Whose rules rule?
New Barclays campaign launched as bank becomes latest firm to breach UK anti-discrimination laws to comply with US blockade. By Rob Miller, CSC Director
While friends of Cuba were ratcheting up the pressure on the Hilton Hotel group, following the announcement that they would not allow Cubans to stay in their hotels, Barclays bank announced that they too were acting to comply with US legislation against Cuba.
Duncan Campbell, reported in the Guardian (16 April 2007):
“Barclays Bank has told the London branches of two Cuban organisations (Havana International Bank and Cubanacan) to take their accounts elsewhere in what is seen as the latest example of pressure exerted by the United States on British companies to enforce its embargo of the island.”
A spokesman for Barclays told the Guardian that:
“We operate in a number of jurisdictions around the world and that requires careful monitoring to ensure compliance with different regulations.”
In response MPs, Trade Unions and Cuba Solidarity campaign are launching a campaign against Barclay’s discriminatory actions.
Ian Gibson MP, Chair of the All Party Group on Cuba, summed up the reasoning for the campaign
“Barclays’ decision not only amounts to a nasty harassment of a Caribbean country, but is also an invasion of our own rules and laws - and that is why I believe it is right to protest.”
US coordinating pressure on financial institutions
It is clear that the US is increasing the pressure on international companies to sever any dealings with Cuba or Cuban nationals. In fact there seems to be a concerted effort to apply pressure on international banking and financial systems.
Austria’s fifth-largest bank, BAWAG, told around 100 Cuban clients earlier this year that it had to cancel their accounts because of US sanctions against Cuba.
The UK Government should take note of the swift action from the Austrian Government who gave a forthright response this move.
Austrian Foreign minister Ursula Plassnik told Austria’s parliament that BAWAG had violated EU rules against implementing the US Cuban sanctions on European soil, and that she had therefore launched proceedings against BAWAG.
“U.S. law is not applicable in Austria. We are not the 51st of the United States,” Plassnik said.
“Neither the EU nor the U.N. have implemented a general economic or contact embargo against Iran or Cuba. We have started the necessary steps to launch administrative proceedings (against BAWAG),”
In June, Cuba’s national Assembly condemned the discriminatory decisions of Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) and BANISTO (Colombia). The two banks have refused to accept Cuba’s contributions to Inter Parliamentary Unions in Europe and Latin America thus stopping Cuba from honouring its obligations to these international institutions.
In 2006, UBS and another Swiss bank Credit Suisse severed their ties with Cuba and closed any accounts with Cuban connections. Credit Suisse cited the fact that, Cuba was ’one of the sensitive countries’ without expanding on what that may mean.
In July 2006, the U.S. Treasury Department put the Netherlands Caribbean Bank, an ING joint venture with two Cuban state-owned financial entities, on a list of companies U.S. companies and citizens cannot do business. In July 2007 the group finally bowed US pressure and announced that they will be closing down their banking operations in Havana.
Most recently, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have threatened a long list of international companies and financial institutions for associating with Cuba.
The SEC has placed the companies on its website under a link displaying the names of companies “doing business” in countries designated “state sponsors of terrorism”. Companies named include FTSE listed Reuters, HSBC and Unilever.
This measure prompted the Institute of International Bankers to complain that “this action has been taken without prior public notice or consultation with reporting companies and other interested persons”.
The United States is focussing on international financial institutions in an effort to shore up its blockade. Increasing trading links with many countries including Venezuela, China and now Spain are undermining the blockade and the Cuban economy has been growing with 10 per cent plus growth rates per annum.
CAMPAIGNING AGAINST BARCLAYS ACTION GATHERS PACE
Already 145 MPs from all parties have signed an Early Day Motion 1408 condemning the Barclays action. The Motion, tabled by Chair of the All Party Group on Cuba calls on the UK Government to take immediate action in opposition to the further escalation of extra-territorial legislation imposed by the United States on British businesses.
Trade Unions such as Unison, GMB and Unite have all called for the British Government to take urgent action on the issue of extra territorial measures and the effects on UK companies.
CSC organised a successful lobby at the Barclays Extraordinary Shareholders meeting in April (see cover picture) which discussed the possible merger with ABN- AMRO. Shareholders were given leaflets asking whether they would be opposed to customers closing their Barclay’s accounts in protest at Barclays boycott of Cuba.
Given such a simple business equation, many shareholders were sympathetic.
Bearing in mind the previous history of Barclays and the boycott campaign over their Apartheid South Africa connections, this is hardly surprising. The many MPs and trade Unionists present at the protest made it clear that this was a campaign that was not going to go away.
“It would be good if the nation could once again mount a boycott of Barclays, like the successful campaign students fought against the company for its support of apartheid in South Africa.” said Ian Gibson MP.
The Barclays lobby was organised by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, and included MPs Diane Abbott, Colin Burgon and Ian Gibson as well as representatives from trade unions Amicus, Aslef, GMB, and TGWU.
Mr Burgon said: “Those who prattle on about national sovereignty and losing rights to Brussels are strangely quiet on the fact that the United States is passing legislation which dictates policy in the UK. George Bush wants to turn the screw on Cuba and it’s vital that we fight against him.”
It is a sad reflection on the UK’s relationship to the US that our own government is as yet unable, or unwilling, to stand up to such overt US pressure.
Rather than take decisive action, the UK continually passes the buck to the European Commission and does its utmost to deflect and avoid the crux of the question - Whose rules rule?
Gordon Brown’s government should make a stand against US extraterritorial actions against Cuba, defend UK rights to trade internationally and show the labour and Trade Union movement that we will no longer play the poodle to US bullying over Cuba.
CSC is calling for:
1. The Department of Trade and Industry to make urgent and robust representations to the relevant US authorities to cease the application of these illegal trade measures
2. The UK Government to invoke the 1996 UK Protection of Trading Interests law (antidote legislation designed to counteract the effects of the US Helms-Burton Act by penalising companies which comply with US extra-territorial legislation over and above UK laws)
3. Sustained pressure on Barclays Bank until they unambiguously state in writing that they will reopen and accept new Cuban accounts
WHAT YOU CAN DO
1. Write to the Minister for Trade and Industry calling on them to make representations to the US authorities and to penalise companies that comply with US blockade legislation over UK laws. (see points 1 and 2 above).
Please write today to:
Sir Digby Jones,
Minister of State for Trade and Investment
Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform
1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0ET
or email: email@example.com
2. If you are a Barclays bank customer or shareholder write to the Chairman to raise your concerns and ask that they state in writing that they will accept Cuban business and individual accounts.
Please write today to:
Barclays Bank PLC
1 Churchill Place
or email: https://ibank.barclays.co.uk/olb/x/FeedbackForm.do?action=FeedbackForm
Please don’t forget to send CSC a copy of any letters you send and any response you receive.
The Cuba Solidarity campaign is urging all friends of Cuba to apply pressure on Barclays at every level. Please urge your trade union and any organisation or group to which you belong to get involved in this campaign.
Contact CSC on firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7263 6452 for further details.