New U.S. Sanctions Against Cuba

The U.S. recently has announced additional sanctions against Cuba. Here is a summary of those measures.

 U.S.Sanctions Against Certain Cuban Hotels, Cigars and Alcohol[1]

On September 23 President Trump announced that the “Treasury Department will prohibit U.S. travelers from staying at properties owned by the Cuban government. We’re also further restricting the importation of Cuban alcohol and Cuban tobacco. These actions will ensure that U.S. dollars do not fund the Cuban regime and go directly to the Cuban people.”

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said, “The Cuban regime has been redirecting revenue from authorized U.S. travel for its own benefit, often at the expense of the Cuban people. This Administration is committed to denying Cuba’s oppressive regime access to revenues used to fund their malign activities, both at home and abroad.”

A negative assessment of this move was made by Lawrence Ward, a partner in the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney, who said Trump’s action will make it nearly impossible for Americans to visit Cuba since the government owns or controls nearly all hotels. “Certainly, these new sanctions will have some minor impact on the Cuban government and Cuba’s economy but there’s a fair argument that the actions are more symbolic and political given that the United States stands nearly alone in its sanctions as to Cuba.”

Enrique Gutierrez, a spokesman for the Democratic Party said in an email, “This is a desperate and hypocritical attempt by Trump to pander to Cuban-American voters in Florida. American citizens are already banned from traveling to Cuba because of the coronavirus.” Mr. Trump was “using our foreign policy for his own political gain.”

U.S. Sanctions Against Cuban Debit Cards[2]

On September 28, the State Department added American International Services (AIS), a financial institution, to the Cuba Restricted List. According to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, the stated reason for this action was AIS’ allegedly being “controlled by the Cuban military that processes remittances sent to the Cuban people” and its charging “fees and manipulat[ing] the remittance and foreign currency market as part of the regime’s schemes to make money and support its repressive apparatus. The profits earned from these operations disproportionately benefit the Cuban military, furthering repression of the Cuban people and funding Cuba’s meddling in Venezuela.”

The Secretary added, “Adding AIS to the Cuba Restricted List furthers the Administration’s goal of preventing the Cuban military from controlling and benefiting from the flow of remittances that should instead benefit the Cuban people.  The people should be able to receive funds from their family abroad without having to line the pockets of their oppressors.” Therefore, the Secretary urged “anyone who sends remittances to family in Cuba to use means other than Cuban government-controlled remittance entities.”

This move against AIS hurts ordinary Cubans who receive remittances in hard currencies from families in the U.S. and elsewhere through AIS that are used to buy food in government-owned retail grocery stores. Bruno Rodriguez, Cuba’s foreign minister, said in a tweet, “it is a maneuver aimed at damaging the Cuban people and the family ties between both nations.”

List of Cuba Prohibited Accommodations and Entities [3]

In addition, on September 28, the Department published its initial list of Cuba Prohibited Accommodations. This is a “list of properties in Cuba owned or controlled by the Cuban government, a prohibited official of the Government of Cuba, as defined in 31 CFR § 515.337, a prohibited member of the Cuban Communist Party, as defined in 31 CFR § 515.338, a close relative, as defined in 31 CFR § 515.339, of a prohibited official of the Government of Cuba, or a close relative of a prohibited member of the Cuban Communist Party.” The list is by cities and towns that not in alphabetical order so it should be carefully examined by any U.S. citizen traveling to Cuba.

On September 29, the Department published the List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated with Cuba. This is a “list of entities and subentities under the control of, or acting for or on behalf of, the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services or personnel with which direct financial transactions would disproportionately benefit such services or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba.” U.S. nationals are prohibited from having “direct financial transactions with these entities.”

Another Cuban “Blocked Person”[4]

On September 30 the Department added Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Calleja to the U.S. list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons, which will block all transactions with “all assets, property and interests of property of Mr. Lopez-Calleja that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction, including within the possession or control of U.S. persons.”   The stated reason for this action was his being the head of the Cuban military-owned conglomerate Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A. (GAESA), which allegedly uses its revenue “to oppress the Cuban people and to fund Cuba’s parasitic, colonial domination of Venezuela.  He also is the son-in-law of Raul Castro.

Other Reactions [5]

 These new sanctions might seem inconsequential to someone in the U.S. But they are especially mean-spirited when directed at the much smaller and weaker island whose economy is suffering from the total collapse of foreign tourism and mismanagement and whose food is sold at high prices in government-operated stores only for U.S. Dollars as a way for the government to obtain Dollars it needs for other purposes.

Elijah Love, a commentator in the private Diario de Cuba and generally supportive of U.S. restrictions on Cuba, says, “Unfortunately, private entrepreneurs have been especially harmed, and although the US government wants the sanctions applied to military companies and State Security to leave room for private entrepreneurs to occupy the place they deserve, it does not seem that this be the case.”

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[1] White House, Remarks by President Trump Honoring Bay of Pigs Veterans (Sept. 23, 2020); Treasury Dep’t, Office of Foreign Asset Control, Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 85 Fed. Reg. 60068-72 (Sept. 24, 3030)(new prohibition on lodging and related transactions at certain Cuban properties; restrictions on U.S. imports of Cuban alcohol and tobacco products; ends authorization of attendance or organization of professional meetings in Cuba and participation or organization of certain public performances , clinics , workshops in Cuba); Yeginsu, Trump Administration Adds to US Travel Restrictions in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Sept. 24, 2020); Superville, Trump tightens Cuba sanctions as he woos Cuban-American vote, Wash. Post (Sept. 23, 2020).

[2] State Dep’t, Addition to the Cuba Restricted List (Sept. 28. 2020); Rodriguez, U.S. adds popular Cuban debit card to restricted list, Wash. Post (Sept. 28, 2020).

[3]  State Dep’t, Cuba Prohibited Accommodations List Initial Publication (Sept. 28, 2020);  State Dep’t, List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated with Cuba Effective September 29, 2020 (Sept. 29, 2020)

[4] State Dep’t, Press Statement (Secretary Michael Pompeo): Addition to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (Sept. 30, 2020);Lee, US imposes sanctions on Cuba’s Raul Castro’s son-in-law, Wash. Post (Sept. 30, 2020)

[5]  Augustin & Robles, Cuba’s Economy Was Hurting. The Pandemic Brought a Food Crisis, N.Y. Times (Sept. 20, 2020); Love, US sanctions on the Cuban economy create opportunities, but also risks, Diario de Cuba (Sept.  29, 2020).

 

Court: Trump’s Illegal Consent Procedure for Refugee Resettlement

As discussed in a prior post, on September 28, 2019, President Trump issued an executive order requiring written consents by states and local governments for the federal government’s resettlement of refugees, and other posts have discussed the issuance to date of such consents by at least 40 states.[1]

On January 15, however, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland preliminarily ruled that this executive order was invalid and ordered that its enforcement be temporarily halted.[2]

The Court’s Opinion

The court’s opinion on this issue occurred in a civil lawsuit for preliminary and final injunctive relief against this executive order that was brought by three nonprofit refugee resettlement agencies—HIJAS, Inc., Church World Service, Inc. and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service [3]—and in the court’s justification for its granting their motion for a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of this executive order while the case proceeds to final judgment.

The court concluded that the well-established principles for preliminary injunction had been established: (1) “the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits;” (2) “they will suffer irreparable harm that is neither remote nor speculative, but actual and imminent if the injunction is not granted;” (3) “the balance of equities favor their position;” and (4) “the relief they seek is in the public interest.” (Memorandum Opinion at 16.) The key issues for the current legitimate public attention to this case are the court’s opinion on the merits and the public interest.

After a careful analysis, the court concluded that the executive order’s “grant of veto power [to state and local governments] over the resettlement of refugees within their borders ”is arbitrary and capricious . . . as well as inherently susceptible to hidden bias” and is “unlawful” based upon “statutory text and structure, purpose, legislative purpose, judicial holdings, executive practice, the existence of a serious constitutional concern over federal preemption, and numerous arbitrary and capricious administrative deficiencies.” (Memorandum Opinion at 17-27.)

The court also concluded that a preliminary injunction against the President’s executive order was in the public interest by “keeping ‘the President from slipping the boundaries of statutory policy and acting based on irrelevant policy preferences,’. . . having governmental agencies abide by federal laws that govern their existence and operations, . . . [and preventing] States and Local Governments [from having] the power to veto where refugees may be resettled –in the face of clear statutory text and structure, purpose, Congressional intent, executive practice, judicial holdings, and Constitutional doctrine to the contrary.” (Memorandum Opinion at 30-31.)

Conclusion

The Federal Government has a right to appeal this decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, but has not expressed any intent to do so. In the meantime, officials in the U.S. State Department, state and local governments, the resettlement agencies and refugees themselves are confused about what to do next.

This case arbitrarily was assigned by the District Court’s Clerk to Senior District Judge Peter J. Messitte, who on August 6, 1993, was nominated by President Bill Clinton and on October 18, 1993, confirmed by the U.S. Senate; on September 1, 2008, he assumed senior status. Judge Messitte is a graduate the University of Chicago Law School, where he was a classmate of this blogger. His undergraduate degree is from Amherst College.[4]

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[1] See Latest U.S. Struggle Over Refugees, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 11, 2019);   posts to dwkcommentaries.com. relating to refugee resettlement.

[2] Memorandum Opinion, HIJAS, Inc. v. Trump, Civil No. PJM 19-3346 (D. Md. Jan. 15, 2020); Order, Hias, Inc. v. Trump, Civil No. PJM 19-3346 (D. Md. Jan. 15, 2020); Marimow & Sacchetti, Federal judge temporarily halts Trump administration policy allowing local governments to block refugees, Wash. Post (Jan. 15, 2020); Assoc. Press, Judge Halts Trump’s Order Allowing States to Block Refugees, N.Y. Times (Jan. 15, 2020).

[3] The three plaintiff resettlement agencies are members of nine designated “’Resettlement Agencies’ that enter into annual agreements with the Federal Government to provide services to these refugees under the current [U.S.] resettlement program.” (Memorandum Opinion at 1.) The plaintiffs were supported by amici briefs from 12 states, including Minnesota; from the U.S. Conference of Mayors along with 11 mayors and cities, including Minneapolis; and various faith-based organizations with hundreds of affiliates throughout the U.S.  (Id. at 2 (n.2).)

The amici brief for the states asserted the following arguments: (I) The Executive Order Violates the Refugee Act and Interferes with the States’ Sovereign Interests;” (II) “The Refugee Resettlement Consent Process Harms the States’ Refugee Communities;” (III) “The Refugee Resettlement Consent Process Burdens the Staters’ Resources;” (A) Amici States Have Created Highly Effective Refugee Resettlement Systems;” (B) “The Executive Order’s Consent Process Burdens State Refugee Resettlement Programs.” (Brief of the States of California, et al. As Amici Curiae in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction, Hias, Inc. v. Trump, Civil No. PJM 19-3346 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2019).)

[4] Peter Jo Messitte, Wikipedia; U.S. Dist. Ct., Dist, Md, Peter J. Messitte.