Keep hotels out of politics

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A disturbing drama playing out in Mexico City threatens to draw the hotel industry into the entanglements of world politics. It all started innocently as the Maria Isabel Sheraton booked a conference last month for American oil companies to discuss opportunities in Cuba's petroleum industry. Logically, a number of Cuban officials were invited to the meeting, which was organized by the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association.

And apparently because the U.S. federal government has nothing more important to do—like track down terrorists or fix the deficit—the Treasury Department ordered the hotel to boot out the Cubans or risk violating the U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act. Along with the expulsion order came a threat of a $466,000 fine if the hotel didn't buckle under to the fedsâ€â„¢ Gestapo tactics.

Left with little choice, hotel management asked the 16 Cubans to leave, which then angered the Mexican government. Some days you just can't win! The Mexicans were peeved—and rightly so, in my book—that the U.S. was interfering with activities happening on Mexican soil. The bureaucratic wheels turned quickly and within a few days the local government accused the hotel of violating 15 city ordinances, including such things as not providing Braille menus for blind guests. Saying their actions had nothing to do with the U.S.-Cuba situation, borough officials ordered the property to close until these egregious violations were corrected. Finally, four days ago cooler heads prevailed and the hotel was allowed to remain open while it corrected the problems.

It may sound like a tempest in a teapot, but the whole episode sets a dangerous precedent, in which the hotel industry may become the proxy enforcer for the U.S. government. Whether you believe the embargo with Cuba makes sense anymore (few people do), I think you'll agree that it's outrageous for the feds to get private industry involved in their foreign policy maneuvers. This is a situation we all need to keep on our radar screens.

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