The U.S. State Department opposes nonpayment on legal grounds, arguing that Cuba's phone utility is a separate entity from its government. But the controversy is political rather than legal. Conservative Cuban exiles opposed to Washington's policy of promoting "people-to-people" contact with Cuba see the compensation claim as an opportunity to subvert that policy. Die-hard Cold Warriors certainly don't want Americans reaching out and touching someone (in Cuba).
The long-distance phone wars just met the Cold War. Starting Thursday, you'll have to use Sprint if you want to dial Havana direct from the continental U.S. Cuba cut AT&T, MCI WorldCom, LDDS, IDB and WilTel services to the island after those companies failed to pay their bills. Their delinquency is based on a Miami court's $187 million compensation award to the families of anti-Castro exiles shot down by Cuban planes in 1996. Knowing they'll never get a bean out of Castro, the plaintiffs have asked the court to seize the phone companies' payments, which have been withheld pending the judge's ruling.