Cuba
OFAC Extortion / Shakedown

 
 

Chapter 1: Suppression on the right to travel, right to association and freedom of inquiry (May 2005)

On March 6, 2001, the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC), a division of the Treasury department, and a lead agency in the investigation of terrorism, served IBF with an "Order to Cease and Desist" from engaging in any further transactions involving the provision of travel services to, from and within Cuba.

On, March 3, 2005 initiated a proceeding against IBF regarding an alleged violation of the “Trading with the Enemy Act.”  The specific count is:

“Between, during, on or about February 2000 and December 2000 (IBF) engaged in prohibited transactions involving property, to include: dealing in property by providing and arranging travel services for persons to Cuba and accepting and remitting payment from person to Cuban nationals for visas, lodging, food, and airfare to Cuba, or in which said property Cuba or Cuban nationals had an interest.”

As background, the government has been threatening to fine people for having transaction with Cuba or Cubans for decades.  If those who were targeted exercised their right to ask for a hearing did so the cases went dormant for years.  In October 2003, the prosecutors of these cases (OFAC) hired themselves a number of administrative law judges and have since been holding hearings.

[The Associated Press reported in 2004, that OFAC's anti-terrorism activities included four agents tracking Osama bin Laden and Sadam Hussein money, and 21 agents working full time on the financial embargo of Cuba.]

We surmise that we were served when we were because there is a five year statute of limitations on this kind of proceeding and the government wanted to cover alleged activities in 2000.  But because the order was issued in March we would assert that activities in February 2000 would not be admissible as stated in the order.

It is also not clear to us what the government’s case is: Some of their information is from the notoriously reliable internet, like a somewhat hypothetical job announcement, that to this day we have left on our website. But they would be hard put to find anyone we hired for the job because: 1) they never gave us a license, so we could never run the program, and 2) the website says the hiring would be done “local”, which is in Cuba, where IBF has no presence.  Other evidence comes from a 1998 magazine and a 2001 newspaper article (from which the government has drawn false conclusions.)

It also doesn’t seem to matter that no employee of IBF or representative of IBF went to Cuba, issued an airline ticket, arranged for a visa, lodging or meal, or had an transactions with property that Cuba or Cuban national had interest during the year 2000.

We are also fighting the case on the legality of the charge and the process.  If you are interested and want more details on these issues please let us know.

The next step is to set a hearing date -- an issue on which the “impartial “judge is siding with the government.  Because of time need to prepare for the hearing, and a potentially heavy travel schedule, and other obligations during the summer, we have requested a hearing in September.  The government has all of a sudden gotten in a hurry, hurry, hurry mode and wants the hearing in early July.

And that is how democracy works.

Chapter 2: Balancing which Right is More Important (August 2005)

While the charges addressed “transactions involving property” and “payments”, OFAC discovery questions included broad and vague terms like “facilitating travel to Cuba”, which includes purely providing information that would assist someone to travel to Cuba.  Furthermore we were asked to provide the names of everyone we “facilitated” to travel to Cuba.

The “Request for Discovery” asked for details about documents, activities, places, dates and people that we had nothing to do with.  Clearly the government didn’t really have a clue about our involvement or non-involvement with travel services to Cuba.

One of our lawyers commented that they are treating this more like a criminal case than a civil action.

Because this is a “foreign policy matter”, the courts have previously ruled that this trumps constitutional rights and the executive branch can pretty much do what they want to.

During this process the government offered to settle for a shakedown of $750 for this proceeding to go away.  The terms of the settlement are that we can't sue the government for their actions in these proceedings, but they can still shake us down again next month, next year – whenever they are ready to in the future.

Simultaneously:

  • OFAC was hiring more conservative and aggressive “judges”. 
  • Regardless of what OFAC is asking for, the judges are sometimes fining people more, and are threatening to go up to the $65,000 limit for travel.
  • OFAC is becoming increasingly emboldened.
  • This year the government harassed the humanitarian Pastors for Peace caravan more than ever in the past, including confiscating used computers from Canada, intended for elementary schools in Cuba.

Pursuing our right to due process and challenging the constitutionality of various aspects of the law and proceedings would have:

  • Cost a bunch in attorneys’ time.
  • Cost a bunch in staff time.
  • Cost a bunch in travel and administrative expenses -- justice is for the wealthy.
  • Forced us to disclose names and addresses in our database.
  • Kept us entangled in the negative karma of the government.
  • Given the quality of the hearings and the “foreign policy” element of the proceedings, initially led to a finding against us.
  • And could have led to a significantly higher fine.

Given our severe lack of resources and our uncompromising desire to protect the privacy of the names of our supporters, we decided to acquiesce to the government’s shakedown and pay the extortion fee.

To OFAC: Travel, Trade, Licenses and Legislation

To Atenas de Cuba People-to-People Program

 
 
 
 

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