(Adds comment by EU ambassador, details from statement)
MADRID/HAVANA, Feb 5 (Reuters) - The Spanish hotel chain Melia said on Wednesday its chief executive officer had been banned from entering the United States over the company’s operations in Cuba, marking an escalation of U.S. sanctions on the Communist-run island and firms doing business there.
Melia Hotels International, one of Europe’s largest hotel companies, said in a statement it believed more than 50 other companies had received similar notifications, without specifying which.
The European Union’s ambassador in Havana, Alberto Navarro, told Reuters this was the only European case he was aware of so far, condemning the U.S. move roundly.
The decision to bar Melia CEO Gabriel Escarrer comes after the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump said last year it would seek to fully enforce Title IV of the Helms-Burton act, which strengthened the decades-old embargo on Cuba.
Title IV denies entry to those who are believed to have gained personally from properties confiscated in Cuba after the 1959 revolution. The law had been rarely implemented since being passed in 1996 due to objections from the international community.
But the Trump administration has taken unprecedented measures in an attempt to isolate Cuba and despite objections from U.S. allies, including allowing U.S. citizens to sue foreign firms for “trafficking” in confiscated Cuban property.
Melia said American officials cited two hotels affiliated with the company in the Cuban region of Holguin, claiming they are on a plot of land expropriated by the state in the 1950s.
Melia, whose involvement in Cuba dates back three decades, has previously said it does not own any assets in the country, but instead manages hotels. Melia has 380 hotels in 40 countries.
A Spanish court last year dismissed a 10 million euro ($11 million) lawsuit lodged by a Cuban-American family over the two hotels in Holguin.
Melia said on Wednesday it hoped Spanish and European Union authorities would help resolve the issue.
“We reiterate our respect and confidence in them ... insisting once again on the loyalty, legality and responsibility with which our subsidiaries have always carried out their business management in Cuba,” it said.
The European Union, which has continued to normalize relations with Cuba even as the Trump administration has unraveled the detente of former President Barack Obama, has said it considers the extra-territorial application of unilateral restrictive measures to be contrary to international law. ($1 = 0.9088 euros) (Reporting by Ashifa Kassam and Emma Pinedo in Madrid and Sarah Marsh in Havana; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Leslie Adler)