NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal lawsuit was filed on Thursday challenging the constitutionality of a U.S. policy that compels Americans who travel to Cuba to disclose details about their spending there.
The policy forces travelers to incriminate themselves, said the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn by the Center for Constitutional Rights, a non-profit legal advocacy group.
U.S. citizens can technically travel to Cuba but are barred from spending money there without authorization from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces sanctions against the communist country that date back almost to Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.
Unlicensed U.S. travelers face fines of up to $10,000.
Previous lawsuits against the travel ban have been thrown out of U.S. courts, but political circumstances are changing.
In April, President Barack Obama pledged a “new beginning” in U.S. relations with Cuba and lifted restrictions placed by the Bush administration on travel and cash remittances by Cuban Americans to their homeland.
A bill that would lift the ban on travel to Cuba for all Americans is also pending in Congress.
The New York lawsuit challenges OFAC’s right to compel individuals to answer questions about their expenditures while in Cuba. Volunteering such information would make an individual vulnerable to criminal prosecution, the lawsuit said.
The U.S. government policy is “part of its efforts to stifle American travel to Cuba,” the lawsuit said.
A spokesperson at the Treasury Department could not immediately be reached for comment.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of a New York man, Zachary Sanders, 35, who traveled to Cuba for three weeks in 1998. Sanders, who flew to Cuba by way of the Bahamas, refused to offer details about his spending and was fined $1,000.
He contested the fine but his appeal was rejected and the fine was increased to $9,000, his lawyer Anjana Samant said.
“He was very clear that he went to Cuba because he believed the U.S. travel ban is unlawful and immoral,” said Samant.
Reporting by Edith Honan; editing by Anthony Boadle