Mexico fines US hotel over Cuba spat

The Mexican government has imposed a 1.2 million peso ($112,662) fine on the U.S.-owned Sheraton hotel in Mexico City, saying it violated a law protecting commerce when it expelled Cuban guests from its premises. The Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotel, acting under pressure from Washington, on Feb. 3 expelled more than a dozen Cuban officials while they were meeting with U.S. energy executives.

U.S. Treasury officials warned the hotel, which is owned by New York-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, that it was violating the decades-old trade embargo against Cuba by allowing the gathering to take place there.

The embargo prohibits U.S. citizens and companies from doing business with the Communist-ruled island, although the sale of agricultural goods to Cuba was authorized by the U.S government in 2001 in the wake of Hurricane Michelle, on the condition that payments were to be made in cash.

Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretariat announced the fine Friday in a brief statement, saying that this measure “brings to an end the proceedings launched in connection with the events at the Hotel Maria Isabel Sheraton on February the third.”

On Feb. 28, Mexico City authorities had placed “establishment closed” seals on the doors of the hotel citing violations of city regulations, although the hotel continued normal operations. The citations, which noted the absence of menus in Braille, were widely viewed as things on which to hang a closure order that in reality was more motivated by the politically tinged tiff.


The order to close the hotel was withdrawn the next day, however, after an agreement was reached with the company on rectifying the irregularities.

The expulsion of the Cuban officials, who were discussing potential business opportunities on the island with the energy executives, sparked a big controversy in Mexico, with opposition lawmakers demanding President Vicente Fox send a diplomatic note to the U.S. government to express “the Mexican people’s absolute rejection” of the application of foreign laws within Mexican territory.

Havana, for its part, criticized the Mexican government’s lack of a stronger response to the expulsions and condemned the United States for behaving with “complete disrespect” towards Mexico.

The Sheraton Maria Isabel, located across from the city’s emblematic Angel of Independence monument and just yards from the U.S. Embassy, is one of the most recognisable hotels in Mexico City.