| KINGSTON, April 11
KINGSTON, April 11 Cuba is protesting the
decision by PriceSmart Inc, a major U.S.-based
bulk-shopping warehouse, to suspend memberships of shoppers from
the communist country at its Jamaica subsidiary, Cuban officials
said on Friday.
PriceSmart took the action this week, citing the decades-old
U.S. embargo on Cuba that prohibits economic relations between
the two countries, Cuban officials say.
PriceSmart did not respond to a request for comment, and has
declined to tell the Jamaican media why it suspended the
memberships at this time.
Jamaica is increasingly popular with Cuban shoppers, and
Havana lifted restrictions on travel last year, allowing
wealthier Cubans to leave the country on shopping trips abroad.
One diplomatic source familiar with Cuba said PriceSmart may
have suspected large-scale purchases were being made on behalf
of Cuban government contractors, a potential embargo violation.
PriceSmart, based in San Diego, California, is the largest
operator of membership warehouse clubs in Central America and
the Caribbean, with 32 stores serving more than 1 million
cardholders in those regions and South America.
The company told Jamaican media it will only reinstate
memberships for Cuban embassy staff and citizens who can provide
proof of permanent residency in Jamaica.
"It's a U.S. company, and their subsidiaries cannot sell to
Cuba," said Susan Kaufman Purcell, director of the Center for
Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami.
Jamaica's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade is
trying to broker a resolution between PriceSmart and the Cuban
embassy, according to local media. Ministry officials could not
be reached immediately for comment.
The U.S. embargo on Cuba has been in place more than 50
years. The Obama administration has begun to soften restrictions
on travel and remittances to Cuba, but normalized relations are
still a ways off.
Cuban ambassador to Jamaica Bernardo Guanche Hernández,
quoted in Jamaican media, condemned PriceSmart's membership
suspension move, calling it "criminal" and adding that repeated
United Nations resolutions have called for an end to the
Cuban officials declined to comment publicly on the matter
to Reuters but complained privately that the PriceSmart issue
was a sign that the Obama administration continues to tightly
enforce the embargo.
The ambassador also suggested the action was a violation of
the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
The Vienna Convention protects diplomats against persecution
by a host country, but "this is not persecution by the host
country," said Purcell. "This is a subsidiary of a U.S.
(Additional reporting by David Adams Editing by Kevin Gray,
Richard Chang and Ken Wills)