US Fines Argentine Company $2.8 million for Cuba Embargo Violation

By Café Fuerte

despegarHAVANA TIMES — Despegar.com, a popular travel agency based in Argentina, has agreed to pay a US $2.8 million fine for conducting transactions that allegedly violated the provisions of the US embargo on Cuba.

This past Tuesday, The Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Treasury Department reported that, between 2009 and 2012, a branch of the firm in Delaware accepted a total of US $2,809,800 arising from operations involving Cuban interests or the interests of Cuban citizens.

According to the report, the travel agency (also named Decolar.com) offered services to some 17,834 persons, who purchased air tickets or booked hotel rooms for stays in Cuba or third countries, without due authorization from OFAC.

The allegedly illegal transactions (for a total of US $4,460,000) took place between March 2, 2009 and March 31, 2012.

Cooperating with the Authorities

The OFAC report concluded that the management of the company was aware that its subsidiaries abroad were providing Cuba-related services to citizens of third countries, not knowing that this could constitute a violation of US Treasury Department regulations.

“The apparent violations resulted in significant damage to the objectives of the US sanctions program related to Cuba,” the report indicated.

23-y-G
23rd and G Streets in Havana. Photo: Juan Suarez

Among the extenuating circumstances, Treasury Department investigators determined that the Cuba-related transactions represented only a small fraction of Despegar.com’s business and that the company had not been penalized for violating OFAC norms in the past five years.

Authorities also took into consideration the fact the agency’s owners immediately cooperated with the federal investigation and suspended all services linked to the purchase of air tickets or hotel reservations on the island.

Despegar.com operates in 23 countries in Latin America, Spain and the United States, offering reservation and tourist service packages through its Internet portal. It entered the market in December of 1999 with the aim of sparing travellers long line-ups in front of airline ticket booths.

The company is the second tourism agency based outside the United States to receive a fine from the US Treasury Department last month. In mid-April, the Dutch firm Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) was forced to pay a fine of US $5.9 million for offering Cuba travel services to more than 44,400 travelers between 2009 and 2012.

Though CWT is based in Holland, the majority of its shares have been owned by US interests since 2006. As such, the agency must abide by Treasury Department regulations.

During the Obama administration, most fiscal controls and the bulk of all fines applied by the Treasury Department in connection with violations of the US embargo have been aimed at banking institutions.


7 thoughts on “US Fines Argentine Company $2.8 million for Cuba Embargo Violation

  • Farmers in the Midwest who have been precluded from selling food to the Castros are unable to extend credit to the regime and must accept cash up front in order to close the transaction. Food sales are legal. Extending credit to facilitate the sale is not. Even if the US supplied 100% of the food needs to Cuba, it would amount to less than .02% of US food consumption, and even less when compared to agricultural output. A drop in the bucket it there ever was one.

  • “Food sales are exempt from the US embargo”

    Tell that to the farmers and food producers in the US who want to sell to Cuba but aren’t allowed to. I’m sure they could use the laugh.

  • Food sales are exempt from the US embargo. A Swedish firm is not prohibited from trying to “connect” the Cuban people. The same firm however vacates their opportunity to access the US marketplace if they choose to do business with Cuba. Many, many foreign firms choose Cuba over the US. I agree with you however that the embargo is flawed and largely ineffective.

  • This is nonsence. Why should an American company be allowed to sell frozen chickens to Cuba and a French company not allowed to sell bread. Why should a swedish firm be fined for trying to connect the Cuban people, when US companies are allowed. Just drop it – it is so full of flaws and does no good whatsoever.

  • The Obama administration policy of tightening the screws on the Castro dictatorship by limiting the means through which the regime can attract hard currency while at the same time relaxing travel and remittance control for the Cuban people is a smart one. The embargo legally enforces sanctions on US companies and on foreign-owned companies who wish to do business with the US. Criticisms regarding extraterritorial reach of the embargo are legally unfounded. If a French company (i.e.Pain de Paris) wishes to do business with the Castros, there is nothing in the US embargo which can stop them. If on the other hand, as an American citizen, I choose to sanction a foreign company that has done business with the Castros by preventing them from entering the US marketplace, that is my sovereign right. Likewise, it is my right to charge my government with the responsibility to impose penalties on those business who violate my wishes by doing business with the Castros while at the same time seeking access to my marketplace. Unfortunately, despite best efforts, the number of violators who continue to do business with the regime in violation of the embargo is large. OFAC, with limited enforcement resources, is kept busy rooting out those companies who value profits over human rights. The US embargo is only marginally effective at best.

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