Here's an interesting story - a guy from Durham, North Carolina decides to vacation in Cuba, spend money there, and then is surprised he's prosecuted. The Durham Herald-Sun has the story.
Daniel Heslop says he appeared before an administrative law judge in Washington who heard his case but has not yet set his fine. It could be as much as $7500.
In fact, Heslop said by phone as he returned to Durham from Washington, the proceedings seemed like a lot of bother over his simple desire to travel abroad.
"It was an absolute waste," he said.
Curious definition. In fact, the government lawyers presented evidence Heslop had violated the travel ban on two more occasions.
Before he attended his hearing, he gave an interview to WUNC-FM, the public radio station in his area. The host sets out the facts a little differently than the newspaper article. She says Heslop has already been fined $7500 and is trying to avoid paying it.
In the interview, Heslop says Cuba seems to be a incredible destination - his source of fascination? Buena Vista Social Club and Elian. The most interesting part of the interview to me is his claim to be an architecture buff - then his assertion that Havana is the oldest city in the Western Hemisphere, and that it "was fascinating to see that." What did he see? The 5-star tourist hotels? Or the real Cuba?
The attitude of the host is also fascinating. Heslop does ask one good question - why can politicians travel to Cuba freely and at the same time pass a law that restricts everyone else's travel? Listen to the whole thing.
Heslop has a lawyer - Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights. It's a law firm begun by William Kunstler, among others. The firm is very upset about what goes on in Cuba. Well, what goes on in the portion of Cuba covered by Naval Station Guantanamo Bay. From the Center's web site:
In New York on April 12, 2005, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) proudly announced the launch of a new litigation and advocacy project dedicated to challenging rendition, arbitrary detention, and interrogation under torture committed as part of the United States' global "war on terror." The Global Justice Initiative of the Center for Constitutional Rights will continue CCR's groundbreaking work on behalf of individuals detained at Guantanamo Bay and will expand CCR's defense of human rights and the rule of law to combat abuses of Executive power by the U.S. throughout the world.
The newspaper reports the Center has represented hundreds of people who have violated the travel ban. No attribution or names given, though.
Heslop and his lawyer do make one good point, if accurate. They say the U.S. government is inconsistent in how it fines violators.
Kadidal argued in Wednesday's hearing that Heslop's fine could be limited to the amount he spent there, estimated at $500. A dollar-for-dollar reckoning is applied to businesses in trade violations, Heslop said. Some travelers, such as Cuban-Americans visiting family there more frequently than allowed, receive only a warning, he said.
"They don't really have a formula for how they go about arriving at a fine," he said.
One thing our government is supposed to do is be consistent in the dispensation of justice. I wonder how much money the US-Cuba Trade Association will spend in Havana this week? And what they will be fined.
More - Raleigh News and Observer story here. Commentary by Barry Saunders of the N&O is here.
It's all a case of the law doesn't apply to me.
Update - The Belmont Club has more on the Center for Constitutional Rights and its success in getting prominent law firms to represent detainees at Gitmo. The article also discusses the ties of its president, Michael Ratner, to the communist party in the Philippines.