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MEXICO: Mexico and Cuba Protest Hotel's Expulsion of Havana Delegation

by James C. McKinnley Jr.The New York Times
February 6th, 2006

Mexico and Cuba criticized the United States on Monday for demanding that the Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotel here order a group of Cuban officials, who were meeting last week with representatives of American oil companies, to check out of the hotel and leave the premises.

On Friday, the United States Treasury Department contacted the company that owns the Sheraton and warned them that they were violating federal laws against trading with Cuba by allowing the meeting to take place in their hotel.

The hotel told the Cuban representatives to leave, and sent their room deposits to the Treasury Department. The meeting was moved to a hotel not owned by an American company.

The American action has provoked a minor storm. Mayor Alejandro Encinas of Mexico City, a member of the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution, said Monday morning that he would ask his prosecutors to find out if the hotel had broken local antidiscrimination laws and seek to shut it down if it had.

Then, the Mexican foreign minister, Luis Ernesto Derbez, said the idea that a United States law was being enforced on Mexican soil was troubling. He said the government would take action against the hotel if it proved true. "There does not exist and neither should there exist the extraterritorial application of this law in our nation," he said.

Cuba also lambasted the United States in an editorial in the state-run newspaper, Granma, saying that forcing the Cubans to leave the Sheraton had amounted to a "petty meanness" and represented "an outrage" against Mexican sovereignty.

"The tentacles of the blockade and the United States' criminal economic war against Cuba tend to extend themselves to every corner of the planet, including to the detriment of the sovereignty and laws of other states," the editorial said.

Various Mexican politicians, among them Felipe Calderón, the candidate for president from President Vicente Fox's National Action Party, joined the chorus of criticism.

Any whiff of American intervention in Mexico tends to set off a political firestorm here. Taking umbrage at American arrogance is a national pastime for politicians. The loss of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California during the war with the United States in 1848 is still an issue here.

On Friday, the Treasury Department informed Starwood Hotels, which owns the Sheraton, that it was violating the Trading with the Enemy Act and the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992. These laws prohibit United States companies or their overseas subsidiaries from providing services to Cuban individuals or companies.

"The hotel in Mexico City is a U.S. subsidiary, and therefore prohibited from providing a service to Cuba or Cuban nationals," said Brookly McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for the Treasury. "In this instance, we are simply following our usual procedures, applying the law."

Judith Bryan, a spokeswoman for the United States Embassy here, said it was unclear whether the State Department had been consulted before the Treasury contacted Starwood.

Cuba is trying to entice American oil companies into deals to drill off the island's shore, just as it has with Chinese, Spanish and Brazilian oil-exploration enterprises. The meeting of largely Texan oil executives and elite bureaucrats from Havana ended Saturday. Among the companies represented were Exxon Mobil and the Valero Energy Corporation.

Ricardo Ruiz Suárez, a spokesman for the Mexico City government, said the hotel's owners could be prosecuted under several Mexican laws that ban discrimination based on national origin or ideology.

"There are laws, federal as well as local, that obligate service providers to provide those services in a general manner, without any discriminatory attitudes," he said.




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