WASHINGTON HAS SPARKED an uproar by planning to penalize foreign companies doing business with seized U.S. property in Cuba. Less noticed: The feds are also coming down harder on U.S. violators of the 33-year-old embargo against Fidel Castro's regime.

Already this year, there have been 63 cases with civil penalties totaling $489,727. That's more than all of 1995 ($321,180, 53 cases). About two-thirds of the cases involve companies; the rest, individuals. This is an outgrowth of 1992 legislation tightening the embargo. BUSINESS WEEK filed a Freedom of Information Act request for a full list of violators, but the feds say that will take many months due to backed-up requests.

Another factor in the crackdown is that more American businesspeople are interested in Cuba. The U.S.-Cuba Trade & Economic Council says the number of U.S. executives legally traveling there thus far this year exceeds 1995's 1,300. In 1994, only 400 went.

The feds do permit very limited American commercial activity if they license it. But some companies run afoul of the embargo's technical provisions. AT&T was fined $12,700 in October, 1994, when gear for its long-distance telephone service to Cuba was shipped just days before receiving a U.S. license. AT&T itself reported this. Merck paid a $127,500 fine last September after a visit to a Cuban biotech institute. Merck employees brought hepatitis B vaccine samples back for testing, which weren't permitted under Merck's license.

Edited by Larry Light By Gail DeGeorge and Stan Crock


Updated June 14, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1996, Bloomberg L.P.
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