CSC Briefing: Hilton Hotels and the ban on Cuban Nationals
Campaign News | Friday, 9 February 2007
Statement from Cuba Solidarity Campaign
BRIEFING PAPER - FEB 2007
The Cuba Solidarity Campaign welcomes any efforts to apply pressure on the Hilton Group to change their policy which bans Cuban Nationals from staying in their hotels in Britain. This application of extra-territorial aspects of the illegal US blockade against Cuba is discriminatory, racist and unlawful under the Race Relations Act of 1976.
The Parliamentary Scottish Affairs Committee as well as other groups and organisations have declared that they will not be using Hilton hotels until this policy is reversed.
The Cuba Solidarity Campaign urgently calls on the UK government to take action ensure that the Hilton group comply fully with UK law.
(8th February 2007)
? 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 escalations:
? 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 extraterritorial 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)
HILTON HOTEL GROUP
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 Ministers 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.