By CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press Writer
Original title: Fed Task Force to Enforce Cuba Sanctions
The federal government on Tuesday announced the formation of a new law enforcement task force that will aggressively pursue violators of the U.S. trade and travel sanctions that have been in effect against Cuba for more than four decades.
Miami-based U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said the task force will focus on prosecuting violators of laws governing such things as commercial business with Cuba, currency reporting requirements, money laundering and travel to the island.
The task force’s formation comes about a month before U.S. elections in which Cuban-American voters in South Florida — most of them fervently anti-Castro — form an important Republican Party constituency.
It also comes as Cuba faces political uncertainty due to the illness of President Fidel Castro, who in July temporarily ceded power to his brother, Raul.
Acosta, however, would say only this is “an appropriate time” to announce the task force to put people on notice that “we intend to enforce these laws aggressively.”
“The purpose of the sanctions is to isolate the Castro regime economically and deprive the Castro regime of the U.S. dollars it so desperately seeks,” Acosta told reporters.
The task force includes the Treasury Department, FBI, and departments of Homeland Security and Commerce.
The group, to be coordinated by two senior prosecutors in Acosta’s office, will bring greater emphasis to existing Cuba sanction enforcement efforts that are scattered among several federal agencies, he said.
It is the latest move by the Bush administration to tighten restrictions that were first imposed in the early 1960s and expanded frequently since. In 2004, for example, President Bush limited family travel to Cuba to once every three years instead of annually and imposed new limits on the flow of currency to the island.
Violators of the Cuba sanctions can face up to 10 years in prison, $1 million in corporate fines and $250,000 in individual fines. The government can also seek up to $55,000 per violation in civil penalties.
Under U.S. law, the sanctions will remain in place until multiparty Cuban elections are planned, political prisoners are released and both Castro brothers are out of power.