Deceptive Cuba Lobbying Schemes

Monday, April 14, 2014
From The Washington Free Beacon:

A former Lexington vice president [Phil Peters] reportedly took money from a business operating in Cuba to push U.S. policymakers, under the guise of an objective Cuba scholar, to ease U.S. economic sanctions against foreign corporations operating in the country.

Congress strengthened the U.S. embargo against Cuba in 1996. The Helms-Burton Act barred executives of foreign companies that “trafficked” in expropriated American property in Cuba from entering the U.S.

The law gives the president the authority to waive the travel ban if he deems it in the national interest. President Barack Obama did so most recently last year.

A number of executives from Canadian mining company Sherritt International fell under that prohibition due to its operations on land initially owned by Louisiana-based Freeport-McMoRan Inc.

“Sherritt works quietly in Washington to get its personnel off the exclusion orders,” according to a 2003 memo from Robert Muse, an attorney who represented a number of foreign businesses operating in Cuba.

Sherritt enlisted then-Lexington vice president Phil Peters in the effort, according to Muse. “[Sherritt] has given money to … Peters, to advance its interests,” he wrote. “The money to Peters goes through contributions to the Lexington Institute.”

“Because the Lexington Institute is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, there is no public record of Sherritt’s funding. This has allowed Peters to advise and direct the [House Cuba] Working Group in ways beneficial to Sherritt while presenting himself to the Group as an objective think-tank scholar with a specialization in Cuba.”

According to the memo, Peters convinced members of the working group to visit Sherritt facilities in Cuba and to stay in a hotel partially owned by the company.

“I suspect that Phil Peters was also directly behind the Cal Dooley (D., Calif.) bill to ‘sunset’ the Helms-Burton Act,” Muse wrote.

Four months after Muse wrote that memo, Peters testified before the Senate Finance Committee that Congress should get rid of Helms-Burton.

“Congress should sunset Cuba sanctions laws that violate WTO norms by penalizing foreign nationals who do business in Cuba,” he told the committee.

“The Helms-Burton Act … create[s] needless conflict with American trade partners, and are obstacles to greater diplomatic cooperation with our allies on political issues involving Cuba.”

It is not clear whether Sherritt continued supporting Lexington. Peters did not return requests for comment. He left the group to found the Cuba Research Center last year, where he is still pushing to roll back the Helms-Burton Act.