March 26, 2007
Hilton Hotels Face Serious Dilemma
Orlando Oramas Leon
The long tentacles of the blockade against Cuba that the US enforces
around the world has created a dilemma for the Hilton Hotel Chain. Its British subsidiary has become the target of boycotts and demonstrations by
lawmakers, trade unionists and members of Cuban solidarity groups.
The reaction followed a statement by Hilton's British subsidiary, announcing that it would ban Cuban officials from staying in its facilities in accordance with the Helms Burton Act, whose jurisdiction Washington
wants to impose worldwide.
The move led to several protests in the United Kingdom. In parliament, 110
deputies signed a motion denouncing the action as a violation of British laws against discrimination and European Union safeguards against the
extraterritoriality of the Helms-Burton Act.
Faced with the pressure, the chairman of the Hilton Group in Great Britain and Ireland, Simon Vincent, sent a letter to the members of Parliament,
confessing that the subsidiary was faced with a legal dilemma, caught between British and US laws.
Vincent tried to resolve the matter by requesting Washington to issue an exemption of the enforcement of the Cuba sanctions in the case of
providing accommodation to Cuban officials. His appeal outraged opponents to the application of the measures in Britain even more.
Rob Millar, director of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, said Hilton's reaction is ambiguous and he indicated that the protests would continue.
Likewise, Dave Prentis, Secretary General of the Unison Trade Union,
the country's largest union with more than a million members, called for a boycott of the hotel chain.
That trade union and other British groups have cancelled bookings and services with Hilton "in opposition to the discriminatory, illegal and
extraterritorial legislation, " said the Parliament Scottish Affairs Committee which cancelled bookings with Hilton in Dundee.
Following the steps of Sheraton, which expelled a Cuban delegation from one of its hotels in the Mexican capital last year, Hilton has provoked a similar incident in Europe, an action that has put different British sectorson alert.
Earlier this year, the management of the Edderkoppen Hotel in Oslo, denied accommodation to officials of a Cuban tourism mission who were in the Norwegian capital to attend a traditional tourism fair. They had
always stayed in that hotel on previous occasions.
However, prior to this year's tourism industry event, the Norwegian hotel chain Scandic, owners of the Edderkoppen, had been bought out by Hilton, and
applied the US law.
"We are owned by the US Hilton Group, and we abide by its decisions," Geir Lundkvist, managing director of Hilton-Scandic hotels in Norway said at the time.
Although one official of the Norwegian Foreign Office described the event as "totally unacceptable, " and recalled that Norway holds diplomatic
ties with Cuba, the fact is that the decision of the US parent company prevailed.
Something different happened at the level of citizens and their organizations.
Antirasistisk Senter, a non-governmental organization against racism, filed a complaint with the Norwegian police for "the violation of a law that prohibits any kind of discrimination based on race or ethnic origin," said
its spokesperson, Henrik Lunde.
After the decision of the Scandinavian Hilton, the trade union of municipal and general workers of Norway announced a boycott of all Scandic
hotels in the country, which had been purchased in March 2006 by the US Hotel chain.
The incident had its repercussion in London. The Guardian daily recently published an article voicing Great Britain's rejection of the extraterritoriality of the US blockade, which also affects organizations and
citizens in that European nation, although their government is a close ally of the Bush Administration.
Linda Bain, Hilton executive in London, tried to justify the expulsion of the Cubans from the hotel in Oslo and stressed that the hotel group applies anti-Cuban laws anywhere in the world.
She hadn't expected rejection of her statement to grow in London and other places around the United Kingdom, forcing a sort of about face amid
calls for boycotts and cancellations of reservations.
And that is the Hilton dilemma, a hotel chain being forced by Washington to implement sanctions against Cuba and Cubans around the world.
Meanwhile, at the UN General Assembly, 183 nations voted against such extraterritorial legislation.