On June 16 in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida, President Donald Trump announced a reversal of some aspects of the Cuba normalization policies that had been instituted by his predecessor, President Barack Obama. With a flourish at the end of his speech, Trump signed the National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba to document the new policy. Back in Washington, D.C. the White House issued a Fact Sheet and a Background Briefing and the U.S. Department of the Treasury issued Frequently Asked Questions and Answers About the New Policy.
An examination of these documents, however, reveals that there is more smoke than fire to the changes. Most of the preexisting normalization policies and actions are not affected, and the changes that were made by executive action can be overturned by federal legislation.
Subsequent posts will review U.S. and Cuban reactions to these changes before providing this blogger’s reactions and recommendations.
National Security Presidential Memorandum
The Memorandum’s purpose in grandiose language is “to promote a stable, prosperous, and free country for the Cuban people. . . . [to] channel funds toward the Cuban people and away from a regime that has failed to meet the most basic requirements of a free and just society [and to condemn abuses by the Cuban regime]. . . . [The] Administration will continue to evaluate its policies so as to improve human rights, encourage the rule of law, foster free markets and free enterprise, and promote democracy in Cuba.” (Section 1)
The Memorandum in section 2 then states the Administration’s policy shall be to:
- “(a) End economic practices that disproportionately benefit the Cuban government or its military, intelligence, or security agencies or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people.
- (b) Ensure adherence to the statutory ban on tourism to Cuba.
- (c) Support the economic embargo of Cuba described in [federal statutes] . . . (d) Amplify efforts to support the Cuban people through the expansion of internet services, free press, free enterprise, free association, and lawful travel.
- (e) Not reinstate the ‘Wet Foot, Dry Foot’ policy, which encouraged untold thousands of Cuban nationals to risk their lives to travel unlawfully to the [U.S.].
- (f) Ensure that engagement between the [U.S.] and Cuba advances the interests of the [U.S.] and the Cuban people. . . . [including] advancing Cuban human rights; encouraging the growth of a Cuban private sector independent of government control; enforcing final orders of removal against Cuban nationals in the [U.S.]; protecting the national security and public health and safety of the [U.S.], including through proper engagement on criminal cases and working to ensure the return of fugitives from American justice living in Cuba or being harbored by the Cuban government; supporting [U.S.] agriculture and protecting plant and animal health; advancing the understanding of the [U.S.] regarding scientific and environmental challenges; and facilitating safe civil aviation.”
The Memorandum in section 3 concludes with detailed directions for implementation.
White House Fact Sheet
The White House Fact Sheet on this policy change stated the following as its objectives: (1) “Enhance compliance with United States law—in particular the provisions that govern the embargo of Cuba and the ban on tourism; (2) Hold the Cuban regime accountable for oppression and human rights abuses ignored under the Obama policy; (3) Further the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and those of the Cuban people; and (4) Lay the groundwork for empowering the Cuban people to develop greater economic and political liberty.”
The Fact Sheet then stated the following “Summary of Key Policy Changes:”
- “The new policy channels economic activities away from the Cuban military monopoly, Grupo de Administración Empresarial (GAESA), including most travel-related transactions, while allowing American individuals and entities to develop economic ties to the private, small business sector in Cuba. The new policy makes clear that the primary obstacle to the Cuban people’s prosperity and economic freedom is the Cuban military’s practice of controlling virtually every profitable sector of the economy. President Trump’s policy changes will encourage American commerce with free Cuban businesses and pressure the Cuban government to allow the Cuban people to expand the private sector.”
- “The policy enhances travel restrictions to better enforce the statutory ban on United States tourism to Cuba. Among other changes, travel for non-academic educational purposes will be limited to group travel. The self-directed, individual travel permitted by the Obama administration will be prohibited. Cuban-Americans will be able to continue to visit their family in Cuba and send them remittances.”
- “The policy reaffirms the United States statutory embargo of Cuba and opposes calls in the United Nations and other international forums for its termination. The policy also mandates regular reporting on Cuba’s progress—if any—toward greater political and economic freedom.”
- “The policy clarifies that any further improvements in the United States-Cuba relationship will depend entirely on the Cuban government’s willingness to improve the lives of the Cuban people, including through promoting the rule of law, respecting human rights, and taking concrete steps to foster political and economic freedoms.”
Significantly this Fact Sheet did not contain actual new regulations to implement the policy changes. Instead, “the Treasury and Commerce Departments [were directed] to begin the process of issuing new regulations within 30 days. The policy changes will not take effect until those Departments have finalized their new regulations, a process that may take several months. The Treasury Department has issued Q&As that provide additional detail on the impact of the policy changes on American travelers and businesses.”
White House Background Briefing
The prior day the White House conducted a background briefing on this policy change for journalists.
In addition to presaging the chances noted above, it stated that the new policy was the result of “a full review of U.S. policy toward Cuba [led by the] National Security Council . . . [under the leadership of] General McMaster, [that] engaged in a thorough interagency review process, including more than a dozen working-level meetings, multiple deputies meetings, and principal meetings. This interagency process included . . . the Treasury Department, the State Department, Commerce Department, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Transportation. . . .”
“Additionally, during this process, the President met with members of Congress who are experts on Cuba policy and have been leaders in formulating Cuba policy, from a legislative perspective, for years. These members also worked with us hand-in-glove in providing technical guidance and policy suggestions as we continued to formulate the policy and went through multiple drafts.”
“The President and other principals also met with members on both sides of the aisle in this process, and even, additionally, were sharing thoughts with those who have, I think, been advocates — in particular, agricultural trade with Cuba.”
U.S. Treasury Department FAQs
The June 16th FAQs emphasize that the Department’s changes will become effective only upon its issuance of amendments to its Cuban Assets Control Regulation, which are expected in a couple of months.
The upcoming amendments will end individual people-to-people travel. But still permissible will be group people to-people travel: “educational travel not involving academic study pursuant to a degree program that takes place under the auspices of an organization that is subject to U.S. jurisdiction that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact. Travelers utilizing this travel authorization must maintain a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that are 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. An employee, consultant, or agent of the group must accompany each group to ensure that each traveler maintains a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities.”
“The announced policy changes will not change the authorizations for sending remittances to Cuba.”
Vice President Pence and President Trump’s Speeches Announcing the Change
Trump’s speech was a full-blown condemnation of many Cuban policies and practices and U.S. past and current efforts to change those policies and practices that went far beyond the limited changes previously mentioned. He was introduced by Vice President Pence, who reiterated some of the same rhetorical devices regarding Cuba.
 White House, National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba (June 16, 2017).
 White House, Background Briefing on the President’s Cuba Policy (June 15, 2017).
 U.S. Treasury Dep’t, Frequently Asked Questions on President Trump’s Cuba Announcement (June 16m 2017); U.S. Treasury Dep’t, Frequently Asked Questions Related to Cuba (Jan. 6, 2017).
 White House, Remarks by the Vice President on the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba (June 16, 2017); White House, Remarks by President Trump on the Policy of the United States Towards Cuba (June 16, 2017); DeYoung & Wagner, Trump announces revisions to parts of Obama’s Cuba policy, Wash. Post (June 16, 2017); Davis, Trump Reverses Pieces of Obama-Era Engagement with Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017); Schwartz, Trump Announces Rollback of Obama’s Cuba Policy, W.S.J. (June 16, 2017).