An affront to our sovereignty
Morning Star | Tuesday, 7 June 2016 | Click here for original article
The Co-operative Bank has admitted that the closure of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign bank account is directly due to US blockade policies, reports ROB MILLER
IN November 2015 the Co-operative Bank closed the bank accounts of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC), citing changing “risk appetite” and “global regulations” among the reasons.
Now, following a huge campaign by CSC members and affiliates, the bank’s chief executive Niall Booker has finally confirmed in writing that the closure was directly due to “risk” arising from the sanctions imposed by the US government.
This is one of the first times a major corporation has admitted acting as a result of US extraterritorial anti-Cuban blockade legislation.
This means that a British-based bank with a strong “ethical” tradition has closed the accounts of a British-based NGO purely due to an illegal blockade against a small Caribbean island implemented and enforced by the United States.
By adhering to US sanctions, the Co-operative Bank is complying with US extraterritorial legislation — something that is supposedly illegal under British and EU legislation.
CSC has written to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department of Trade and Industry to ask that they make urgent representations to the US government and to the Co-operative Bank to ensure British individuals and companies are free to work with Cuba without being sanctioned by US blockade policies.
The British government should enforce the existing “Protection of Trading Interests” legislation that is designed to ensure that British companies and banks do not carry out US blockade policies and enable them to carry out normal trade and relations between Britain and Cuba.
The all-party parliamentary group on Cuba (APPG) has also taken action on the issue and written directly to the British government.
APPG chair Cat Smith MP said: “It cannot be right that this UK-based organisation (CSC) should be penalised due to United States’ blockade policies when the organisation is doing nothing more than promoting better UK-Cuba relations in accord with UK government policies.”
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond visited Cuba recently and signed a number of deals to promote bilateral trade and exchange.
At the time of the visit, Granma, the Cuban national daily paper, cited the CSC bank closure as another example of the extraterritorial character of the blockade.
This led former government trade minister Brian Wilson to criticise the Co-operative Bank for undermining the visit and causing “serious damage” to British business interests on the island.
Wilson said: “Although this [bank closure] happened last November, the story has flared up again because it was raised by the Cuban delegation to the United Nations as an example of how extraterritorial actions dictated by the United States are continuing to be implemented illegally.
“The Cubans cited the confirmation given by Niall Booker, chief executive of the Co-op bank, that they closed the CSC accounts because they feared reprisals by the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).”
Wilson said: “Philip Hammond came here in good faith to build bridges with Cuba but that work is being undermined by banks and other companies living in fear of US reprisals, which are still very much alive.
“I hope the UK government will give the strongest possible signal of support for any British company which fears sanctions by the United States. This is a case of Washington acting as a global bully and the UK should not be seen as complicit in that behaviour.”
In 1992 and 1996, legislation was passed in the US Congress to strengthen the extraterritorial parts of the blockade.
The Torricelli Law (1992) made it illegal for US-owned subsidiaries in third countries to trade with Cuba and the Helms-Burton Act (1996) made foreign investment in some Cuban companies liable to prosecution in the US.
Britain and the EU opposed these laws and in 1996 the European Council introduced regulation EC2271/96 (the “EU blocking statute”) to offer protection to EU individuals and companies against certain specific extraterritorial legislation, including the Helms-Burton Act.
The British government also passed its own “antidote” legislation, Protection of Trading Interests, in 1996. However, although this order remains on the statute books it has never been invoked.
In 2007 Austria’s fifth-largest bank, BAWAG, reversed a decision to close the bank accounts of 100 Cuban customers after the Austrian government threatened to charge the bank for violating EU laws.
In a statement to the Austrian parliament the then foreign minister Ursula Plassnik said: “US law is not applicable in Austria. We are not the 51st of the United States.”
The Co-operative Bank is one of the oldest banks in Britain with roots going back to its establishment in Rochdale in 1872.
This issue is therefore one of British independence and sovereignty in so much as US law is affecting a British-based bank and British-based organisations carrying out perfectly legal activities in this country.
The fact that such a historic and proudly independent British institution, renowned for its ethical banking, has been forced to adopt US-imposed policies is an affront to us all.
In the light of the recent rapprochement between the US and Cuba, it is ludicrous that the US government is still disrupting foreign companies and organisations from having normal business and banking relations with Cuba.
CSC believes that the British government should uphold its own sovereign laws above those of the US and defend British interests; it should make representations to the US government to remove the threat of fines toward foreign companies that trade with Cuba and invoke existing British legislation to prevent British companies from complying with US extraterritorial legislation.
This would send a clear signal to other banks and companies facing similar dilemmas over their “risk appetite” that British laws are sovereign and that British–Cuban trade is being supported.
The issue of the Co-op account closure has been raised at the United Nations, as well as parliaments in London, Dublin and Edinburgh.
Elaine Smith MSP, who submitted the motion to Holyrood, said: “At a time when the United States itself is beginning to engage with Cuba, it is absurd that the Co-op Bank is closing the accounts of customers here who want to trade with the island. The Scottish people have so much in common with the people of Cuba and it is wonderful to see so many initiatives develop between our countries particularly in cultural exchange and trade. Any attempts to block such links must be fought against.”
Rob Miller is director of CSC.
The Co-op Bank account closure and the impact of the ongoing US blockade will be discussed at Cuban Futures: Roundtable discussion with Cuban ambasador Teresita Vicente, plus Cuba specialists Dr Steve Ludlam, Dr Francisco Dominguez and Lauren Collins on Saturday June 11 at 2.30pm, Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London WC1H as part of the all-day CSC annual general meeting, free and open to all. For further details, phone (020) 7490-5715 or visit www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk.
For more CSC information on the Co-op Bank closure, briefing papers, model letters for taking action and more, please click here