Thursday, December 20, 2007

Rangel and Lee Highlight GAO Report on (OFAC's Distorted Priorities

Joint Press Release from U.S. Representatives
Charles Rangel & Barbara Lee
For Immediate Release: December 18, 2007

Contacts: Emile Milne (Rangel) 202.225.3335,
Cleve Mesidor (Lee) 202.225.2661,

GAO Finds Cuba Embargo Strains Homeland Security’s Ability to Protect US Borders

(Washington, DC) - Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (Oakland, CA) today released a GAO report which finds that Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is spending inordinate time and resources looking for contraband from Cuba--mostly cigars and rum - at the expense of keeping terrorists and other criminals from entering the US.

“I am dismayed to learn that the Bush Administration’s Cuba policies have led Homeland Security and Treasury to direct scarce resources at such trivial violations, particularly when we know that our nation’s borders remains vulnerable to real threats such as drugs and weapons,” said Chairman Rangel.

“This GAO report is yet another example that the embargo is not working and highlights just how backwards and out of touch the Bush administration’s national security priorities really are,” said Congresswoman Lee. “Diverting vital resources away from investigating cases of illegal arms and terrorist financing calls into question the relevance of the Cuba embargo.

The GAO report, initiated at the request of Chairman Rangel and Congresswoman Lee, found that while the U.S. has over 20 trade sanctions programs in place—including sanctions against Iran, North Korea, and Syria—more than 60 percent of cases investigated by Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control target contraband entering from Cuba, not more dangerous violations of sanctions regimes aimed at blocking money laundering or technology transfers.

Since 2004, the Bush Administration has ratcheted up restrictions on U.S. citizen’s ability travel to Cuba, greatly affecting citizens who wish to visit relatives or send remittances or gifts to family members. GAO investigators in Miami found that U.S. citizens returning from Cuba are seven times more likely to be searched at the border than persons entering from any other country, including those with ties to drugs and terrorism. This comes on top of recent GAO reports of weaknesses in CBP’s inspection capacity that increases the potential for terrorists and inadmissible travelers entering the country at major ports of entry.

The GAO report recommends that Homeland Security re-evaluate whether its practice of intensive inspections of passengers arriving from Cuba appropriately balances its enforcement of the embargo with its responsibilities for keeping terrorists, criminals, and inadmissible aliens from entering the country. Given Treasury’s responsibilities for administering sanctions against countries engaged in terrorism, GAO recommends that Treasury assess its allocation of resources for investigating and penalizing violations of the Cuba embargo.

Both Members endorse GAO’s recommendations and call on the Bush administration to revoke its short-sighted policies on Cuba and direct the Departments of Homeland Security and Treasury to promptly address the weaknesses, vulnerabilities and misplaced priorities observed by GAO.

"For years, this country's trade embargo with Cuba has been motivated by pure politics and the obsession to pander to a key constituency in Florida," said Congressman Rangel. "This report provides further proof that that this misguided policy does more harm than good, not only to American people, but also to our own war against terrorism. "

The full report is available at

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