U.S. Announces Concrete Improvements in Relations with Cuba

Today, September 18, the United States announced new regulations to improve U.S. trade and travel with Cuba. Additional positive changes also are expected over the next several months.[1]

New Trade and Travel Regulations

The U.S. Departments of the Treasury and Commerce on Friday announced new regulations, to be effective on September 21 upon their publication in the Federal Register, that will ease restrictions on U.S. companies seeking to do business in Cuba and on U.S. citizens traveling to the island.

The new rules target travel, telecommunications, Internet-based services, business operations, banking and remittances. They also will allow U.S. companies to establish a presence in Cuba with offices, stores, warehouses and Cuban employees.

Although the new rules do not change who can travel to Cuba, the rules do ease movement of authorized travelers there by licensing transportation providers. They also lift the cap on remittances and allow U.S. travelers to open and maintain bank accounts there.

The new regulations also increase educational opportunities by allowing Internet-based courses and further expand humanitarian efforts by allowing disaster relief.

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said, “Today’s announcement underscores the Administration’s commitment to promote constructive change for the Cuban people.  These regulatory changes build on the revisions implemented earlier this year and will further ease sanctions related to travel, telecommunications and internet-based services, business operations in Cuba, and remittances.  A stronger, more open U.S.-Cuba relationship has the potential to create economic opportunities for both Americans and Cubans alike.  By further easing these sanctions, the United States is helping to support the Cuban people in their effort to achieve the political and economic freedom necessary to build a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba.”

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker added, “The regulations published today are designed to support the emerging Cuban private sector and bring us one step closer to achieving President Obama’s historic policy goals.  These actions build upon previous Commerce regulatory changes, and will ease travel restrictions, enhance the safety of Americans visiting the country, and promote more business opportunities between U.S. and Cuban companies.  In addition to expanding our commercial engagement with the Cuban people, these additional adjustments have the potential to stimulate long overdue economic reform across the country.”

According to the president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, the two departments have “gone farther at one time than most anyone expected. Not only are companies able to establish a physical presence in Cuba and hire Cuban workers, but . . . [the new rules] are also extending loans and lease payment terms for authorized products.

Other Future Changes

The U.S. and Cuba will open regular postal mail service. Initially it will be a “pilot program” allowing Cubans and Americans to send mail directly to one another using the Miami and Havana airports.

The two countries soon should finalize an agreement on resuming direct, commercial airline routes although the first flights will not happen until next year.

Progress before year-end is expected on counter-narcotics cooperation that will expand Coast Guard interdiction efforts to include the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency partnering with its Cuban counterpart; joint environmental work involving the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and setting up maritime passenger routes.

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[1] U.S. Dep’t of Treasury, Treasury and Commerce Announce Further Amendments to the Cuba Sanctions Regulations (Sept. 18, 2015); Davis, Restrictions on Cuba Travel and Business Lifted by U.S., N.Y. Times (Sept. 18, 2015); Reuters, U.S. Moves to Open Up Business With Cuba, Ease Embargo, N.Y. Times (Sept. 18, 2015); Davis, U.S. to Announce Loosening of Business and Travel Restrictions on Cuba, N.Y. Times (Sept. 17, 2015); Assoc. Press, US, Cuba to Resume Mail Service This Year; Other Steps Near, N.Y. Times (Sept. 17, 2015).

U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission Sets Agenda for Future Discussions of Remaining Issues

 

On September 11, in Havana, the U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission held its first meeting. It decided on an agenda for the future discussions and hoped-for resolution of remaining issues regarding normalization of relations. The commission agreed to meet again in November in Washington, D.C. to review progress in these areas and to chart areas of cooperation for 2016.[1]

The agenda has been divided into three tracks, with the first encompassing issues where there is significant agreement and the possibility of short-term progress. These include re-establishing regularly scheduled flights, environmental protection, natural disaster response, health and combatting drug trafficking. A second track includes more difficult topics such as human rights, human trafficking, climate change and epidemics. The third includes complex, longer-term issues like the return of the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, U.S. damage claims over properties nationalized in Cuba after the 1959 revolution and Cuba’s damage claims for more than $300 billion in alleged economic damages from the U.S. embargo and for what it says are other acts of aggression.

Cuba reiterated its opposition to the comprehensive U.S. economic embargo, the U.S. occupation of Guantanamo and anti-communist radio and television broadcasts beamed into Cuba, but did not seek to place them on the agenda because they were measures unilaterally imposed by the United States.

Both sides agreed the discussions were full and frank, extensive, and conducted in a courteous and respectful manner.

Cuba’s delegation was led by Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, the Foreign Ministry’s director general for the United States, The U.S.’ by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South America and Cuba, Edward Alex Lee, accompanied by the Director of the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff, David McKean; and Charge d’affaires ad interim Jeffery DeLaurentis. Below to the left is a photograph of the Cuban delegation; below to the right is a photograph of the U.S. delegation.

Cuban delegation
Cuban delegation
U.S. delegation
U.S. delegation

 

 

 

 

 

Vidal indicated that the both sides saw the start of the process as opening at least the possibility of an Obama visit to Cuba, saying that it is natural for countries with normal relations to receive visits from each other’s leaders.

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[1] This post is based upon the following: Cuba-U.S. Bilateral Commission to hold first meeting, Granma (Sept. 9, 2015); U.S. State Dep’t, Daily Press Briefing (Sept. 10, 2015); Reuters, U.S., Cuba Set Agenda on Improving Relations, N.Y. Times (Sept. 11, 2015); Assoc. Press, Cuba, US Launch Normalization Process, N.Y. Times (Sept. 11, 2015); U.S. State Dep’t, Daily Press Briefing (Sept. 11, 2015); Press Release of the Cuban delegation to the first meeting of the Cuba-US Bilateral Commission, (+ Photos), Granma (Sept. 11, 2015).

 

 

 

 

U.S. and Cuba Hold Productive Second Round of Negotiations

On February 27th the United States and Cuba held a productive second round of negotiations at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. [1] (Below is a photograph of the U.S. delegation on the left; the Cuban, on the right.)

28CUBA1-articleLarge

At the conclusion of the session, “diplomats of both countries spoke positively about fulfilling the promise made by Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro in December to restore embassies in each other’s capitals.

  • Roberta Jacobson, the State Department’s senior envoy to Latin America, said, “We made meaningful progress“ and the negotiations were “open, honest and sometimes challenging, but always respectful.” She also said she thought the embassies could be opened before the Summit of the Americas.
  • Her Cuban counterpart, Josefina Vidal, indicated she received assurances that the U.S. would move on two of the biggest hurdles remaining: Cuba’s inclusion on the U.S. state sponsor of terrorism blacklist and its inability to conduct normal banking operations in the U.S. She expressed confidence of progress on both priorities “within the following weeks.” Vidal also said that “the Cuban delegation is presenting a proposal for the establishment of a bilateral dialogue on human rights.”

The diplomats also said there would be subsequent discussions about various issues, including (i) civil aviation; (ii) trafficking; (iii) telecommunications; (iv) increasing Cuba’s Internet connectivity; (v) immigration fraud prevention; (vi) regulatory changes that modify the implementation of the blockade; (vii) protection of marine protected areas; and (viii) human rights.

The post-session press release by the Cuban delegation stated they “reiterated the importance of . . . the exclusion of Cuba from the list of ‘state sponsors of international terrorism,’ the provision of financial services to the Cuba Interests Section in Washington services and the need to ensure compliance with the principles of international law and the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations, [especially] compliance with the rules relating to the functions of diplomatic missions, the behavior of their staff, to respect national laws and nonintervention in the internal affairs of States.”

Later Vidal made it clear that “Cuba is willing to restore diplomatic relations with the U.S. as soon as the Obama administration declares its intent to take the country off a list of state sponsors of terrorism.” Vidal said that if Cuba got word the Obama administration was recommending the removal from the terrorism list, diplomatic ties could go forward without a prior resolution of the banking issue.” [2]

Vidal further commented that the issue of extraditing people between Cuba and the U.S. had been discussed many times in the past, that the two countries had signed a treaty on the topic in 1906 which has a clause such that it would not apply in cases involving political activities. “Therefore, Cuba has legitimately given political asylum to a small group of U.S. citizens, because we have reason to believe that they deserve this and that is how far we’ve gone. And when one grants political asylum, then you cannot get into these types of discussions.” She added that after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 the U.S. had not honored the treaty when Cuba asked the U.S. to extradite “members of the Cuban dictatorship who were responsible for terrible crimes.” [3]

Before the session, there was optimism, but considerable uncertainty, about the likelihood of a positive outcome as indicted by the press reports before the session.

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[1] The first round of negotiations was held in Havana on January 22-23 as discussed in a prior post.  This post on the second round is based upon the following: U.S. Dep’t of State, Background Briefing on Talks to Re-establish Diplomatic Relations with Cuba (Feb. 25, 2015); Reuters, Cuba Says Fast Track to Restoring Ties, ‘Depends on U.S.,’ N.Y. Times (Feb. 25, 2015); Miroff & DeYoung, Cuba says terrorism list, banking issues are blocking better ties with U.S., Wash. Post (Feb. 25, 2015);  Sosa, Cuba going to second round of talks with US constructively, Granma (Feb. 25, 2015); Derevit, Cuba comes with proposals and expects answers at the meeting in Washington, CUBADEBATE (Feb. 25, 2015); Assoc. Press, U.S., Cuba Cite Progress on restoring diplomatic ties, Wash. Post (Feb. 27, 2015); Reuters, U.S., Cuba Say Progress Made in Talks, No Date for Diplomatic Ties, N.Y. Times (Feb. 27, 2015); Gómez, Cuba and the U.S. hold talks in respectful climate, Granma (Feb. 27, 2015); Schwartz, U.S., Cuba Meet for Second Round of Diplomatic Talks, W.S.J. (Feb. 27, 2015); Press Release of the Cuba Delegation on restoration of diplomatic relations with the US, Granma (Feb. 27, 2015); Adams & Mohammed, U.S., Cuba say progress made in talks, no date for diplomatic ties, Reuters (Feb. 27, 2015); Archibold, Cuba’s Spot on US Terrorism List Gums Up Restoration of Relations, N.Y. Times (Feb. 28, 2015); Reuters, Cuba Signals Readiness to Fast-Track U.S. Diplomatic Ties, N.Y. Times (Mar. 2, 2015); Gómez, Closer to restoring relations, Granma (Mar. 4, 2015).

[2] A prior post discussed the U.S. legal and political issues regarding its rescission of the terrorism designation making it impossible for the U.S. to make the rescission before the April 10-11 Summit of the Americas in Panama, and Cuba’s acceptance of a U.S. intent to rescind before establishment of diplomatic relations recognizes that U.S. reality.

[3] The U.S.-Cuba extradition treaty of 1906 and its modification in 1926 were discussed in a prior post.