and international trade specialists. Questions involved include the role of the executive and the legislature in determining United States foreign policy, the role of the Cuban exile community in the enactment of the law, and the effect on U.S. trade partners of provisions that extend the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba.

Providing a detailed account of the domestic political context of the bill, the author effectively traces its origins in both the Cuban exile community and the national political scene, while summarizing the subsequent debate. The focus of the study is on the reaction from other countries, whose objections to what they regard as the effort to extend U.S. jurisdiction beyond its borders in contravention of International Law and bind other nations to U.S. foreign policy are traced in detail, though in fact only two of the eight chapters are devoted exclusively to this central theme. It is clearly demonstrated that the law has implications that extend well beyond U.S.-Cuban relations, and that its provisions create broad precedents that cause friction with U.S. allies and trading partners. The book is based on extensive use of the press, published volumes, and in particular periodical articles in both the legal and political fields, drawn from throughout the United States and Europe, since documentary sources are not yet available on so contemporary a question.

The strength of the study is that it effectively summarizes in a single volume the comments of political pundits and scholars in diverse fields spanning several countries, thereby providing easy access to the studies from different fields, particularly linking historical and political studies to legal analyzes. It draws on works that provide context for both U.S.-Cuban relations and the politics of the Cuban exile community in Florida and their impact on the national political scene. Many [End Page 204] will find the latter aspects particularly relevant in view of the importance of the Florida vote in the presidential election of 2000 . The account makes clear that domestic politics and winning elections were the key factors in the decisions regarding the adoption of the bill, and the author clearly demonstrates the role of several members of Congress. He notes, "U.S. Cuba policy had effectively become a domestic issue" (p. 34 ). Scholars will undoubtedly view the linkages the author provides to the Monroe Doctrine and the Platt Amendment as somewhat more controversial.

Readers may well find the fact that the work is directed at several different audiences distracting, since legal scholars, historians of U.S.-Latin American relations, trade specialists, and Cuban specialists all focus on different aspects of the legislation, and their interests are quite distinct from those of the Cuban exile community. Historians will undoubtedly find the citation form awkward, since only short form citations, providing abbreviated titles and author's last names and page citations are utilized within the chapters, compelling the reader to refer to the Bibliography for full titles, full author's names, and complete publication information.

This study will be of interest to all students of Cuba and U.S.-Latin American policy, as well as those concerned with the political influence of the Cuban exile community. Its primary value is its breath, concisely summarizing previously published works spanning the literature of several different fields.


Kenneth J. Grieb
University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh



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pp. 204-205
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2004
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