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).

 

 President Trump Proclaims His “Success” on Cuba  

On December 31 President Trump released a lengthy recital of his administration’s alleged successes over its first three years and as an obvious prelude to his re-election campaign.[1]

In that recital President Trump said the following about Cuba:

“President Trump has promoted democracy throughout the Western Hemisphere and imposed heavy sanctions on the regimes in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua.”

“The President reversed the previous Administration’s disastrous Cuba policy.”

“President Trump has enacted a new policy aimed at stopping any revenues from reaching the Cuban military or intelligence services, imposed stricter travel restrictions, and reaffirmed the focus ensuring the Cuban regime does not profit from U.S. dollars.”

“Earlier this year, the Trump Administration put a cap on remittances to Cuba.”

“President Trump is enabling Americans to file lawsuits against persons and entities that traffic in property confiscated by the Cuban regime, the first time that these kind of claims have been available for Americans under the Helms-Burton Act.”

Conclusion

These statements are correct if one ignores the self-congratulatory evaluation of the administration’s actions. For those like this blogger, they are deplorable actions.[2]

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[1] White House, President Donald J. Trump Has Delivered Record Breaking Results For The American People In His First Three Years in Office (Dec. 31, 2019).

[2] See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba.

 

U.S. Imposes New Sanctions on Cuba and Denounces Cuba’s Detention of Dissident   

On October 18, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) imposed new sanctions against Cuba while the State Department denounced Cuba’s detention of dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer.

New Sanctions[1]

The BIS revoked “existing licenses for aircraft leases to Cuban state-owned airlines, and will deny future applications for aircraft leases.” This was based upon the Department’s assertion that  “the Cuban regime is resorting to transporting tourists on leased aircraft subject to BIS jurisdiction.”

Additionally, “BIS is expanding Cuba sanctions to include more foreign goods containing U.S. content, and is imposing additional restrictions on exports to the Cuban regime.” According to a regulation set for October 21 publication, the Export Administration Regulations will be amended so that goods with as little as 10% U.S. content will be subject to U.S. jurisdiction and, thus, require a license from the U.S. Department of Commerce for export or reexport to Cuba. Previously, the policy only applied to goods with 25% or greater U.S. content. In addition, the amendment will, prohibit certain donations to the Cuban government and communist party  and clarify the scope of telecommunications items that the Cuban government may receive without a license.

This action, says the Department, “supports the Administration’s earlier decision to hold the Cuban regime accountable for repressing its own people as well as continuing to provide support to the illegitimate Maduro regime which has terrorized the Venezuelan population and wantonly destroyed the once-prosperous economy relied on by millions.”

The Department’s Secretary, Wilbur Ross, said, “This action . . . sends another clear message to the Cuban regime – that they must immediately cease their destructive behavior at home and abroad. The Trump Administration will continue to act against the Cuban regime for its misdeeds, while continuing to support the Cuban people and their aspirations for freedom and prosperity.”

Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel in a tweet said these new sanctions were “an expression of impotence, moral degradation and imperial contempt. It is an inhuman, cruel, unjust and genocidal act that we strongly reject. We will not give up. and we will give sovereign answer.”

A similar tweet came from Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez: these are “additional acts of economic blockade, representative of a moral bankruptcy policy, internationally isolated and promoted by a corrupt government. The Cuban people will continue to give due and sovereign response.”

Denouncing Cuban Detention of Dissident[2]

The Cuban dissident who has been detained is Jose Daniel Ferrer, the founder of  the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

According to the State Department, “On October 1, “Castro regime officials detained Mr. Ferrer and several other human rights defenders in Santiago de Cuba.  Mr. Ferrer reportedly has still not been informed of any charges against him, and has been denied access to a lawyer and to medical care.  Mr. Ferrer’s family has not been permitted contact with him since October 4.”  In addition, other “UNPACU activists Roilan Zarraga Ferrer, José Pupo Chaveco, and Fernando González Vailant also remain in custody.”

“Ferrer’s case is one more example of the Castro regime’s continuous and flagrant violation of human rights, which has recently escalated into a wave of repression against freedoms of speech, expression, and religion.  The United States will not allow these abuses against the Cuban people to go unnoticed or unanswered.  We will continue to increase sanctions and trade restrictions to diminish the resources available to the Cuban regime, which uses its income to suppress its own citizens and to prop up other regimes with shameful human rights records, including the former Maduro regime in Venezuela.”

Therefore, the U.S. “strongly condemns the Cuban regime’s unconscionable detainment of . . . [Senor] Ferrer, founder of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).  We call on the Castro regime to immediately disclose Mr. Ferrer’s location and condition, to treat him humanely, and to release him from detention without condition.”

Similar protests of this detention have been registered by UNPACU, Cuba’s Legal Information Center (CUBALEX), Cuban Prisoners Defenders, Freedom House and Amnesty International.

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[1] Commerce Dep’t, U.S. Department of Commerce Further Tightens Cuba Sanctions (Oct. 18, 2019); Reuters, U.S. Hits Cuba With New Sanctions Over Human Rights, Venezuela, N.Y. Times (Oct. 18, 2019); Assoc. Press, U.S. slaps new sanctions on Cuba over human rights, Venezuela, Wash. Post (Oct. 18, 2019);Center for Democracy in Americas,  U.S. restricts additional exports and re-exports to Cuba, U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 10/18/2019.

[2] State Dep’t, Detention of Cuban Human Rights Defender José Daniel Ferrer (Oct. 18, 2019); The arrest of José Daniel Ferrer is ‘a mechanism of repression against all civil society,’ Diario de Cuba (Oct. 17, 2019); Cuban Prisoners Defenders denounces the Cuban regime in Geneva for the case of José Ferrer, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 17, 2019).

 

Cuba’s Increasing Cooperation with Russia   

A recent blog post commented on the increasing connections between Cuba and the European Union, one of the consequences of the Trump Administration’s hostile rhetoric and policies about the island nation. Another unfortunate consequence of this U.S. hostility is the increasing cooperation between Cuba and Russia.[1]

Last week, for example, Vice President of the Cuban Council of Ministers Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, led a Cuban delegation for meetings in Moscow. This included the X Meeting of the Russia-Cuba Business Committee, the first National Exhibition of Cuba in Russia and the XVII meeting of the Russian-Cuban Intergovernmental Commission.

At the Commission meeting Cabrisas said, “I call on continuing to work to strengthen the bonds of friendship and solidarity between the two peoples and governments, to make our economic, commercial and financial relations of cooperation more efficient.” He also complained that U.S. sanctions, together with the effects of climate change, have caused losses to the Cuban economy in the last decade “for almost 22 billion U.S. dollars” and that this damage “has affected [Cuba’s] financial situation and caused some delays in our payments. ” However, he stressed that Cuba is resolving this situation “gradually” and that it has “the will and the decision to fulfill each of our obligations to the Russian Federation.” Moreover, Cuba is satisfied “with the effective participation of the Russian Federation in Cuba’s economic-social development plan until 2030.”

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov, meanwhile, presented as “good news that the volume of trade between Russia and Cuba could reach 500 million dollars by the end of this year.” Last year, he added, “the volume of Russian-Cuban trade grew by 34%.” With respect to Cuba’s current fuel crisis, Borisov said that the two countries had just signed a plan to modernize the Cuban energy system, which will allow Cuba to reduce oil supplies from abroad by a third and save 1.8 billion dollars. This was the result of the efforts of last January’s creation of a working group to implement projects aimed at modernizing Cuba’s energy sector with the help of Russian companies.

Russia also is interested in resuming agricultural cooperation with Cuba and raising it to the levels achieved during the Soviet era, according to the director general of the Russian National Committee for Economic Cooperation with Latin American Countries (CN CEPLA), Tatiana Mashkova. She also referred to possible bartering and the use of the ruble in commercial transactions. The vice president for the Russian side of the Cuba-Russia business committee also recalled that in those years the Soviets supplied irrigation machinery and all kinds of harvesters to Cuba.

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[1] Havana clings to Moscow as a ‘piece fundamental to solve the current crisis,’ Diario de Cuba (Sept. 21, 2019)    See also these posts to dwkcommentaries: Professor LeoGrande’s Comments on the Strengthening Cuba-Russian Relationship (Jan. 3, 2018); Trump’s Hostility Towards Cuba Provides Opportunities for Russia (Dec. 19, 2017).

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Trump’s New Regulations Adversely Affect Cuban Entrepreneurs

The new travel regulations and anti-Cuba rhetoric of President Trump already are hurting ordinary Cubans, especially those who have become entrepreneurs and who employ 600,000 of the island’s 11 million people.  The “self-employed” sector, a euphemism used by the Cuban government to avoid the words “private” or “entrepreneur,” already is encumbered by Cuban regulations that leave little room for development.[1]

Now an “association of Cuban businesswomen has asked to meet with Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), a Cuban-American who has never been to the island and who is believed to be a major influencer on the Trump Administration’s Cuba policies. These women want to explain ” the impact on the country’s nascent private sector of rolling back a detente in U.S. relations.” They say, “The current situation has us very worried and we would like to share our personal histories and perspective from Cuba.”

One of these women, Niuris Higueras, the owner of the Atelier restaurant in Havana, said her  “business is down 60 percent from a year ago.” Another woman, Julia de la Rosa, who runs a 10-room bed and breakfast, said rentals were down 20 percent in October and she expected a further decline as new U.S. regulations on individual travel kick in this month.

The Trump Administration’s evident hostility toward Cuba also has caused U.S. businesses to reduce their interest in trying to create and build business in Cuba. At this year’s Cuba trade fair only 13 U.S. companies had booths compared with 33 last year. Another cause of this reduction is growing awareness of the difficulty of doing business in Cuba.[2]

Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, the Cuban-born head of the U.S.-Cuba Business Council, said, “This is a huge step backwards. We had made so much progress.”

U.S. airlines with licenses for flights to Cuba also are seeing the reduction in U.S. demand for visiting Cuba. As a result, five airlines have cancelled all flights to the island while others have reduced the number of their flights.[3]

A caveat to this negative reaction is the opinion of some that the new regulations on business dealings “produce brighter lines that may make it easier for companies to identify who exactly they can do business with when trying to operate on the island.”

One who expressed this view is Peter Harrell, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security who previously served as a deputy assistant secretary for counter-threat finance and sanctions in the U.S. State Department, said that the new regulations “made trade easier with the country’s private sector.” A significant point in this regard was the State Department’s FAQ document stating that “entities not on its restricted list, even if they’re subsidiaries of those on the list, are [not] restricted until they themselves appear on the blacklist.”[4]

Another caveat is “the new regulations limiting “disruption to pre-existing commercial activities, ensuring that U.S. companies can continue to do business with Cuba’s nascent private sector.” Examples of such preexisting deals are Deere & Co. and Caterpillar Inc.’s arrangements for distribution of their products on the island.[5]

Myron Brilliant, the head of international affairs at the U.S. chamber of Commerce, urged the administration “to continue to keep business in mind and avoid further steps to restrict the economic relationship between the U.S. and Cuba.”

Nevertheless, the U.S. regime of Cuba sanctions presents risks to U.S. companies. The latest example is the November 17 announcement by the U.S. Treasury of an OFAC settlement with American Express Co. for $204,000 for its 50%-owned Belgian credit-card issuer’s corporate customers’ 1,818 transactions in Cuba between 2009 and 2014.[6]

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[1] Reuters, Cuban Businesswomen Seek Rubio Meeting as U.S. Policies Bite, N.Y. Times (Nov. 17, 2017). The above topics and others are the subjects of earlier posts listed in the “Cuban Economy” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[2] Reuters, Blooming U.S. Business Interest in Cuba Wilts Under Trump, N.Y. Times (Nov. 10, 2017).

[3] Reuters, Alaska Airline Discontinues Los Angeles-Havana Daily Flight, N.Y. Times (Nov. 14, 2017); Assoc. Press, Alaska Airlines to Halt Flights to Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 14, 2017).

[4] Rubenfeld, New U.S. Cuba Regulations May Make Compliance There Easier, W.S.J. (Nov. 9, 2017).

[5] Schwartz & Radnofsky, New Trump Rules Pare Back Obama’s Opening to Cuba, W.S.J. (Nov. 8, 2017).

[6] Rubenfeld, American Express Unit Fined Over Cuba Sanctions Violations, W.S>J. (Nov. 17, 2017).