Friday, January 14, 2011

Anya Landau: Obama breaks with failed policy

This is just in from the New America Foundation:
Anya Landau French, director of the New America Foundation’s U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative, commented: “These new travel rules will make it possible for thousands of Americans to connect with and help a broad spectrum of Cubans at a crucial moment of change on the island. These regulations reflect President Obama’s campaign pledge of pragmatic engagement with the rest of the world, including Cuba, and will demonstrate to our allies and detractors around the globe that his Administration is able to break from the failed policies of the past.”

To contact Anya Landau French directly, call: 301-452-4591 or email at:
Background on Cuba Travel Restrictions and Presidential Authority

Restrictions on travel to Cuba are part of the overall trade and financial embargo against Cuba. In 1996, the Helms-Burton Act codified the entire Cuba embargo, which had been in place under presidential discretion. Passage of Helms-Burton meant that while the president could adjust administration and enforcement of the embargo, he could not altogether lift it or discontinue regulation of any transaction affected by the embargo without the approval of Congress.

In 2000, Congress passed the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TSRA), to loosen agricultural export sanctions on Cuba and several other countries. That bill codified into law 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba first approved by President Clinton. Under TSRA, the president has the authority to interpret these twelve categories broadly or narrowly, and may reduce or increase the regulatory burden on these travelers as he sees fit.

Who can travel to Cuba. After the passage of TSRA, an American wishing to travel to Cuba must qualify for such travel under one of the following categories:

1. Visits to immediate family
2. Official business of U.S. and foreign governments and intergovernmental organizations
3. Journalistic activity
4. Professional research and meetings
5. Educational activities
6. Religious activities
7. Public performances, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
8. Support for the Cuban people
9. Humanitarian projects
10. Private foundations or research or educational institutes
11. The exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials
12. Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing Department of Commerce regulations and guidelines with respect to Cuba or engaged in by U.S. owned or controlled foreign firms

Who may qualify and how broadly or narrowly these 12 categories may be interpreted is defined by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the Treasury Department office that enforces financial sanctions.

Travelers to Cuba may either travel under a “general license” or a “specific license.” Currently, qualified travelers going to Cuba for family travel, official government business, certain professional research activities or to conduct licensed agricultural sales transactions may qualify for a general license, allowing them to travel without explicit written permission -- though their qualifications are still subject to inquiry by U.S. authorities. All other licensable travelers are forbidden to visit Cuba without first obtaining a “specific license” from OFAC, which covers a specific trip or certain activities.

Examples of use of presidential authority to adjust the Cuba travel ban. In 2003 and 2004, President George W. Bush used his authority under the law to eliminate subcategories of authorized travelers – most notably by removing the “people to people” cultural education trips. He also used this authority to sharply restrict the rights of Cuban Americans to visit their families, including allowing visits to Cuba only once every three years, with no permission for emergency visits, e.g. funerals or illnesses. The Bush administration also limited these family visits to nuclear family only, and required these travelers to obtain a specific license from the Treasury Department, rather than to travel under a general license (implied authority) once a year as they had done until 2004.

President Obama used this same authority in 2009 to reverse the Bush administration’s tightened restrictions on “immediate family” travel, and to significantly ease rules for these visits to the island, by expanding who may travel (those with a second cousin relation or closer) and the length and frequency of the visits (no limits on either). President Obama also used his authority to ease rules on family remittances to the island.

These latest regulations announced today also exercise the president’s authority to determine how the 12 categories may be defined.

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