September 1, 2001
Canada opposes U.S. crackdown on Cuba visitors
Travellers 'scared': American tourists en route to Cuba hassled at
By Glen McGregor and Mike Trickey
Ottawa Citizen; Southam News
OTTAWA - The Department of Foreign Affairs says it will protest a
recent U.S. crackdown on Americans who circumvent the U.S. travel ban to
Cuba by flying to the Communist country from Canada.
The get-tough order from the White House to the Treasury Department
has resulted in American customs officers in Canadian airports
questioning American travellers about whether they've been to Cuba. If
they have, they face fines as high as US$55,000.
A retired social worker from Chicago who joined a Canadian bicycling
tour in Cuba recently received notice
of a US$7,500 fine from the Treasury Department after having her
passport scrutinized by a U.S. customs officer at Pearson International
The 1974 Pre-Clearance Treaty permits U.S. customs official to
enforce American rules for entry into the United States.
"In order to do so, they are authorized to apply U.S. laws
related only to the admission of these travellers and their goods,"
says Foreign Affairs spokesman Carl Schwenger.
"Other applications of any U.S. law in Canada is not envisaged.
We intend to raise this issue with U.S. authorities."
Bruno Coulome, who runs the Fredericton-based USA
Cuba Travel, says many of his American clients have been
intimidated by U.S. customs agents at Canadian airports. "The
clients are really scared."
He says he has seen customs agents watching his clients check in for
their charter flights to Cuba at Montreal's Mirabel Airport.
"Many times in the last month I've seen U.S. customs agents
waiting at the departure counter," said Mr. Coulome, whose company
handles Cuba-bound U.S. customers exclusively. He also thinks customs
agents are watching for Americans arriving on flights from Cuba.
"The strategy they have is they stay at the arrival gate for
Havana and they spot the travellers who walk to the counter of U.S.
Nancy Chang, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights in
New York City, says there are reports of surveillance in Canadian
Ms. Chang is challenging the constitutionality of the fines on behalf
of 400 travellers.
The U.S. customs service denies it uses surveillance operations in
Canadian airports, but won't say how it determines which travellers
The procedures are "enforcement sensitive" and not
discussed, said customs spokesman Jim Michie.
Mr. Coulome says Americans can protect themselves by asking Cuban
customs officers not to stamp their passports.
Cuba allows visitors to enter with a tourist card and does not
require a visa in a passport. He also recommends travellers not carry
cigars or other obviously Cuban souvenirs in their luggage.
Susan Ross, a California lawyer specializing in customs law, says
although she suspects Canadian and U.S. authorities are informally
sharing information at border points, she says most U.S. travellers are
caught when they admit they've been holidaying in Cuba.
"People aren't good liars," she says. "When the agents
start asking questions, people start getting nervous."
Canadian officials deny Canadian immigration or customs officials are
giving their American counterparts any information about Americans
returning from Cuba to international
airports with U.S. pre-clearance customs services.
Pre-clearance facilities are in place at airports in Vancouver,
Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.
The interrogation at Canadian airports is part of a broader crackdown
on Americans who ignore the U.S. government's Trading with the Enemy
Act, which has been in effect since 1962.
President George W. Bush has provided the catalyst for the
re-energized customs efforts, saying the White House was going to get
tough again after the Clinton administration took a more relaxed
approach to Americans visiting Cuba.
Between May 4 and July 30, the Treasury Department sent out 443
letters seeking fines from Americans suspected of travelling to
Cuba compared to only 74 letters during the first four months of
Opponents of the crackdown say the U.S. laws smack of the same sort
of totalitarianism that is being fought in Cuba.
"It's repugnant to everything that we as Americans think,"
says Democratic congressman Charles Rangel.
"This type of behaviour is the behaviour that you would expect
from a communist dictatorship that wants to keep its people at
Ironically, the crackdown comes at the same time the U.S. Congress is
mobilizing a campaign to lift the travel ban.
Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan, who heads to Senate appropriations
sub-committee in charge of Treasury Department funding, says he will
seek measures that would lift the ban when Congress returns to work
later this month. Dorgan is confident a bill lifting the ban will pass
the Senate and believes it has a good chance of getting through the
House of Representatives. The Republican-dominated House voted in July
to deny money to the Treasury Department to enforce the ban.
About 200,000 Americans legally travelled to
Cuba last year, with about 60% of them being Cuban-Americans who
are permitted to make annual humanitarian trips to visit relatives.
The others are from various other categories, such as journalists on
assignment and researchers, who can receive clearance from Washington.
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