Barclays Bank asks Cuban outfits to close accounts

Campaign News | Monday, 16 April 2007

Move follows scandal over Hilton Hotels

Duncan Campbell

Monday April 16, 2007

The Guardian

Barclays Bank has told the London branches of two Cuban organisations 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. MPs are to discuss the controversial embargo at a special meeting in the House of Commons next month.

The long-standing accounts held by Havana International Bank and Cubanacan, a state-owned travel organisation, are understood to be healthy. But they have been told to take their accounts elsewhere. A spokesman for Barclays said: "We operate in a number of jurisdictions around the world and that requires careful monitoring to ensure compliance with different regulations."

A spokesman for the Cuban embassy in London said: "We are aware of the intensification of US pressure in various countries in order to make them comply with the regulations of the blockade imposed on Cuba. These pressures include the banking and financial system."

The Hilton hotel group was at the centre of a row this year when their Oslo hotel cancelled a Cuban trade delegation booking. After the Guardian published details of a similar ban operated by the group in Europe, the company said it could not ask staff to break British law forbidding discrimination on the grounds of nationality.

The Hilton Hotels Corporation in London wrote to the government, stating: "As a US-based company, we face a legal dilemma, with a strict ban on trading with Cuba imposed by the US government".

Ian Carter, chief executive of Hilton International, is due to attend next month's meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on Cuba to discuss the embargo.

Colin Burgon MP, a member of the group, said: "This is totally unnecessary. We have on the statute book robust legislation that protects UK citizens and visitors from discrimination.",,2057886,00.html

Hilton Hotels face serious dilemma

By Orlando Oramas Leon from The Granma daily newspaper, Havana

The long tentacles of the blockade against Cuba that the US enforces around the world has created a dilemma for the Hilton Hotel Chain. Its British subsidiary has become the target of boycotts and demonstrations by lawmakers, trade unionists and members of Cuban solidarity groups.

The reaction followed a statement by Hilton’s British subsidiary, announcing that it would ban Cuban officials from staying in its facilities in accordance with the Helms Burton Act, whose jurisdiction Washington wants to impose worldwide.

The move led to several protests in the United Kingdom. In parliament, 110 deputies signed a motion denouncing the action as a violation of British laws against discrimination and European Union safeguards against the extraterritoriality of the Helms-Burton Act.

Faced with the pressure, the chairman of the Hilton Group in Great Britain and Ireland, Simon Vicent, sent a letter to the members of Parliament, confessing that the subsidiary was faced with a legal dilemma, caught between British and US laws.

Vincent tried to resolve the matter by requesting Washington to issue an exemption of the enforcement of the Cuba sanctions in the case of providing accommodation to Cuban officials. His appeal outraged opponents to the application of the measures in Britain even more.

Rob Millar, director of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, said Hilton’s reaction is ambiguous and he indicated that the protests would continue.

Likewise, Dave Prentis, Secretary General of the Unison Trade Union, the country’s largest union with more than a million members, called for a boycott of the hotel chain.

That trade union and other British groups have cancelled bookings and services with Hilton "in opposition to the discriminatory, illegal and extraterritorial legislation," said the Parliament Scottish Affairs Committee which cancelled bookings with Hilton in Dundee.

Following the steps of Sheraton, which expelled a Cuban delegation from one of its hotels in the Mexican capital last year, Hilton has provoked a similar incident in Europe, an action that has put different British sectors on alert.

Earlier this year, the management of the Edderkoppen Hotel in Oslo, denied accommodation to officials of a Cuban tourism mission who were in the Norwegian capital to attend a traditional tourism fair. They had always stayed in that hotel on previous occasions.

However, prior to this year’s tourism industry event, the Norwegian hotel chain Scandic, owners of the Edderkoppen, had been bought out by Hilton, and applied the US law.

"We are owned by the US Hilton Group, and we abide by its decisions," Geir Lundkvist, managing director of Hilton-Scandic hotels in Norway said at the time.

Although one official of the Norwegian Foreign Office described the event as "totally unacceptable," and recalled that Norway holds diplomatic ties with Cuba, the fact is that the decision of the US parent company prevailed.

Something different happened at the level of citizens and their organizations.

Antirasistisk Senter, a non-governmental organization against racism, filed a complaint with the Norwegian police for "the violation of a law that prohibits any kind of discrimination based on race or ethnic origin," said its spokesperson, Henrik Lunde.

After the decision of the Scandinavian Hilton, the trade union of municipal and general workers of Norway announced a boycott of all Scandic hotels in the country, which had been purchased in March 2006 by the US Hotel chain.

The incident had its repercussion in London. The Guardian daily recently published an article voicing Great Britain’s rejection of the extraterritoriality of the US blockade, which also affects organizations and citizens in that European nation, although their government is a close ally of the Bush Administration.

Linda Bain, Hilton executive in London, tried to justify the expulsion of the Cubans from the hotel in Oslo and stressed that the hotel group applies anti-Cuban laws anywhere in the world.

She hadn’t expected rejection of her statement to grow in London and other places around the United Kingdom, forcing a sort of about face amid calls for boycotts and cancellations of reservations.

And that is the Hilton dilemma, a hotel chain being forced by Washington to implement sanctions against Cuba and Cubans around the world. Meanwhile, at the UN General Assembly, 183 nations voted against such extraterritorial legislation.


Hilton Hotels and discrimination against Cuban Nationals

The Cuba Solidarity Campaign calls for:

The maintenance of pressure on the Hilton Hotel Group to state in writing that they have reversed their stated policy on the banning of Cuban nationals.

The maintenance of pressure on the Hilton Hotel Group to state in writing that they will now accept bookings from Cuban nationals and Cuban delegations, such as delegations of Cuban Trade Unionists.

The maintenance of pressure on the UK Foreign Office to make it clear that they will not accept the imposition of US extra-territorial laws in the UK.

When Hilton Hotels made a statement that they would ban Cuban nationals from their hotels in the UK it provoked a massive response from MPs, Trade Unionists and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign.

This included letters of protest, Parliamentary questions and a number of organisations announcing a boycott of the Hilton Group. Early Day Motion 828 was also tabled which has now been signed by 110 MPs (21/03/07).

On 28th February 2007 Foreign Office Minister Lord Treisman wrote to Colin Burgon MP explaining that any attempts to invoke extra-territorial legislation in the United Kingdom would be investigated by UK trade officials.

On 1st March the Commission for Racial Equality confirmed that under the Race Relations Act 1976, it was "unlawful to instruct or induce a person to discriminate on racial grounds". They confirmed that they were "investigating" the complaints made against Hilton Hotels.

In response to this pressure Simon Vincent, President, Hilton UK and Ireland, wrote a letter (23/02/07) to UK MPs putting the Hilton case. The letter has some elements that we welcome. It states that Hilton UK:

Appeals for protection from the United Kingdom government from US extra-territorial tentacles.

Is working with the American Hotel and Lodging Association to make representations to the US State Department and Treasury to review these laws.

Encourages the UK Government to make representations to the US State Department and Treasury.

However the letter in itself DOES NOT reverse the original statement by the Hilton Group that it would ban Cuban nationals from staying in its hotels.

It makes clear that Hilton accepts that it faces a legal dilemma between contradictory US and UK law.

It states that Hilton UK has asked US authorities for an exemption from US anti-Cuban laws to allow them to service Cuban nationals

Crucially it does not state clearly that the Hilton Group will accept bookings from Cuban Nationals.

If Hilton UK accept that as a company wishing to operate hotels in the UK they must adhere to UK law, then there should be no 'dilemma', and any discussion over 'exemptions' is purely a matter for the US authorities.

However, despite repeated requests from Trade Unions and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign for the Hilton Group to make a written statement that specifically states that they will accept Cuban delegations, the group has declined to make such a statement in writing.

Whilst the Minister for Latin America and the Caribbean Lord Triesman has informed MPs that HMG trade officials are currently investigating moves by the US to impose the blockade in the UK, CSC remains concerned that unequivocal statements have not appeared from:

The Hilton Group stating that any Cuban delegation would be permitted to stay in their hotels.

The Foreign Office who have been asked to make representations to the US Ambassador on this issue.

Other UK based multi-national companies guided by the same legislative “dilemma” as cited by the Hilton Group.

It should be noted that in a recent missive to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cuba, a Hilton spokesperson stated:

“You should also be aware that this regulation applies not only to Hilton hotels in the UK but other US groups - Marriott and Sheraton (part of Starwood), as well as all US organisations”

In 'Meetings and Incentive Travel Magazine' (March issue) Katrina Jones Communications Director at Hilton's UK head Office said:

"We are a US company and we are subject to US laws. All US based hotel chains are in the same position as us. We have retained legal experts who have told us that we cannot trade with Cuban nationals. We are taking advice on where we stand with UK and European law"

Political background:

? The United States has applied a blockade against Cuba for 47 years. In 1992 and 1996 the US strengthened the blockade. The so-called Torricelli Law of 1992 made it illegal for US-owned subsidiaries in third countries to trade with Cuba and the so called Helms Burton Act of 1996 made investing in Cuba by foreign companies liable to prosecution in the US. These extra-territorial elements were opposed by the countries of the EU. This lead to the adoption by the British Government of 'antidote' legislation in 1996, (No. 3171, PROTECTION OF TRADING INTERESTS). This legislation penalises companies in the UK that comply with the extra-territorial aspects of US law. It is thus designed to counteract the effects of the US legislation. While it is still on the statute book it has never been invoked.

The blockade of Cuba has been condemned by 183 countries (183-4) including the United Kingdom at the UN General Assembly in 2006.

Chronology of recent events:

? In March 2006 the Mexican government fined the Sheraton Maria Isabel hotel in Mexico City around £60,000 for expelling 16 Cuban guests. The Mexican Foreign Ministry said the fine was for violating the national act to Protect Trade and Investment from Foreign Norms that Contravene International Law, passed October 1996 in order to oppose the Helms-Burton extra-territorial law.

? In January 2007 an Oslo hotel, owned by the US Hilton chain, refused a booking by a Cuban trade delegation to the city's travel fair because of the US blockade. (See The Guardian report of 05/02/07 below).

In response, the Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees is boycotting Scandic hotels. Union leader Anne Grethe Skaardal declared, “For us, it is unacceptable for the U.S. to dictate to the whole world. In addition, we strongly oppose the U.S. boycott of Cuba.” The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions demanded that ‘companies like Scandic’ be barred from Norway.

Citing Norwegian law, Oslo’s Anti-Racist Center filed a police complaint against the hotel, Scandic, and a Hilton Hotel managing director. The center said, “No one can be denied access based on their citizenship or ethnic origin ... foreign companies establishing themselves in Norway must follow Norwegian laws.” Norway’s foreign minister agreed, although he expressed uncertainty as to the government agency responsible for following up on the situation.

? In February 2007 in response to journalist's questions the Hilton Group said that it was also banning Cuban delegations from all of its hotels around the world as are other American hotel companies. A Hilton spokeswoman in London told the Guardian

"We are a US company," said Linda Bain, vice-president for communications at the group. "The dilemma we face is that [if we took a booking from a Cuban delegation] we would be subject to fines or prison and if anyone [from the company] tried to enter the US, they would be arrested."

? In a response to a further enquiry from the All Party Parliamentry Group on Cuba, the Hilton spokeswoman, Ms Bain stated:

“Hilton Corporation was advised that this reservation conflicted with the US trade embargo against Cuba, which as a US company we are obliged to follow, and therefore the reservation was cancelled.”

? The Chair of the APPG on Cuba, Ian Gibson, tabled Early Day Motion 828 on the Hilton Hotel situation. This has been signed by 43 MPs (08/02/07)

EDM 828



Gibson, Ian

Signed by 110 MPs.

That this House regrets the decision of the Hilton Hotel Group to ban Cuban delegations from its global chain; expresses concern over remarks from a UK spokesperson for the Hilton Group that Cubans may be banned from their London hotels; recognises that any such developments would violate domestic UK anti-discrimination laws and EU safeguards against the use of extra-territorial legislation and would be tantamount to a breach of UK sovereignty as well as being an act of racial discrimination; calls upon the UK Government to issue a public statement of opposition to any attempts by the Hilton Group or any other US owned multi-national companies to enforce elements of the illegal US embargo of Cuba in the territory of the United Kingdom.

? On 6th February 2007 the Scottish Affairs Committee announced that it would cancel a booking at a Hilton Hotel in Dundee in "opposition to discrimination and illegal extra-territorial legislation".

? On 7th February 2007 the following question was put to Prime Minister Tony Blair by Ian Davidson MP from the Scottish Affairs Select Committee:

Prime Minister's Questions

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Is the Prime Minister aware that yesterday the Scottish Affairs Committee cancelled a booking with Hilton Hotels in Dundee? Does he agree with the European Union and me that American laws-for example, on the boycott of Cuba-should not be applied to American subsidiaries in Britain, Europe or worldwide, and will he agree to raise that with George Bush when next he meets him?

The Prime Minister: I congratulate my hon. Friend on what must have been an acute emotional struggle between his views on America and his views on Europe. I am not sure that I can promise him that I will raise the matter with the President, but I am happy to look into it and, if I can be of any help, I will be.

? At the time of publication of this paper, Hilton Corporation stated that they were seeking clarification of the status quo from their US lawyers. They were quick to point out to journalists that the Sheraton and Marriott hotel groups, owned by US conglomerate Starwood, were operating a similar policy globally.

On 7th February 2007, the Commission for Racial Equality announced that they had written to the Hilton Corporation in London, reminding them that their actions would be illegal. A spokesperson stated:

"The Hilton would be acting unlawfully under the Race Relations Act by refusing to provide services to Cuban people."

"The Race Relations Act makes it unlawful to discriminate on racial grounds, which includes nationality, in the provision of goods, facilities or services."

? On 7th February 2007, Colin Burgon MP (Lab) wrote to Foreign Secretary Rt. Hon Margaret Beckett MP, requesting that she make urgent representations to the US Embassy that any attempted implementation in the UK of the illegal US blockade will simply not be tolerated by HMG.

On 8th February 2007 the Cuba Solidarity Campaign received legal advice in the form of Counsel's Opinion which makes clear that the Hilton Group's existing policy towards Cuban nationals is unlawful under the 1976 Race Relations Act.

In February 2007 a number of UK Trade Unions contacted the Hilton Group asking for clarification of their policy. On 27th February 2007 Dave Prentis, General Secretary of Unison, the UK's biggest Trade Union with over one million members, said:

“We are shocked that the Hilton Hotel Group is banning Cubans from staying in hotels in the UK, in order to comply with US blockade legislation. As a union that believes in equality, UNISON campaigns against discrimination in all its forms, whether it be on grounds of race, gender, religion, or nationality. Such a ban on Cubans, would undoubtedly be a case of overt and disgraceful discrimination.

“UNISON spends thousands of pounds with the Hilton on conferences and meetings every year, and is already legally and financially committed to using the group for our 2007 annual conference. However, I will have no reservations about moving our business elsewhere and advising our 1.3 million members to join us in boycotting the chain in the future if it does not withdraw this contemptible ban.”

On 28th February 2007 Foreign Office Minister Lord Treisman wrote to Colin Burgon MP explaining that any attempts to invoke extra-territorial legislation in the United Kingdom were being investigated by UK trade officials.

On 1st March the Commission for Racial Equality confirmed that under the Race Relations Act 1976, it was "unlawful to instruct or induce a person to discriminate on racial grounds". They confirmed that they were "investigating" the complaints made against Hilton Hotels.

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