The Trump administration announced Monday that it will allow lawsuits by U.S. citizens against dozens of Cuban companies linked to military and intelligence services.
The move symbolically intensifies U.S. pressure on Cuba, but limits the lawsuits to Cuban businesses and government agencies that are already subject to special U.S. sanctions.
The action stopped short of the more severe step of targeting foreign investments in Cuba, but left open the possibility of doing so in the future. Several U.S. allies, including Spain, France and Canada, are home to large businesses with significant holdings in Cuba.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez was quoted (by the Reuters news agency) as saying he "strongly rejected" the U.S. action against Cuban companies "arbitrarily sanctioned" by the Trump administration.
Some U.S. companies have also begun investing in the island since former U.S. President Barack Obama opened relations with the longtime Cold War enemy.
A senior State Department official said the Trump administration had consulted with Canada and European partners in deliberations on how to proceed.
Analysts say the move by the administration is likely retaliation for Cuba's support of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whom the United States is trying to pressure into stepping down. The United States recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's interim president.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American Republican, noted the link between Cuba and Venezuela in a Twitter post Monday in which he welcomed the action taken by the administration.
“Today expect the United States to take the first in a series of steps to hold the regime in #Cuba accountable for its 60 years of crimes & illegality which includes its support for the murderous #MaduroCrimeFamily,'' he wrote.
While President Obama was in office, he worked to normalize relations with Cuba, including making a historic trip to the island nation and reopening the U.S. Embassy there.
Relations chilled again under President Donald Trump. He has blamed the Cuban government for the mysterious sonic attacks that sickened and injured more than two dozen U.S. diplomats and others in Havana that began in late 2016. U.S. investigators still do not know exactly who and what caused the injuries, but 15 Cuban diplomats were expelled from Washington in retaliation last year.