of Cuba Travel Cases
Associated Press (~14 Dec 2001) -
By Ken Guggenheim
WASHINGTON (AP) - Nine years
after Congress granted the right to civil hearings for anyone accused of
violating the Cuba travel ban, no judges have been hired and no hearings
have been held.
As of September, 357 cases were pending, some of which date to 1995,
said a congressional aide, who provided the figure on condition of
anonymity. Piano tuner Ben Treuhaft, for example, has waited for his day
in court since being accused in 1996 of illegally traveling to the
The Treasury Department, which oversees the ban, did not respond to
repeated requests for details about the backlog or how many cases have
been resolved without hearings.
The department said its Office of Foreign Assets Control is trying to
resolve the problem, but its efforts have been set back since the
In addition to enforcing embargoes, the office has a leading role in
tracing terrorists' assets.
Treasury spokesman Tony Fratto said the terrorist attacks ``clearly
slowed down this process'' of addressing the backlog but ``we are
confident that a workable, cost-effective procedure will be put in place
to address this issue.''
Most of those awaiting hearings are not complaining about the delay.
People who negotiated settlements have paid fines averaging $7,500,
while Treuhaft and others in his situation have not paid a cent.
``There haven't been people pounding on OFAC's door saying they want a
hearing,'' said Tom Miller, Treuhaft's attorney.
But some lawyers say the delays could make it harder to defend their
clients if hearings are held eventually.
``It is possible that critical evidence and critical witnesses will
become unavailable,'' said Nancy Chang, senior litigation attorney for
the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many of those
accused of violating the ban.
The ban is part of the four-decade old embargo aimed at forcing
democratic changes in Fidel Castro's country. By prohibiting the
spending of money in Cuba, the ban effectively bars travel by most
Americans. Exceptions are made for working journalists, relatives of
Cuban citizens and others.
Under a 1992 law tightening the embargo, Congress granted the right to
an administrative hearing to anyone accused of violating the travel ban.
A few years later, the Treasury office set up proceedings for hearings.
Treuhaft said he wants a hearing so he can take a stand against the
embargo. The New York City man has helped send more than 100 pianos to
Cuba through his ``Send a Piana to Havana'' campaign. He has held
several licenses allowing him to visit Cuba, but didn't have one in
1994, when he got caught. He faces a $10,000 fine.
He is accused of illegally donating piano supplies, spending money in
Cuba and accepting pay for tuning pianos. Treuhaft mocks the
accusations, saying the United States is trying to bring Cuba to its
knees by making Cubans listen to out-of-tune pianos.
In 1998, Treuhaft's lawyer told him the government had agreed to a
$3,500 settlement. Treuhaft rejected the offer.
Embargo supporters say the travel ban has been undermined by OFAC's lack
``The lack of enforcement of any law, I would certainly say in terms of
the Cuba sanctions, invites lawlessness to take place,'' said Rep. Bob
OFAC is a small agency whose responsibilities have grown in recent years
as sanctions have become a more popular foreign policy tool. It has a
central role in tracking terrorist assets.
Last year, OFAC director R. Richard Newcomb told a panel appointed by
Congress that the lack of administrative law judges was ``an issue
substantially relating to budget.''
In 1998, the office received permission to borrow administrative law
judges from the Environmental Protection Administration. Permission was
renewed in 1999 and 2000; no judges were assigned.
This year, the EPA didn't offer its judges. Treasury is now considering
hiring its own, the government's personnel office said.
The backlog began during the Clinton administration, which had loosened
the travel ban.
President Bush strongly supports the embargo and in July ordered
increased enforcement. Cuban-American exiles are major supporters of
both the president and his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who faces
re-election next year.
Even before Bush acted, OFAC had begun sending out more letters seeking
fines from suspected violators and informing them of their right to a
During the summer, Congress considered suspending or eliminating the
travel ban. Some lawmakers view it as an ineffective Cold War relic that
only hurts Americans. But those efforts were set aside after Sept. 11.
To OFAC: Travel, Trade, Licenses