Posted on Tue, Feb. 10, 2004
U.S. set to get tougher on Cuba.
The Bush administration says it plans to go after anyone who does
business with 10 companies controlled by the Cuban government.
By Nancy San Martin.
In the latest move to obey President Bush's orders to tighten U.S.
sanctions on Havana, the Treasury Department on Monday identified 10
companies owned by the Cuban government and warned that anyone doing
business with them could face criminal charges.
Treasury Secretary John Snow told The Herald his department is also
considering tightening the restrictions on cash remittances that Cuban
Americans send to relatives on the island. The department also is
considering revoking the authorization for legal travelers to bring back
up to $100 worth of Cuban goods, including cigars and rum -- a side
benefit of travel to Cuba.
In a separate action, Treasury officials also announced that three cases
are under investigation by the U.S. attorney's office in Miami for
possible criminal violations. They declined to discuss the cases but
federal sources said it was tied to an annual summer sailboat race to
Cuba out of Key West. Several participants in last year's race were
flagged by authorities for possible violations.
The department's actions were part of the heightened enforcement of U.S.
commercial and travel sanctions on Cuba emerging from President George
W. Bush's order in October to tighten restrictions in place against
President Fidel Castro's government since the 1960s.
The 10 Cuban government firms identified by Treasury allegedly help U.S.
residents break the bans on most travel and trade with Cuba by offering
travel packages to people who do not qualify, plus selling products via
the Internet that are delivered to island residents for a fee.
''These companies have been providing easy access to Cuba to those U.S.
individuals who chose to break the law,'' Snow said in a speech to Cuban
Americans in Coral Gables. ``Today's action will put a stop to that, and
a stop to another illegal pathway for U.S. dollars to Castro's wallet.''
The companies and subsidiaries identified were: Havanatur S.A., a
leading tour operator in Cuba with branches in Argentina, the Bahamas
and Chile; Cubanacán Group, a Cuban tourist group with branches in the
Netherlands and England; CIMEX, which is owned by the Cuban government;
and 2904977 Canada Inc., a CIMEX subsidiary based in Montreal.
Also named was La Compañia Tiendas Universo S.A., an Internet company
owned by Cubanacán that sells items such as food, appliances and
cosmetics for delivery to Cubans on the island.
Some of the Cubanacán and Havanatour branches are known to have arranged
flight and hotel reservations for U.S.-based travel agencies that lack
the U.S. permits required for doing business with Cuba.
Authorities said those U.S. companies, as well as people who purchase
tour packages or products from the U.S. or Cuban firms, could face civil
and criminal penalties and have their bank accounts frozen under the
U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act. Penalties can reach 10 years in prison
and hefty fines.
''You as the consumer are now on notice: to do business with them is to
provide support to the Castro regime,'' Juan Zarate, Treasury's deputy
assistant secretary, said in an interview with The Herald.
Americans, with some exceptions, are prohibited from traveling to Cuba
or conducting business with the communist-ruled nation. Cuban-Americans
are allowed annual trips for family reunifications. Exceptions are also
available for journalists, academic and religious groups, and several
dozen U.S. firms have permission to arrange their travel.
Officials said that since heightened enforcement of U.S. sanctions began
in October, authorities have prevented 275 travelers from boarding
Cuba-bound flights after discovering that they did not have proper
Also, more than 300 civil violation notices have been sent to suspected
illegal travelers and three administrative law judges have been assigned
to 111 cases, including 63 that resulted in settlement payments.
CASH FOR RELATIVES
Snow also told The Herald his department would ''take a hard look'' at
rules that now allow Cuban Americans to send as much as $1,200 a year to
relatives on the island, to determine if the money is really ``going to
where it's supposed to.''
Bush also has ordered a thorough review of U.S. policy and in October
created a Cabinet-level Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, to
make recommendations for how Washington should deal with the island
after Castro leaves power.
''The president has been pretty clear in his views on Castro,'' Snow
said. ``He is committed to the Cuban people even as he loathes and
detests the regime. As we uncover violations of U.S. law, we're going to
act on them.''
Herald staff writer Larry Lebowitz contributed to this report.