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Cuba property law is waived

President Bush, ignoring pleas from Cuban-American supporters, refused Monday to allow Americans to sue people or companies who now control properties confiscated from the Americans in Cuba. Bush said he hopes the step will encourage a movement toward democracy on the island.

A 1996 law co-written by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., gives Americans the right to sue but also gives the president the authority to waive enforcement. President Bill Clinton used that authority eight times during his second term, and Bush decided not to change the policy even though he is more allied with anti-Castro Cuban-American groups than Clinton was.

The law requires the president to waive or enforce Title III of Helms-Burton every six months.

Bush notified Congress that he was waiving the provision just hours before a midnight deadline.

"Real issues remain between the United States and our allies concerning the best methods for pursuing change in Cuba," Bush conceded in a statement.

But he said he thinks his step will "further strengthen, not weaken" efforts to promote democracy and human rights in Cuba.

"My administration is firmly committed to a proactive Cuba policy that will assist the Cuban people in their struggle for freedom," Bush said.

The anti-Castro Cuban-American National Foundation strongly supported an end to the waiver. But it has placed higher priority on Justice Department action to seek a murder indictment against President Fidel Castro in an attack on two Miami-based private planes north of Cuba in 1996. The attack killed four Cuban-Americans.

The waiver is bound to please the European Union, which sees the law as an attempt by the United States to impose its anti-Cuba policy on others. European companies that have invested in Cuba over the years would be subject to legal claims if Americans were granted the right to sue.