Despite vigorous opposition from the main trading partners of the United States, including the European Union and Canada, the Helms-Burton Act was signed into law by Congress on March 12, 1996. The law extended sanctions to all non-U.S. companies that did any business with Cuba, and allowed U.S. citizens (including naturalized Cuban exiles) to sue foreign companies for dealing in confiscated U.S. property in Cuba. The Helms-Burton Act (also known as the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act) was perhaps the most assertive move of the United States during the 1990s designed to further isolate Cuba, to strengthen the trade embargo against it, and to extend U.S. legislation to punish foreign companies investing simultaneously in the United States and Cuba.
Cuba, the island-Socialist republic, located 90 miles south of the tip of Florida, had made efforts in 1975 to soften its relations with the United States, but these efforts ceased in 1996, following an incident in February of that year in which two aircraft, piloted by Cuban exiles living in Miami, Florida, were shot down in the Caribbean Sea off the northern coast of Cuba, killing four men. The United States maintained that the planes had been shot down over international waters and reacted strongly to the incident. The reaction included the creation of the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, named after the bill's co-authors, Senators Jesse Helms of North Carolina, and Dan Burton of Indiana.
See also: Embargo