Michael Moore has joined the ranks of victims of U.S. trade and travel restrictions against Cuba. His organization reported that the filmmaker received an inquiry from the U.S. Treasury Department about a trip Moore took to Cuba in March to film segments for his upcoming release “Sicko.”

Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sent a “request for information” letter on May 2 suggesting that Moore may be subject to civil penalties. The Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker had applied last October for authorization to go to Cuba under the U.S.-approved category of full-time journalist. OFAC had not replied by the time Moore left in March.

Many recipients of similar OFAC letters eventually learn that they are obligated to pay a $7,500 fine. They are invited to submit an appeal to an administrative judge with whom they often negotiate lower payments. Very often, however, those replying to OFAC letters of inquiry never hear from that office again.

Moore visited the island to film the experiences of 10 U.S. citizens as they received treatment under Cuba’s socialist health care system. He took emergency workers there whose respiratory problems developed after they participated in rescue work at the New York World Trade Center site after Sept. 11, 2001. He says they were suffering from inadequate and sporadic health care.

He outlined his purpose in involving these Sept. 11 workers, whom he characterizes as “heroes,” in an open letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson that appears on www.michaelmoore.com. Moore says he went to Cuba primarily to highlight the profiteering that permeates the U.S. health system and its neglect of people’s needs, the main theme of “Sicko.”

In his open letter, Moore suggests the Bush administration is engaging in vindictive, self-protective behavior. Such motivation is evident, he says, from the timing of the OFAC letter, which arrived just prior to the film’s May 19 premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and its nationwide release on June 29.

Moore condemns the OFAC investigation as the “latest example of the Bush administration abusing the federal government for raw, crass, political purposes.”

For five and a half years, Moore says, “the Bush administration has ignored and neglected the heroes of the 9/11 community. These heroic first responders have been left to fend for themselves, without coverage and without care. I understand why the Bush administration is coming after me.”

His open letter focuses on financial support bestowed upon right-wing Republicans by health care moguls worried about possible fallout from “Sicko.” Ironically, many commentators noted that, by casting Moore as David to the Treasury Department’s Goliath just as his film is being released, Bush administration officials are likely helping to boost the film’s box office success.

The travel regulations in question are aimed at enforcing U.S. policies against Cuba in place for 45 years. Restrictions imposed as part of the economic blockade against Cuba and tightened by the Bush administration have eradicated all but a few categories of legal travel to Cuba. Media coverage of Moore’s run-in with the Treasury Department largely skirted the issue of U.S. policies toward Cuba.

Hundreds of travelers to Cuba over the past three years have received similar OFAC letters. They were, in most cases, expecting them, some with open arms.

Activists with the Venceremos Brigade and Pastors for Peace Friend-Shipment caravans have over decades purposefully defied U.S. travel restrictions. They have protested U.S. hostility toward Cuba and say they will not comply with what they consider inhumane, unjust economic sanctions.

Both groups are sending delegations to the island again this summer. For information, e-mailor cucaravan@igc.org.

atwhit @megalink.net