CubaNews / January 2005
By Larry Luxner
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has blacklisted Tour & Marketing International Ltd. for illegally funneling funds to Cuba.
A press release from Juan Carlos Zarate, head of Treasury’s financial crimes and terrorist financing division, says T&M is a Cuban-owned and Cuban-operated travel agency that “generates resources that the Cuban regime uses to oppress its people.”
The company also caters to U.S. citizens trying to evade the embargo, said Zarate. By banning T&M from doing business with U.S. nationals, he said, the Bush administration is stepping up its efforts to “choke off dollars streaming to the Castro regime.”
Yet T&M’s British founder, Steve Marshall, says such accusations are baseless — and potentially damaging to relations between the United States and the European Union.
“This is yet another clear message from the U.S. administration that they are willing to ride roughshod over any nation’s sovereignty and laws, including that of the United Kingdom,” Marshall told CubaNews in an e-mail.
“If the U.S. wishes to oppress the desires of its nationals to visit a nation just 90 miles from its shores, then that’s their issue. British nationals and citizens of the world have rights to travel where they wish, and we cater to those people and will continue to,” he said.
OFAC’s action, the 14th of its kind since President Bush took office in 2001, includes the freezing of all T&M assets “in the possession of persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction.”
In justifying its decision, Treasury asserts that T&M “has five offices in Cuba, one in Spain, one in England and another in the British Virgin Islands,” and that “the firm’s main officials are Cubans living on the island.”
Not so, says Marshall, who says he runs his own company, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands and has a representative office in Havana.
“There are literally hundreds of British companies with offices in Havana. That does not make them all Cuban companies,” he said. “They’ve taken five addresses that we may have had over the last seven years.”
He added: “They did no investigative work whatsoever. It’s like suing Marlboro instead of Philip Morris. In this case, they’ve gone to our website, taken a commercial name and haven’t even bothered to investigate the true name of our company and where it’s based.”
If they had, Marshall said, U.S. officials would’ve discovered that the company focuses on European tourists through French and Italian websites like www.bonjourcuba.com.
Marshall says his company brought over 3,000 tourists to Cuba in 2004, of which only 6-7% were Americans. Whether on not those people came to Cuba legally isn’t his concern.
“We’re probably the only online company that specifically does not focus on U.S. clients,” he said. “We’re not here to police U.S. citizens. That’s not our role, and as a British company, we reject extraterritorial laws.”
Marshall said the British Embassy in Washington has filed a complaint with OFAC on his behalf, and that “the U.K. government will make short work of this ludicrous ruling in due course.”
This isn’t the first time Marshall has run afoul of U.S. authorities.
In 1997, he paid $75,000 for a RE/MAX franchise from the company’s Puerto Rico subsidiary in order to sell real estate out of his Havana office. Two years later, the Denver-based parent company, RE/MAX Interna-tional Inc., sued Marshall, denouncing the use of its name in Cuba as illegal.
Even after a federal judge in Colorado ordered him to stop using the RE/MAX name and logo, Marshall persisted, which resulted in Marshall being cited for contempt of court, making him subject to arrest if he ever set foot on U.S. soil.
Marshall was eventually dropped from the lawsuit, which also named the RE/MAX official who sold him the franchise in violation of the U.S. embargo against Cuba.