Blockading Cuba and Hilton Hotels

Campaign News | Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Morning Star Newspaper

Blockading Cuba

Morning Star Newspaper

Monday 12 February 2007

ROB MILLER investigates how the US is attempting to crush its socialist neighbour

LAST week we saw yet again the far-reaching effects of the US aggression against Cuba.

Pressed by journalists, the Hilton Hotel Group declared that Cuban nationals would be barred from staying in its hotels due to the application of US laws against Cuba.

The circumstances around the case and the political backlash against the Hilton Group in Britain illustrate the importance of a united strategy of solidarity with the island.

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 that the fine was for violating the National Act to Protect Trade and Investment from Foreign Norms that Contravene International Law, passed on October 1996 in order to oppose the Helms-Burton extra-territorial law.

The Mexican law used to prosecute the Sheraton is similar to little-known British legislation first adopted under the Tory government in 1996.

The US has applied its blockade against Cuba for 47 years.

In 1992, the blockade was strengthened by the Torricelli law, which made it illegal for US-owned subsidiaries in third countries to trade with Cuba. Then in 1996 came the Helms Burton Act, which made foreign companies investing in Cuba liable to prosecution in the US.

These extra-territorial elements were immediately opposed by EU member states. This led to the adoption by EU members and the British government of "antidote" legislation.

Britain's protection of trading interests legislation penalises companies that comply with the extra-territorial aspects of US law. While it is still on the statute book, it has never been invoked.

In January, 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. 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 US to dictate to the whole world. In addition, we strongly oppose the US 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 Centre filed a police complaint against the hotel, Scandic and a Hilton Hotel managing director. The centre 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 on which government agency was responsible for following up on the situation.

'It is clear that, this year, Cuba will face a new onslaught against her sovereignty within the EU.'

In February, in response to journalist's questions, the Hilton Group said that it had banned Cuban delegations from staying at all of its hotels around the world. Linda Bain, vice-president for communications at the Hilton Group said: "We are a US company. 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 response, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cuba chairman Ian Gibson tabled early day motion 828. This has already been signed by 54 MPs, including Conservatives and Liberals.

The EDM states that such a ban such "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."

On February 6, 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."

The fact that a committee made up of MPs from all parties took such direct action illustrates the strength of feeling on this issue. The idea that US law would take precedence over British law really got the MPs seething.

A day later, Ian Davidson MP questioned Tony Blair in the Commons about the case and asked him to raise it with George Bush. The PM replied that he wasn't sure that he would "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."

Hilton has stated that it is seeking clarification from its US lawyers. It has been quick to point out that the Sheraton and Marriott hotel groups, which are owned by US conglomerate Starwood, are operating a similar policy globally.

In the latest development, the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) has written to Hilton in London, reminding it that its actions would be illegal. A CRE 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."

EU countries have generally taken a less aggressive stance than Washington. They have maintained diplomatic relations with Cuba while continually being harangued by US hard-liners who wish to see the EU take a tougher line.

The EU countries now vote annually against the blockade of Cuba at the United Nations and, last year, 183 countries, including Britain, voted against the US stance, which was backed by just Israel and tiny Pacific states the Marshall Islands and Palau. The Federated States of Micronesia abstained.

It is becoming clear that, this year, Cuba will face a new onslaught against its sovereignty within the EU. A group of countries led by the Czech Republic and supported by Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovenia is seeking to bring the current EU policy closer to the US.

The plan, spearheaded by the Friends of a Democratic Cuba, a group organised by and under the direct orders of the White House, hopes to bring Europe into line with what it calls its "short and long-term strategy" towards Cuba.

The position of countries such as Britain is ever more important in this new battle to ensure that the EU does not acquiesce completely to the US policy of aggression.

There is a need to keep up the pressure on our government over the coming months in the build-up to the annual review of EU Cuba policy in June. The campaign over the Hilton is a one important element in this ongoing struggle.

? Rob Miller is director of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign.

To join CSC and to find out more information ring (020) 7263 6452.

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