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Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Cameron's silence on Cuba must be broken

From all corners of the globe the plaudits have come in for President Obama. He has been praised even by his enemies for his bold and magnanimous reversal of US policy towards Cuba. Even from within the island there is tremendous goodwill towards him. My colleague, Rafael Hernández , editor of the Havana magazine Temas, writing in today's Vanguardia newspaper in Havana says: "For the first time since Lincoln, an American President is popular in the island."

So one would have thought that Britain would have been first among those to applaud? But no. There has been a conspicuous silence from the UK and it is frankly shameful, not least because the UK is supposed to be the US's closest ally, but also because British banks have been among those most penalized most unfairly for carrying out transactions that are wholly within the law. One would have thought that HMG would be now seeking the kind of assurance that from now there will be no more victimization of our companies for dealing with Cuba. 

This letter from Lord Hutton of the Cuba Initiative in this morning's Financial Times makes the point most eloquently:   

December 22, 2014 11:42 pm

We trust UK banks will rethink their Cuba policy

Sir, The gradual normalisation of relations between the US and Cuba is to be wholeheartedly welcomed. The US embargo has not only prevented US companies from trading with Cuba but has been interpreted in such a way by the US Treasury as to have also become a significant impediment to UK companies as well.
The extraterritorial reach of US financial sanctions in particular, and the imposition of swingeing fines by the US on banks found to be in contravention of them, has meant that most British banks have been unwilling to handle UK banking transactions with Cuba in spite of the fact that under UK law they are perfectly legal and legitimate.
As the US moves to permit US institutions to hold correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions, and hopefully recognises that Cuba has no place on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, we trust that UK banks will rapidly reassess their policy towards supporting UK companies investing in and undertaking trade with Cuba.
The UK government has made abundantly clear that it supports engagement and increased investment and trade with Cuba. At the time of his visit last month to Havana, the Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire announced a major trade and investment mission of UK companies which I will be leading to Havana in the spring of 2015.At a time when the US is finally normalising its policy towards Cuba, it is vital that UK companies as well as banks rapidly engage so that the UK develops a strong position in Cuba and Britain’s economic interests in the region are upheld.
Lord Hutton of FurnessChairman, The Cuba Initiative

He might have added that it is vital for the UK government to bring this matter up with the White House while at the same time helping President Obama face down his enemies in Congress by giving fulsome praise for his sensible and grown up policy on Cuba.

Why is Cameron silent? Well it might possibly have something to do with the Malvinas issue with Argentina. He is facing calls to copy Obama's policy and sit down an talk about the UK's differences with Argentina. Perhaps here is an opportunity for Mr Miliband to show his mettle?

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