HAVANA—Cuba on Tuesday criticized recent U.S. government sanctions against American Express Co. and an Italian bank for apparent violations of the 51-year-old economic and financial embargo against the island.

A Foreign Ministry statement published in Communist Party newspaper Granma slammed American Express' $5.2 million settlement with the U.S. Treasury Department last week to head off potential liability.

"The U.S. government once again makes absurd concessions to those opposed to change in policy toward Cuba," the statement said.

The embargo is a long-standing sore point for Havana. Official media issues near-constant complaints that what is known here as the "blockade" harms Cuban people first and foremost.

Embargo proponents, however, argue that violators prop up President Raul Castro's Communist-run government by providing Cuba's wobbly economy with badly needed cash.

Officials announced the settlement of the case involving American Express Travel Related Services Inc. on July 22.

The U.S. Treasury Department had found that foreign branch offices and subsidiaries of American Express issued more than 14,000 tickets for travel between Cuba and other countries between 2005 and 2011.

The company said last week that it had voluntarily self-disclosed those bookings to the Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, the Treasury branch responsible for enforcing the embargo, and had established mechanisms to avoid it from happening again.

Implemented in 1961, the embargo includes a prohibition on banking institutions under U.S. jurisdiction processing financial transactions involving Cuba. It also bars most American travel to the island.

However increasing numbers of U.S. citizens are visiting legally on so-called people-to-people cultural exchanges, an exception to the ban that was resuscitated in 2011. American Express is one of the biggest travel services providers for these licensed trips.

Cuba's Foreign Ministry also raised the case of Intesa SanPaolo, saying it paid a fine of nearly $3 million on June 28 after OFAC determined that the Italian bank had processed 53 financial transactions involving Cuba between 2004 and 2008.

"The extraterritorial application of this sanction highlights the audacity with which the United States treats its European partners and sets a negative precedent for other institutions that do business with Cuba," the statement said.

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