Wednesday, February 8, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM
The Seattle Times
By Reuters and The Associated Press
MEXICO CITY — Protesters waving Cuban flags blocked the entrance to a U.S.-owned Sheraton hotel in Mexico on Tuesday, calling for the closure of the hotel because it evicted Cuban officials on the orders of the United States.
Mexico issued a complaint on Tuesday against Sheraton, saying the company violated investment and trade-protection laws.
The U.S. Treasury Department confirmed that the Hotel Maria Isabel Sheraton in Mexico City was told to expel the Cuban delegation in compliance with the U.S. embargo against business with Cuba or Cubans. The meeting was moved to a Mexican-owned hotel Saturday.
"The hotel in Mexico City is a U.S. subsidiary, and therefore prohibited from providing a service to Cuba or Cuban nationals," said Brookly McLaughlin, a spokesman for the department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. He was referring to the Helms-Burton law, which tightened U.S. trade sanctions first imposed against Cuba in 1961.
Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez said the Mexican government is also considering a diplomatic complaint against the United States in the case.
He said his department had formally started a complaint process against the Sheraton for violating investment and trade protection laws, and that the hotel would have 15 days to respond. The hotel could face fines of nearly $500,000 or even be shut down, officials said.
About 30 people protested outside the hotel on Tuesday, waving Mexican and Cuban flags and yelling "Get out Yankees!" U.S. efforts to extend its embargo of Cuba across international borders led to a burst of patriotic indignation in Mexico, Canada and other countries in 1996, producing "antidote laws" meant to outlaw compliance with the U.S. measures.
For the most part, the laws went largely unenforced. But now the U.S.-owned Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. finds itself trapped between a U.S. government intent on punishing Cuba and a Mexican government fearful of seeming weak in an election year.