Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Beacon No. 80: Vaya Sin Cuartos, Fidel


According to various news reports, the U.S. Treasury Department apparently leaned on the Hilton María Isabel hotel in Mexico City to evict 16 Cuban officials who were staying there to meet with U.S. energy execs at a trade conference. The Hilton, across the street from the U.S. Embassy, complied, beginning an uproar throughout Mexico:

"The expulsion of the Cubans … is a shameful act," Humberto Musacchio wrote in the Mexico City newspaper Reforma. His was one of a flood of columns in the Mexican press denouncing the hotel.

The eviction was "practically a declaration of war" because Mexico's "national honor has been sullied."

Raymundo Riva Palacio, a columnist for the newspaper El Universal, wrote that it was common knowledge that the fifth floor of the hotel once functioned as "the headquarters of the CIA" in Mexico.

Honor and face matter as much in Mexico as anywhere. It would be one thing to deny the Cuban officials rooms in the first place, hopefully while they were still as far away as possible, like when they called Hilton’s reservations line. It’s another to literally send them packing.

This is poor timing by Treasury, considering these factors: This episode occurred in the capital city of Mexico, a country already prone to feeling slighted by the U.S., by President Vicente Fox’s former pal President Bush, by an increasingly anti-immigrant Congress and statehouses, and in the midst of Mexico’s presidential campaign, where the eviction immediately became an issue (see “Welcome to the Sheraton, Ignore the Red Stickers”):

Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez, a member of the conservative National Action Party, initially said the Mexican government would not intervene. Later, in the face of mounting criticism, he said the hotel chain had shown a "disregard for Mexican law" that could lead to "appropriate sanctions."

Mexico City's government, controlled by members of the Democratic Revolution Party, whose presidential candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, was once mayor, beat the federales to the punch. City building inspectors showed up days after the eviction.

Virginia Jaramillo Flores, the head of the city borough in which the hotel is located, said Tuesday that the inspectors had found dozens of violations at the Sheraton.

In a nation where illegal construction is the norm, the hotel was cited for allegedly failing to obtain a permit for 32,000 square feet of new construction. In addition, inspectors found two bars lacking licenses, and not enough parking spaces.

Jaramillo said city inspectors were not aware of the violations at the landmark hotel — President Kennedy stayed there in 1962 — because no one had complained before.

The closure would commence immediately and remain in effect until the offending construction was removed and 1,000 parking spaces added, Jaramillo said. Plus, there was a $15,000 fine to be paid.

An hour later, inspectors were pasting the "closed" signs on the hotel's doors, which nonetheless remained unlocked.

Of course, it’s a sort of comic-opera closure where everyone agrees quite loudly and on camera that the Hilton is closed, yes, most definitely—there’s that idea of face again—and yet it unofficially remains, most definitely, open:

Red stickers announcing that the Sheraton had been "closed down" were pasted on its front doors. Various government officials pronounced it closed, effective immediately. Mexican television announced that all guests would be evicted in two hours.

City inspectors posted a series of handwritten notes on a hotel bulletin board in half a dozen languages, telling the guests they would have to leave. Then the inspectors went home. Two hours passed. The hotel remained open.

Arriving at the hotel just after sunset Tuesday, British guest Anthony Thompson set down his bags, frowned at the "closed" signs and uttered an English expletive understood by the Mexican journalists encamped outside the lobby.

A concierge in a natty aquamarine uniform told Thompson not to worry, then escorted him into the hotel.

"It's open," the concierge told another guest in Spanish. "If the reporters ask you questions, don't answer."

Off camera, the mayor wins, the federales win, the Hilton wins. The only losers here may be the folks at Treasury, who have damaged U.S. interests by picking the worst possible time and place to enforce trading-with-the-enemy laws.

And how did they discover Cubans were staying at the Hilton in the first place?

No comments:

Site Meter