By Anthony Boadle | Reuters
Original title: Communist Cuba says US “economic war” hurting
The intensified U.S. “economic war” on Cuba has meant more fines for Americans visiting the Communist-run island and foreign firms doing business there, a Cuban government report said on Tuesday.
Sanctions adopted by the Bush administration since June 2005 to speed change in Cuba by denying it funds included a ban on the purchase of Cuban cigars and rum by U.S. citizens, even in third countries, the report to the United Nations said.
Pleasure craft owners leaving U.S ports for Cuban waters face fines of up to $25,000 or five years in jail, it said.
“The blockade on Cuba is an act of economic war,” the report said. Washington has enforced a trade embargo against Cuba since 1962, seeking to undermine the left-wing government of Fidel Castro, in power since a 1959 revolution.
Critics of the embargo say it has failed to bring change to Cuba and allows Castro to blame Cuba’s economic woes on the United States. American farmers succeeded in amending it in 2000 to allow food sales, now averaging $400 million a year.
The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces the sanctions, fined 307 U.S. citizens in the first quarter of 2005, compared to 316 in all of 2004, for unauthorized travel to Cuba, the report said.
The number of U.S. tourists who visited Cuba dropped 40 percent last year to 51,027 from 85,809 in 2003, it said.
More dramatic was the drop in the number of Cuban residents of the United States who returned to visit, which fell 50 percent from 115,050 in 2003 to 57,145 last year.
Measures taken by the Bush administration to squeeze Cuba’s economy included limiting trips to the island by Cuban Americans to once every three years. Cubans living in the United States are a vital source of cash remittances for relatives enduring economic hardship in their homeland.
The tightened restrictions were recommended by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba appointed by President George W. Bush to explore ways to hasten a democratic transition. They included naming a Cuba Transition Coordinator at the State Department.
“We are not waiting for Fidel to die. We are going to keep up the pressure,” a U.S. State Department official said.
“Our policy is based on the fact that everything in Cuba is set up to vacuum up dollars. This is money going into the pocket of the regime,” the official said.
Havana said Washington fined 77 foreign companies or subsidiaries of U.S. firms in 2004 for violating the sanctions. Others were dissuaded from doing business with Cuba, including shipping companies and deep-sea oil drilling firms.
The U.S. action that had the most repercussion in 2004 was a $100 million fine the Federal Reserve imposed on the Swiss bank UBS for illegally transferring new dollar bills to Cuba and three other nations subject to U.S. sanctions—Libya, Iran and Yugoslavia.
This made it very difficult for Cuba to deposit its dollars abroad and refresh U.S. notes in circulation, forcing Havana to end the use of its enemy’s currency as legal tender.
The Swedish airline Novair stopped leasing an Airbus 330 for flights from Europe to Cuba due to the embargo, the report said.
U.S. sanctions have cost Cuba $82 billion in damages over four decades, according to Cuban estimates.
Cuban officials say their one-party state, which has survived through the administrations of 10 U.S. presidents, is not about to go under.
“With or without the blockade, the Cuban revolution has a sure future,’ Deputy Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said.