Trump’s Hostility Towards Cuba Provides Opportunities for Russia              

As noted in previous posts, President Donald Trump in only one year in office has expressed hostility towards Cuba in various ways. Those actions have created opportunities for other countries to increase their connections with Cuba and thereby damage U.S. business relations with the island and potentially U.S. national security.

Opportunities for Russia

The foremost beneficiary of these U.S. changes has been Russia.

On December 16, in Havana Cuba President Raúl Castro and Economy Minister Ricardo Cabrisas met with the head of Russian oil company Rosneft, Igor Sechin, for discussions about increasing Cuba’s purchases of oil from Rosneft and modernizing the island’s oil refinery in Cienfuegos. Also participating in the meeting was Mikhail L. Kamynin, Russian ambassador in Cuba.[1]

This May Rosneft started shipping some oil to Cuba, the first significant such sales since the early 1990s. The resumption of this relationship is in response to the U.S. hostility and discouraging U.S. business with the island and to the significant reduction of Venezuela’s shipments of such products to Cuba and the resulting shortages of fuel and electricity for Cubans.

Other Russian beneficiaries are Avtovaz, Russia’s biggest carmaker; KAMAZ, Russia’s largest truck manufacturer; and Sinara, a large locomotive manufacturer. Next month Avtovaz will ship 300 new shiny Lada automobiles to Cuba and hopes to ramp up such exports, thanks to financing from Russian government development bank VEB. Last month Sinara delivered the first of 75 locomotives worth $190 million ordered by Cuba in 2016.[2]

In addition, Russian Railways (RZD) is negotiating to upgrade more than 1000 km of Cuban railroads and to install a high-speed link between Havana and the beach resort of Varadero, in what would be Cuba’s biggest infrastructure project in decades worth $2.26 billion

Aleksandr Bogatyr, Russia’s trade representative in Cuba, said that there Has been a “renaissance” as he forecast bilateral trade could grow to $350 million to $400 million this year, one of its highest levels in nearly two decades, up from $248 million in 2016.

A major obstacle to all of these deals is Cuba’s lack of cash and Russia’s own economic problems. Yet in 2014 Russia forgave 90 percent of Cuba’s $35 billion Soviet-era debt and started providing export financing to Russian companies looking to sell to the cash-strapped island.

An outsider to the Russian connection, Jason Marczak, Director the U.S.-based Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, observed, “Russia sees it as a moment to further its own relationship with Cuba” and “the more the Russian footprint increases in Cuba, the more that will reinforce hardened anti-U.S. attitudes and shut out U.S. businesses from eventually doing greater business in Cuba.”

Challenge to U.S. National Security

All of this also represents a national security challenge to the U.S. This April a group of high-ranking military officers wrote an open letter to the Trump administration urging continuation of the U.S. opening with Cuba. One of the letter’s signatories, retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. David L. McGinnis, said, “If Russia is willing to offset oil supplies from Venezuela and some other things, maybe Cuba doesn’t have much of a choice but to let them re-establish political warfare operations there.”

This general Russian threat to the U.S. is recognized in the National Security Strategy of the United States of America that was released on December 18. At the very start on page 2 it states,, “China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity. They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence.” This was made specific with respect to Cuba  on page 51 with the following statements: “In Venezuela and Cuba, governments cling to anachronistic leftist authoritarian models that continue to fail their people. Competitors have found operating space in the hemisphere. . . . Russia continues its failed politics of the Cold War by bolstering its radical Cuban allies as Cuba continues to repress its citizens.”  (Emphases added.)

The U.S. National Security Strategy reacts to the Russian challenge by saying that  the U.S. with Canada and “key countries in the region . . . . will build a stable and peaceful hemisphere that increases economic opportunities for all, improves governance, reduces the power of criminal organizations, and limits the malign influence of non-hemispheric forces. . . . We will catalyze regional efforts to build security and prosperity through strong diplomatic engagement. We will isolate governments that refuse to act as responsible partners in advancing hemispheric peace and prosperity. We look forward to the day when the people of Cuba and Venezuela can enjoy freedom and the benefits of shared prosperity, and we encourage other free states in the hemisphere to support this shared endeavor. (Emphases added.)

But this presidential document fails to acknowledge that this Russian involvement was precipitated, in part, by the Trump Administration’s own hostility towards Cuba and that a continuation of normalization of relations with Cuba would not have provided “operating space” in Cuba for “competitors” like Russia.[3]

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[1] Reuters, Cuba’s Castro and Russian Oil Executive Meet in Havana, N.Y. Times (Dec. 17, 2017); Raúl receives Igor Sechin, Granma (Dec. 18, 2017).

[2] Reuters, Cuba Boost Trade Ties with Cold War Ally Russia as U.S. Disengages, N.Y. Times (Dec. 19, 2017).

[3] White House, National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Dec. 2017).

 

 

 

New Restrictions on U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Certain Cuban Entities                                     

On November 8, the U.S. Treasury, Commerce and State departments released regulations imposing new restrictions on U.S. citizens travel to Cuba. Taking effect on November 9, they “are aimed at preventing U.S. trade and travelers from benefiting its military, intelligences and security arms of the Communist-ruled country.” In addition, they require U.S. travelers on “person-to-person” trips “to use a U.S.-based organization and be accompanied by a U.S. representative of the group.”[1]

This blog post will first provide a list of the Treasury Department’s 12 categories of general licenses for approved travel to Cuba, only two of which are directly affected by the new regulations. These two categories will be discussed followed by the new regulations ban on transactions with certain Cuban entities that affects all 12 categories.

Categories of Approved Travel[2]

“Travel-related transactions are permitted by [OFAC’s] general license for certain travel related to the following activities, subject to the criteria and conditions in each general license: (1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain authorized export transactions.”

Only the two categories in bold are affected by the new regulations—travel for “educational” reasons (organized and people-to-people) and “support for the Cuban people.”

Formal Educational Travel[3]

OFAC states, “Among other things, this general license authorizes, subject to conditions, faculty, staff, and students at U.S. academic institutions . . . to engage in certain educational activities, including study abroad programs, in Cuba, Cuban scholars to engage in certain educational activities in the United States, and certain activities to facilitate licensed educational programs. U.S. and Cuban universities may engage in academic exchanges and joint non- commercial academic research under the general license. This provision also authorizes persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to provide standardized testing services and certain internet-based courses to Cuban nationals.

In addition, “educational exchanges, including study abroad programs, sponsored by Cuban or U.S. secondary schools involving secondary school students’ participation in a formal course of study or in a structured educational program offered by a secondary school or other academic institution, and led by a teacher or other secondary school official are authorized. Such exchanges must take place under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction, and a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction who is an employee, paid consultant, agent, or other representative of the sponsoring organization (including the leading teacher or secondary school official) must accompany each group traveling to Cuba. For a complete description of what this general license authorizes and the restrictions that apply, see 31 CFR § 515.565(a)(2)(vi). This authorization allows for participation of a reasonable number of adult chaperones to accompany the secondary school students to Cuba.”

“People-to-People” Educational Travel[4]

“OFAC is amending the general license for people-to-people educational activities in Cuba to remove the authorization for individual people-to-people educational travel. This general license now authorizes, subject to conditions, persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to engage in certain educational exchanges in Cuba under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact. Travelers utilizing this general license must ensure they maintain a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba.”

“The predominant portion of the activities must not be with a prohibited official of the Government of Cuba, as defined in 31 CFR § 515.337, or a prohibited member of the Cuban Communist Party, as defined in 31 CFR § 515.338.”

“A person subject to U.S. jurisdiction who is an employee, paid consultant, agent, or other representative of the sponsoring organization must accompany each people-to-people educational group traveling to Cuba to ensure that each traveler has a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities. Individuals traveling under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact may rely on the entity sponsoring the travel to satisfy his or her recordkeeping obligations with respect to the requirements described above. OFAC is amending this general license to exclude from the authorization direct financial transactions with entities and subentities identified on the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List.”

Support for the Cuban People” Travel[5]

“This general license authorizes, subject to conditions, travel-related transactions and other transactions that are intended to provide support for the Cuban people, which include activities of recognized human rights organizations; independent organizations designed to promote a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy; and individuals and non-governmental organizations that promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba. OFAC is amending this general license to require that each traveler utilizing this authorization engage in a full-time schedule of activities that enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities and that result in meaningful interactions with individuals in Cuba. OFAC is also amending this general license to exclude from the authorization certain direct financial transactions with entities and subentities identified on the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List. The traveler’s schedule of activities must not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule in Cuba. For a complete description of what this general license authorizes and the restrictions that apply, see 31 CFR § 515.574.”

“ Renting a room in a private Cuban residence (casa particular), eating at privately owned Cuban restaurants (paladares), and shopping at privately owned stores run by self-employed Cubans (cuentapropistas) are examples of authorized activities; however, in order to meet the requirement of a full-time schedule, a traveler must engage in additional authorized Support for the Cuban People activities.”

Ban on Transactions with Certain Cuban Entities[6]

The new regulations also ban U.S. travelers and businesses from transactions with “the large military-run corporations that dominate the Cuban economy. These include GAESA and CIMEX, the holding companies that control most retail business on the island; Gaviota, the largest tourism company; and Habaguanex, the firm that runs Old Havana.” The regulations include a list of forbidden hotels, including Havana’s “Manzana Kempinski, which opened with great fanfare this year as Cuba’s first hotel to meet the international five-star standard.”

This “Cuba Restricted List,” which will be maintained and updated by the State Department, has the following categories of organizations (and the number of entities in each category): Cuban Ministries (2) ; Cuban Holding Companies (including CIMEX,GAESA, Gavotte and Companies Touristic Habituate S.A.) (5) ; Hotels in Havana and Old Havana (27); Hotels in Santiago de Cuba (1); Hotels in Varadero (13); Hotels in Pinar del Rio (2); Hotels in Baracoa (7); Hotels in Cayos de Villa Clara (15); Hotels in Holguín (11); Hotels in Jardine’s del Rey (5); Hotels in Topes de Collates (3); Tourist Agencies (2); Marinas (5); Stores in Old Havana (10);  Entities Directly Serving the Defense and Security Sectors (38); Additional Subentries of CIMEX (16); Additional Subentities of GAESA (13); Additional Subentries of GAVIOTA (4); and Additional Subentries of HABAGUANEX (1).

Conclusion

All of these new regulations are meant to implement President Trump’s National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba, which he signed on June 16, 2017, at an event in Miami Florida.[7]

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[1] U.S. Treasury Dep’t, Treasury, Commerce, and State Implement Changes to the Cuba Sanctions Rules (Nov. 8, 2017); U.S. Treasury Dep’t (Office of Foreign Assets Control), Frequently Asked Questions Related to Cuba (updated Nov. 8, 2017); Reuters, Trump Administration Tightens Sanctions Against Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 8, 2018); Assoc. Press, US Takes Steps to Make It Harder for Americans to Visit Cuba, N.Y. times (Nov. 8, 2017); DeYoung, White House implements new Cuba policy restricting travel and trade, Wash. Post (Nov. 8, 2017).

[2] U.S. Treasury Dep’t (Office of Foreign Assets Control), Frequently Asked Questions Related to Cuba (updated Nov. 8, 2017).

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] U.S. State Dep’t, List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated With Cuba as of November 9, 2017 (Nov. 8, 2017); U.S. State Dep’t, Frequently Asked Questions on the Cuba Restricted List (Nov. 8, 2017).

[7]  White House, Trump’s National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba (June 16, 2017). This Memorandum and the Miami event were discussed in a prior post.