An announcement by a Florida company that it will issue a MasterCard that American travelers can use in Cuba has, not surprisingly, caused the usual suspects on the Hill as well as all the pro-embargo bloggers to have a major conniption fit. The claim is that if the card is used in connection with confiscated property it will violate section 103 of the Helms-Burton Act. Buy a mojito made with Havana Club and pay with a credit card, and, they claim, the credit card company has violated the Act.
So, according to these folks, credit card companies must put procedures in place to prevent that from happening, knowing full well that there are no possible procedures that could ensure that. Not surprisingly, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), which is in charge of enforcing the Helms-Burton act and the Cuban embargo, thinks this argument is bunk, writing to El Nuevo Herald: OFAC “does not consider the use of credit cards by authorized travelers in Cuba to be transactions subject to the prohibition in Section 103.”
Section 4(13)(B)(iii) of the Helms-Burton act exempts from the definition of “traffic” all “transactions … incident to lawful travel to Cuba.” Whether this limits the application of section 103 is not entirely clear, since section 103 does not prohibit trafficking in confiscated property, rather it prohibits “financing transactions involving any confiscated property.”
Embargo cheerleader-in-chief Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart told the Miami Herald that “the use of credit cards by authorized travelers is allowed, but would violate Section 103 of the 1996 Helms-Burton law if the transactions involve properties seized by the Cuban government from U.S. owners.” But he is leaving out a key part of section 103 which only prohibits doing this “knowingly … for the purpose of financing transactions involving any confiscated property.” Of course, there is no way that MasterCard, or any other credit card company, is going to know what is being purchased when it authorizes the transaction, much less whether it is confiscated property or not.