No room at the Hilton: Cubans find US trade ban stretches to Oslo
· Norwegian unions protest global effect of embargo
· Booking would have caused chaos says hotel
Monday February 5, 2007
An Oslo hotel, owned by the US Hilton chain, refused a booking by a Cuban trade delegation to the city's travel fair last month because of the US embargo of the communist Caribbean island.
The Hilton group is also banning Cuban delegations from all of its hotels around the world as are other American hotel companies, a Hilton spokeswoman in London told the Guardian yesterday.
"We are a US company," said Linda Bain, vice-president for communications at the group. "The dilemma we face is that [if we took a booking from a Cuban delegation] we would be subject to fines or prison and if anyone [from the company] tried to enter the US, they would be arrested." She said they were now seeking clarification of their position from the US government.
Norwegian trade unions and anti-racist organisations complained about the Scandic hotel's actions and are now moving union conferences elsewhere until the policy is changed.
"It is not allowed by law in Norway to discriminate on grounds of gender, religion or nationality," said the deputy leader of the Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees, Anne Grethe Skaardal. "It is unacceptable for the US to dictate to the whole world."
The hotel ban is just one of the latest of many similar actions prompted by the US embargo of Cuba.
Last month freelance journalist Tom Fawthrop, who has written for the Guardian and the Economist, was puzzled that he had not been paid for an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that he had written about the Cuban health service. On enquiring what had happened, he received this message from Citibank Global: "Due to US sanctions, your payment was stopped for the following reason - reference to Cuban doctors. The Office of Foreign Asset Controls is requesting clarification. Please advise details of Cuban doctors and also purpose of this transaction."
Last year, Ann Louise Bardach, the American journalist and author who wrote the book Cuba Confidential, was also puzzled that she had not received payment for consultancy work on the Channel Four Film, 638 Ways to Kill Castro. She took the matter up with the production company in London and it transpired that the payment had indeed been sent but had been held up in the US because the word "Cuba" appeared in reference to the payment.
When the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, based in north London, needed to buy a new office computer they approached Dell, whose headquarters are in Texas. The order was placed and accepted but a few days later they were contacted by Dell seeking information about the destination of the computer. They explained that it was for use in London offices. Dell then wanted to know about the organisation's funding and the names of their executive members. The campaign decided to take their custom elsewhere.
"The fact that the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, a UK based NGO, are restricted from buying a Dell computer for use in our north London offices, illustrates the far reaching effects of a blockade that is increasingly imposing US bigotry and absurdity onto the lives of UK citizens," said Rob Miller of Cuba Solidarity.
The hotel ban has also operated in different parts of the world. Last year, the Mexican government fined the Sheraton Maria Isabel hotel in Mexico City around £60,000 for expelling 16 Cuban guests.
Last night the Labour MP Colin Burgon contacted the foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, to ask her to issue a "robust rebuttal" to the hotel ban.
The Labour MP Ian Gibson, the chairman of the group, described the ban as "small-minded". A vote on the embargo at the UN last year showed that 183 countries oppose it and four (the US, Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands) support it. The embargo, which is supported by the Bush administration, is opposed by opposition groups in Cuba which describe it as counter-productive. A growing number of US politicians also seek to have the embargo lifted.