Obama moves to make Cuba policies 'irreversible'
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
President Barack Obama issued a presidential directive on Cuba on Friday
that seeks to institutionalize and cement his policy changes toward the
island and encourage further engagement even after he leaves office.
His administration also released a sixth set of regulatory changes
designed to enhance business and trade between the United States and
Cuba. It ranged from serious business overtures to one that will become
a favorite of U.S. travelers to the island: no more limit on how many
bottles of rum and Cuban cigars they can bring back for personal use.
Obama called the presidential policy directive "another major step
forward in our efforts to normalize relations with Cuba" and said it
"takes a comprehensive and whole-of-government approach to promote
engagement with the Cuban government and people and make our opening to
The detailed, 12-page document, which builds on and consolidates changes
the administration has made since rapprochement between the United
States and Cuba began in December 2014, is "the manual that will be used
by various agencies" to guide them in their future relations with Cuba,
said a senior administration official.
It supersedes any previous presidential directives on Cuba and would
stand as U.S.-Cuba policy until it is replaced, said the official who
added: "It takes a significant amount of time to develop a presidential
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted earlier this week
that he would "reverse Obama's executive orders and concessions towards
Cuba until freedoms are restored."
But, said the administration official, it seems unlikely a future U.S.
president would try to close the U.S. Embassy in Havana, end regularly
scheduled flights to the island or disrupt the increasing number of
budding business partnerships with Cuba. To do so, the official said,
would be "cutting against the grain of public opinion here in the United
Susan Rice, the president's national security adviser, noted Friday that
the president's directive came on the the anniversary of the day in 1962
when an American U-2 plane flying over Cuba photographed offensive
nuclear missile sites, setting off the Cuban Missile Crisis. Although
the crisis was averted, "mutual suspicion remained high" and relations
were mired in hostility for decades, she said.
Rice said engagement is now the correct policy. "Already, we're seeing
what the United States and Cuba can accomplish when we put aside the
past and work to build a brighter future," she said during a speech at
the Wilson Center.
The directive makes it clear the president would like to see the embargo
lifted: "The United States government will seek to expand opportunities
for U.S. companies to engage with Cuba. The embargo is outdated and
should be lifted.
"My administration has repeatedly called upon the Congress to lift the
embargo, and we will continue to work toward that goal. While the
embargo remains in place, our role will be to pursue policies that
enable authorized U.S. private sector engagement with Cuba's emerging
private sector and with state-owned enterprises that provide goods and
services to the Cuban people."
It could be the final set of Cuba-related regulations issued by the
Obama administration but a senior official said that further
"refinements" are always possible. The changes take effect Monday when
the regulations are published in the Federal Register.
One of the most significant rule changes is one that allows U.S.
companies to negotiate binding contracts in Cuba, even in areas
currently prohibited under the embargo. Such contracts or agreements
would go into effect contingent on future U.S. approval such as lifting
the embargo, said Augusto Maxwell, a lawyer at the Akerman firm.
The new rules also allow Cubans and Americans to engage in joint medical
research and lift monetary limits on the amount of Cuban products
Americans can bring back in their luggage for personal use. Currently
the limit is $400.
Also gone is the restriction that travelers can come back with only a
combined total of $100 of alcohol and tobacco products. They can pack as
many bottles of Cuban rum and cigars in their bags as they like — as
long as they are for personal use and they pay the duties and taxes that
would normally apply.
There will no longer be monetary limits on such products purchased in
third countries that come into the United States as accompanied baggage.
The Commerce Department also will allow online sales of consumer goods
to Cubans without requiring U.S. companies to get a prior license. Asked
what types of consumer goods Cubans would be allowed to purchase, a
senior U.S. official responded: "Any type of consumer goods you could
think of" from toothpaste to air conditioners, television sets and auto
In a move that is expected to facilitate trade between the two
countries, the Office of Foreign Assets Control also will lift a
restriction that prohibited foreign ships from entering a U.S. port to
load or unload cargo for a period of 180 days after calling on a Cuban port.
"These amendments will create more opportunities for Cuban citizens to
access American goods and services, further strengthening the ties
between our two countries," said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny
Pritzker. "More commercial activity between the U.S. and Cuba benefits
our people and our economies."
But Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said: "This latest round
of regulatory changes, like the ones before it, will do nothing for the
suffering Cuban people and will instead further enrich the coffers of
Castro state-owned entities while crushing the hopes that 11 million
Cubans have for freedom, democracy and human rights."
The new rules also expand the opportunities for Cubans to receive grants
and scholarships to study in the United States. Two new categories have
been added. Cubans will be able to receive such grants not only for
traditional educational and humanitarian purposes but also to pursue
scientific research and religious activities.
The regulations streamline some previous trade authorizations and allow
U.S. nationals to provide services to Cuba or Cuban nationals related to
developing, repairing, maintaining and enhancing Cuban infrastructure in
order to directly benefit the Cuban people. That means that a U.S.
engineering or architectural firm could offer their services for
projects in Cuba, Maxwell said.
The presidential directive and regulations came the same day that U.S.
and Cuban delegations were meeting in Havana to discuss human rights.
Despite progress in the U.S.-Cuba relationship, Obama said that
"challenges remain — and very real differences between our governments
persist on issues of democracy and human rights — but I believe that
engagement is the best way to address those differences and make
progress on behalf of our interests and values. The progress of the last
two years, bolstered by today's action, should remind the world of
what's possible when we look to the future together."
Source: New rules designed to increase trade and business opportunities
between U.S. and Cuba | In Cuba Today -