October 11th, 2006 14:33 EST
United States Announces Actions on Cuba, Haiti Embargoes
Washington -- The United States has formed a task force to clamp down on violators of its long-standing economic and trade embargo against Cuba and has partially lifted the 15-year-old U.S. arms embargo on Haiti.
An October 10 statement released by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami said the primary goal of the Cuban Sanctions Enforcement Task Force is "the vigorous investigation of violations and enforcement through federal criminal prosecutions of the existing U.S. economic and trade sanctions against Cuba."
The task force will be chaired by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami, and comprise law enforcement, and security units from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Treasury, Homeland Security and Commerce departments.
Administered by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the basic goal of the U.S. sanctions on Cuba is to isolate the Cuban government economically and deprive it of U.S. dollars. Criminal violators of the Cuba sanctions can face up to 10 years in prison, $1 million in corporate fines and $250,000 in individual fines. The U.S. government also can seek up to $55,000 per violation in civil penalties.
Alex Acosta, U.S. attorney for the southern district of Florida, said the task force "will strengthen enforcement of sanctions" against the Cuban communist regime, "with the aim of hastening a transition to democracy in Cuba. We will do our part to effectuate President Bush's mandate to speed this transition process."
FBI Special Agent in Charge Jonathan Solomon added that "formation of this task force is a message to those individuals who are violating the Cuban embargo that the federal government will use all its resources to ensure that the law is enforced. The FBI will assist the U.S. attorney's office, OFAC, and all its partners in this endeavor."
The U.S. sanctions against Cuba, formally known as the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, first were adopted by the United States in July 1963, under what was called the Trading with the Enemy Act.
The State Department said in an October 11 statement that the creation of the new task force was included in the set of recommendations made to President Bush in July by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. The president created the commission in 2003 to focus U.S. government efforts to hasten Cuba's transition to democracy and a free-market economy.
Under U.S. law, sanctions on Cuba remain in place until multiparty Cuban elections are planned, political prisoners are released and both Fidel Castro and his brother Raul Castro are out of power in Cuba, the State Department said.
Thomas Shannon, the State Department's assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said August 17 that President Bush offered in a 2002 speech "to look at how the embargo could be lifted," but that Cuba's Fidel Castro rejected the offer.
"The offer is still on the table," Shannon emphasized. He said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, co-chairs of the U.S. Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, have stated that the United States wants to "find a way to engage with Cuba as it makes its transition to democracy. We want to find a way to be helpful as Cubans begin to build and develop a democratic state." (See related article.)
In another development, a State Department official told the Washington File October 11 that the 15-year-old U.S. embargo on arms to Haiti has been lifted partially to permit the export of "defense articles and services" for security units under the Haitian government's command, for a U.N. stabilization force in Haiti known by the acronym MINUSTAH and to the Haitian national police.
The official in the department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs said that by revising the embargo, the United States "recognizes Haiti's return to elected democracy," and the Haitian government’s "efforts, working closely with U.N. forces in MINUSTAH, to promote security and stability throughout" the Caribbean nation. The official said the export of U.S. arms to private groups or individuals in Haiti remains prohibited.
The United States, said the official, supports efforts of the government of Haiti and MINUSTAH "to address rampant criminality and gang activity that preys upon the residents of Haiti's poorest slums."
The official added that "modifying the embargo will help ensure that the Haitian national police and MINUSTAH are properly equipped to meet this challenge" of stopping crime and gang activity.
The State Department first announced the revision on the Haitian arms embargo in an October 4 notice in the Federal Register, the daily publication for rules, proposed rules and notices of the U.S. government.
In that notice, the United States said the change in U.S. policy toward Haiti will allow exports of personal protective gear, including flak jackets and helmets, for use by personnel from MINUSTAH and other international organizations, representatives of the media, and development workers and associated personnel.
The United States had issued its arms embargo on Haiti in October 1991 following the overthrow by the Haitian military of the democratically elected government of Haiti.
But the United States said that the embargo was being revised in view of recent positive developments in Haiti that included the May 14 inauguration of René Préval as Haiti's democratically elected president. (See related article.)
The full text of the Federal Register notice on Haiti is available on the Government Printing Office Web site.
For more on U.S. policy, see Cuba and the United States and Haiti.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)