March 24, 2015 / 10:03 PM / 5 years ago

U.S. removes dead Cubans, sunken ships from sanctions list

HAVANA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States removed 45 companies and individuals from a Cuba sanctions blacklist on Tuesday, most of them dead people, defunct companies or sunken ships.

Among them was Amado Padron, a Cuban executed by a firing squad 26 years ago along with Arnaldo Ochoa, a decorated army general who was sentenced to death by Cuba’s communist government after he was found to be connected to international drug trafficking.

The U.S. Treasury Department said the delisting was aimed at clearing “out-of-date” names from its list of Specially Designated Nationals.

Washington bans those designated from trading with U.S. individuals or companies, who face heavy fines if caught doing business with them.

The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) removed six people, 28 companies and 11 vessels from the list as part of an ongoing review of older cases. Four of the people are dead and two were delisted because the companies they were affiliated with were dissolved, officials said.

The ships had either sunk or were otherwise not operational.

“While these removals are not related to the recent changes to our Cuba sanctions program and rather reflect OFAC’s consistent effort to review and update its SDN list, these delistings are in line with the President’s Cuba policy,” OFAC said.

President Barack Obama rewrote longstanding Cuba policy in December, agreeing with Cuban President Raul Castro to restore diplomatic relations and seek to end more than five decades of animosity between the old Cold War rivals.

Obama has since eased the U.S. trade embargo by allowing some financial transactions and sales of computer technology and construction materials to Cuba while permitting importers to buy from Cuban independent contractors.

The Specially Designated Nationals list adds another level of sanctions, banning transactions even in fields cleared by Obama.

“It’s life or death for these companies,” said Washington-based trade sanctions lawyer Scott Maberry. “You want to be taken off because that gives you access to the U.S. financial system.”

For four people just taken off the list, death has already come.

Besides the man executed in 1989, the list included revolutionary Osvaldo Castell, a Cuban who led a 1957 assault on the presidential palace, two years before Fidel Castro’s rebels came to power. Castell died in 2011 at age 78.

Another was Panamanian politician and one-time presidential candidate Carlos Duque, who died last year at 84. It did not say what his Cuba links were. He was an ally of former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, ousted from power by U.S. forces in 1989.

Reporting by Daniel Trotta, Nelson Acosta and Rosa Tania Valdés in Havana and Anna Yukhananov in Washington

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