Tuesday, September 18, 2007

U.S. embargo blocks Cuba finances, musicians

Reuters

Tue Sep 18, 2007 4:47pm EDT

By Anthony Boadle

HAVANA (Reuters) - Stricter enforcement of 40-year-old U.S. sanctions has made it harder for Cuba to do its banking and has seen Cubans evicted from U.S.-owned hotels around the world, Cuba said on Tuesday.

Even Cuban musicians have been banned from playing for guests at Hilton, Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels as far as Asia, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque complained.

Then there's cigars and rum, Cuba's most famous exports.

Tougher U.S. actions include stripping Cuba of rights in the United States to its best known trademarks, Cohiba cigars and Havana Club rum, he said.

"Enforcement of the blockade has reached levels of madness and has been particularly ferocious and cruel in the last year," he said at the presentation of an annual report to the United Nations on the impact of U.S. sanctions.

The most serious development has been the growing refusal of international banks to conduct Cuban business in dollars, for fear of running afoul of U.S. regulators, he said.

"No bank dares accept a Cuban transaction," Perez Roque said. "Our country wants to pay but can't. The Swiss banks are afraid of receiving transfers," Perez Roque said.

Cuba has not been able to pay its dues as a party to the chemical and biological weapons conventions because banks will not transfer Cuban funds, the minister said.

The trade and financial embargo was enforced by Washington three years after Fidel Castro seized power in 1959 in a leftist revolution that steered Cuba toward Soviet Communism.

Every year since 1992, the U.N. General Assembly has told the United States to lift the embargo against Cuba. Washington insists it will remain until Cuba moves toward multi-party democracy.

Last year's resolution was approved by a record 183-4 votes, with one abstention. Voting "no" with the United States were Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau.

"World rejection of the embargo is practically unanimous," said Perez Roque, who will represent Cuba at the U.N. General Assembly next week. The vote on Cuba is on Oct 30.

TAKING A TOLL

U.S. sanctions cost cash-strapped Cuba $3 billion in extra trade and financial costs since mid-2006, including higher credit, freight and insurance rates, and the loss of business, the report said. Cuba is banned from the U.S. market, the world's largest for premium rum and cigars.

The Bush administration has tightened the screws of the embargo since 2004, restricting licensed travel and cash remittances to Cuba to deprive Havana of financial resources and press for political change.

Mergers and acquisitions by American companies have also led businesses from third countries to pull out of Cuba.

The Cuban report said U.S. authorities "admonished" Norway's Norsk Hydro for joining the search for off-shore oil in Cuba and demanded details of its investments in Cuba.

Spain's Pullmantour cruise operator stopped sailing to Havana in October 2006 after it was bought by Miami-based Royal Caribbean, the world's second-largest cruise company.

In January, the Scandic hotel chain, owned by the U.S.-based Hilton Hotels Corp., refused to book rooms for a Cuban delegation attending a travel fair in Oslo.

In 2006, the U.S.-owned Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotel in Mexico City expelled a delegation of 16 Cubans to comply with U.S. sanctions against Cuba, sparking protests by Mexicans.

Cuba also blames U.S. sanctions for the lack of Internet access it offers its population. The U.S. embargo blocks Cuban connection to nearby submarine optic fiber cables, forcing Cuba to access the Internet via costly satellite communications.

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