Posted on Thu, Jan. 25, 2007
PALM BEACH COUNTY
U.S. bars trade group from going to Cuba
The United States rejected the World Trade Center Palm Beach's
application for permission to travel to Cuba for humanitarian purposes
and an exchange of information.
BY MARTHA BRANNIGAN
The U.S. Treasury Department shot down the World Trade Center Palm
Beach's plan for a humanitarian, educational and information-exchange
trip to Cuba in June.
The WTC Palm Beach, a not-for-profit trade group affiliated with 278
similar organizations around the globe, unveiled plans to take about 30
South Florida professionals to the island last month .
The Palm Beach group said it wanted to discuss ideas and technology
related to food, water and medicine with nongovernment agencies and
private citizens in Cuba. It said the delegation didn't intend to
conduct business or to meet with Cuban government officials.
The group was coordinating the mission with its counterpart, the World
Trade Center Havana.
In December, Louis Haddad, president of WTC Palm Beach, unveiled the
Cuba trip as an opportunity ''to reestablish former ties and assist the
island to develop its economy, while at the same time familiarize the
right people in that country about the positive aspects of trade and
industry in our area.'' He said the mission could yield ''future
benefits'' for the area, “especially after a regime change in Cuba.''
Haddad told The Miami Herald Wednesday he had just received a letter
from the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control rejecting the plan.
''The permit was denied,'' he said. “They sent a letter and said our
application didn't meet all the criteria established by the Office of
Foreign Assets Control. They were not specific.''
The OFAC oversees the long-standing U.S. embargo against Cuba, which
strictly limits trade and travel by Americans. Exceptions include
working journalists, official government travelers, professionals doing
research or attending conferences or those with special licenses.
Licenses cover family visits and educational, religious, professional
research, licensed export, athletic or humanitarian purposes.
Molly Millerwise, a spokeswoman from the Treasury office, declined to
discuss OFAC's decision, saying in an e-mail, “We don't comment on
The WTC Palm Beach's effort emerged as many businesses in South Florida
and elsewhere mull the prospects of doing business with Cuba after Fidel
Castro dies. Castro turned over power to his brother, Raúl Castro, last
July and remains seriously ill.
The Bush Administration has shown no interest in warming relations with
Cuba in light of Raúl Castro's assumption of power.
In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Bush signaled a
consistent hard line, saying his administration would continue to
''speak out'' for freedom in Cuba.
In an interview with Bloomberg in Washington Wednesday, U.S. Commerce
Secretary Carlos Gutierrez ruled out any easing of the U.S. trade and
travel embargo on Cuba until after all remnants of the Fidel Castro
regime are removed from power.
Gutierrez said Castro's frail health and the prospect for political
change in the island nation make this the wrong time to adjust
restrictions on American trade, investment or travel.
''We should not change our policy; we should not change our law,
especially now that there is change in the air,'' Gutierrez said. “We
have seen over a long period of time that there is real wisdom in our
Among those planning to make the trip was the Port of Palm Beach, which
serves as a key port for trade with the Caribbean.
''I'm very disappointed,'' said Wayne Richards, chairman of the Port of
Palm Beach. “It's very unfortunate all our policies don't seem well
Richards said he didn't plan to do business. “I wanted to do
fact-finding and understand things from a humanitarian standpoint, and
when they did change our policy, we would be ready.''
Cuba expert Kirby Jones, president of the U.S. Cuba Trade Association, a
Washington-based nonprofit group that works with U.S. companies
currently doing business with Cuba in permitted areas such as
agriculture, said OFAC's rejection of the WTC Palm Beach trip is in
keeping with the Bush Administration's toughened stance on Cuba since 2004.
''It fits in with their cutting back on people-to-people exchanges, on
organizations going down to meet people,'' Jones said. “So it's not
surprising to me that OFAC, under that policy and their toughness, would
turn them down.''
This report was supplemented with information from Bloomberg News.