By E. EDUARDO CASTILLO | Associated Press Writer
Mexico City officials moved Tuesday to shut down a U.S.-owned hotel that angered many Mexicans when it kicked out a Cuban delegation under pressure from Washington.
Virginia Jaramillo Flores, head of the city borough where the upscale Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotel is located, said authorities notified the hotel staff that it would be closed because it is in violation of building codes.
Jaramillo said the hotel could reopen when it had corrected the violations and paid a $15,000 fine.
Borough officials posted signs at the front entrance saying, “Due to infringement of local law, the Sheraton Hotel activities have been suspended.”
Jaramillo told local media she was giving the hotel 24 hours to move out guests, and that it would have to close down operations by mid-day Wednesday. It was not immediately clear if the hotel would be able to legally block the closure.
Laura Canepa, a representative for hotel owner Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., said company officials were consulting with their lawyers about the implications of the measure.
“The Hotel Sheraton Maria Isabel expresses its great surprise in response to this action from the borough authorities, which we found out about first from the news media,” she told reporters gathered at the hotel.
A hotel employee answering the telephone Tuesday afternoon accepted a reservation for Tuesday night without suggesting there would be any problem.
Guest Mark Lee, a businessmen from Los Angeles, said he had not received any information from hotel officials, but was not worried about possibly having to find another place to stay.
“As long as we can get our luggage and our property, we’ll be fine,” Lee said.
The expulsion of 16 Cuban oil industry officials on Feb. 2 prompted local officials to launch an intensive investigation of the hotel, located alongside the U.S. Embassy, seeking violations of local ordinances.
They accused it of several minor violations and of having built part of the structure without a building license.
Federal officials, meanwhile, filed a complaint seeking to fine the hotel for allegedly violating Mexican investment and trade laws that are aimed at blocking application of U.S. laws inside Mexico.
The hotel’s expulsion of the Cubans, who were attending a meeting with American energy executives to discuss possible investment opportunities in Cuba’s oil industry, caused a national uproar in Mexico, which is heading into a presidential election campaign.
Politicians competed to denounce the expulsion as a violation of Mexican sovereignty. Mexico City is governed by the left-leaning Democratic Revolution Party, which alleges that the conservative government of President
Vicente Fox has been too compliant with U.S. policy.
Officials at the U.S. Treasury Department later said if the hotel had not expelled the Cubans, it would have been in violation of a long-standing embargo against the communist-ruled island.
Jaramillo said Tuesday that she has shut down 37 other hotels in the city so far, and that inspectors became aware of the Sheraton’s irregularities because of the controversy over the Cubans.
“We are acting in accordance with the law,” she said.