By JEANNINE AVERSA | ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
Some companies that sell food and agricultural products to Cuba are reporting that payments are not being credited to their bank accounts in the United States, according to a representative of a group that tracks business between the two countries.
John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc., said Tuesday that fewer than half a dozen companies have contacted his organization recently about such problems.
He said banks have confirmed receipt of payments from Cuba but have not credited the accounts of exporters on instructions from the U.S. government.
A spokeswoman for the Treasury Department said its Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces the economic embargo against Cuba, is looking into the matter. OFAC, she said, has been asked to clarify the government’s policy regarding payments. She wouldn’t say who requested the clarification.
“We are taking a serious look at the issue and working with our germane counterparts in the U.S. government,” the Treasury spokeswoman said, speaking on condition that she not be identified further. “We expect to issue guidance in the near future.”
Kavulich wouldn’t provide the names of the companies that have reported payment problems to his group or further details in the cases. The Treasury spokeswoman also declined to provide further information.
“Right now this is a technical issue, but it could become massively political,” said Kavulich.
The embargo against Cuba bans most U.S. exports to the country with a few exceptions, including certain food and agriculture products.
Kavulich estimates that U.S. sales of food and agriculture products to Cuba in 2003 totaled around $256.9 million. He said about 15 companies in the United States account for roughly 90 percent of food and agriculture products that are sold to Cuba.
Kavulich said communicated in both writing and conversations with people at Treasury and elsewhere in the Bush administration about the problem.
President Bush has called for more stringent enforcement of provisions that forbid most economic activity with and travel to Cuba.
Congress has sought to ease restrictions on trade against Cuba but so far has been unable to get a bill to Bush that would do that. The White House has warned that Bush would veto legislation that weakens the ban.
President Kennedy imposed economic sanctions against Cuba in 1963 during the Cold War. The basic goal is to isolate the Cuban government economically and deprive it of U.S. dollars, the government says.