February 28, 2006

Mexico Sheraton defies closure after US-Cuban spat

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico City authorities slapped
"closed" stickers on Tuesday on a Sheraton hotel that was the
center of a recent U.S.-Cuban dispute, but the hotel ignored
the orders and said it would keep operating as normal.

The official closure of the hotel on the capital's smart
Reforma avenue happened three weeks after inspectors said it
infringed safety and licensing laws and would be shut down.

That move came after the Sheraton threw out, on the orders
of Washington, a group of Cuban officials holding a conference
there, angering Mexico which said its sovereignty was abused.

The Sheraton said on Tuesday it was "profoundly surprised"
by the closure order, and that its lawyers were examining the
legal implications of the move.

Meanwhile hotel staff shut front doors to keep out the
press, but let guests in and out through side doors and were
continuing to take room reservations by phone.

"We are working as normal. No guests are being evicted," a
hotel desk clerk said by telephone.

"Everything's normal, everything's fine," said Ruben
Urquijo as he arrived from New York and registered.

The 755-room luxury hotel, which overlooks the city's
towering Angel of Independence monument, threw the Cubans out
in early February during an energy conference organized by the
U.S.-Cuba Trade Association.

U.S.-based Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc.,
which owns Sheraton hotels, said it had been asked by the U.S.
Treasury Department to tell the Cubans to go, because of the
U.S. embargo on the communist-run island.

Mexican officials reacted angrily at what they saw as U.S.
interference on Mexican soil and Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto
Derbez warned the hotel could face a hefty fine for applying
another country's laws in Mexico.