US slaps sanctions on top Cuban general behind hotels
The US government on Wednesday slapped sanctions on a powerful Cuban general and business leader, in its latest move to heap pressure on Havana ahead of November elections.
To secure a second term, US President Donald Trump needs to win Florida, where his Republican base includes many Cuban Americans who are intensely opposed to the communist state set up by Fidel Castro.
The Treasury Department took action against Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Calleja, a son-in-law of former president Raul Castro who heads GAESA, a conglomerate with wide economic interests including hotels that is affiliated with the military.
"The revenue generated from the economic activities of GAESA is used to oppress the Cuban people and to fund Cuba's parasitic, colonial domination of Venezuela," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
Under the order, any assets of Lopez-Calleja in the United States will be frozen and any transactions with him subject to US prosecution.
A week ago, the Trump administration further tightened travel restrictions on Cuba, barring Americans from staying at government-owned hotels or from checking Cuban rum and cigars in their luggage on the way home.
Former president Barack Obama, whose vice president Joe Biden is running against Trump, had established diplomatic relations and greater travel ties with Cuba, saying the half-century effort to topple the Havana regime had been a failure.
GAESA, a Spanish acronym for the Business Administration Group, manages some 50 hotels, store chains and construction, communications and distribution firms as well as the major port of Mariel west of Havana.
Until Trump took office in 2017 and imposed restrictions, GAESA had been working with international partners including Marriott to develop Cuba's hotels for tourists.
John Kavulich, president of the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council which supports US businesses on the island, said there was little surprise in sanctions against Lopez-Calleja and doubted that a Biden administration would do otherwise.
But he said the move was also "meant to de-legitimize commercial transactions with Cuba and make decisions by executives easier -- don't bother with Cuba."
The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Controlis "is likened to the movie character Indiana Jones. OFAC employees rarely give up upon a hunt for treasure," Kavulich said.
- Rewards for Venezuelans -
The Trump administration has highlighted the lack of free expression in Cuba and has criticized Havana for its backing of Venezuela's leftist leader Nicolas Maduro, who has survived a US-led effort to oust him.
On Wednesday, the State Department said it was offering $5 million rewards each for two former Venezuelan officials over corruption allegations.
The State Department said it was seeking information for the arrests of former electricity minister Luis Alfredo Motta Dominguez and former vice minister Eustiquio Jose Lugo Gomez.
The State Department was acting after indictments in a federal court of the two men over allegations they took bribes in exchange for $60 million in procurement contracts with state electricity firm Corpoelec.
Motta Dominguez was dismissed last year after blackouts in Venezuela, a major oil producer whose economy is in shambles.