On Cuba News: U.S. Government Restricts Sending of Remittances to Cuba

The U.S. government has restricted this Friday the sending of remittances to Cuba and banned donations of money and bank transfers to or from the island through U.S. banks, the Department of the Treasury reported.

As of next October, Cubans can only receive 1,000 dollars per quarter. In addition, the sending of remittances to senior government officials on the island and Communist Party members is still banned, a decision that has now been extended to all of their “close relatives.”

The press release does not specify what is understood for close relatives, but traditionally whenever the U.S. administrations have applied restrictions to Cubans and “close relatives” they include parents and children, and leave out others, including foster mothers, a fundamental pillar in Cuban society. For example, when President George W. Bush cut visas to Party members, he included close relatives such as parents and children, but when he authorized the sending of some remittances, although controlled, he left out grandchildren, nephews, cousins and foster mothers, which at that time created a small uprising in the community in South Florida.

On the other hand, donations are prohibited, although remittances can be sent to some people and independent non-governmental organizations. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has added a permit authorizing this type of remittances to support the operation of the non-state sector’s economic activities by private workers in light of the policy to encourage the growth of the Cuban private sector independent of government control, the press release said.

The U.S. government has also banned bank transfers to or from Cuba with other banks through institutions under its jurisdiction, that is, if a European bank wants to transfer or receive money from Cuba through its branch in the United States as of now it won’t be able to do it, something that was already happening for fear of the implications of the economic embargo on the island.

The administration justifies the new measures in the framework of the strategy established by the Donald Trump administration to strengthen the Cuba policy defined in a memorandum in June 2017.

In addition, also as a measure of pressure for Havana’s support for the Caracas government, which the United States wants to oust from power. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin explained in the release that they are taking these additional steps to financially isolate the Cuban regime, which according to the U.S. is responsible for the oppression of the Cuban people and the support of other dictatorships in the region such as the “illegitimate regime of (Venezuelan President, Nicolás) Maduro.”

The official emphasized that with these regulatory amendments, the Department of the Treasury intends to deny Cuba access to hard currency and that they were confirming the bad behavior of the Cuban government while they will continue supporting the suffering Cuban people.

This group of restrictions adds to the prohibition of cruise trips to Cuba, the strengthening of measures that limit Americans’ travel to the island, denying the granting of political asylum to Cubans who present themselves on the border with Mexico and the limiting of visas and residence permits within the framework of the immigration agreements.

Reactions

These measures were advanced last April in Miami by National Security Advisor John Bolton. Today’s release barely confirms their establishment through OFAC. But even so it has surprised observers.

“First I was surprised because I thought it was old news and it really is a change in OFAC regulations that Bolton announced in April. Now what I did not expect was that remittances to private workers would be maintained because many of those self-employed persons have relations with the government or relatives in the government,” said Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute of Florida International University.

That is why the academician believes that it will be very difficult for the U.S. government to monitor the compliance of these new restrictions. “The thing is that a series of categories are established that are confusing and that are going to be very difficult to put into practice,” said Duany, speaking about family connections in the non-state economic sector.

Even so, “and speaking plainly, it sounds very strong because of the problem of the economic crisis Cuba is experiencing and that now will be affected even more, taking into account other measures such as the elimination of cruise tourism, the needs of Cubans.”

The Cuban government reacted immediately in a twit by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez where the decision is characterized as an “opportunistic attempt to divide Cubans” that is doomed to failure. “I strongly reject (the) implementation of measures announced by the #US in April, aimed at strengthening the blockade and the economic siege against #Cuba. An opportunistic attempt to divide Cubans that will fail.”

Mnuchin’s announcement was received with concern by Engage Cuba, a coalition promoting the strengthening of ties with Cuba. For its president, James Williams, restricting the possibility that Cuban Americans can support their relatives and loved ones is cruel and counterproductive.

Williams emphasized that although they favor the exemption given to the self-employed and non-governmental organizations, the wider fact is that it strengthens a failed embargo and causes more pain and suffering to the average Cuban and that it is particularly devastating for Afro-Cubans who have less chance of having relatives in the United States, adding that this Friday’s announcement is another tragic chapter of the Trump administration’s inhuman policy toward Cuban families, as if it weren’t enough that the Trump administration is denying political asylum or deporting Cubans and not processing family reunification visas.

Making remittances profitable

All this is taking place at a time when the Cuban government was analyzing the experiences that several countries have in managing their immigrants’ remittances, which is why every study in this sense takes on a pressing relevance. Although the majority have settled in the United States, Cubans are spread all over the world and are estimated to contribute between 1.5 and 3.6 billion annually.

These remittances are sent to their relatives who then use them to meet their basic needs with purchases in government-owned stores or private and cooperative establishments, and which later enter the national economy.

A recent analysis by the Inter Press Service agency states that “official sources admit that these remittances represent a ‘strong and important’ income for the economy and there is a space to channel them towards productive investments. They also recognize that this process includes the need to encourage the collection of remittances with a benefit for the holder.”

Apparently after the reestablishment of full diplomatic relations with the United States, when President Barack Obama lifted the limits on remittances―which was 1,000 dollars per quarter, as it will again be from now on―, remittances from the United States immediately amounted to 3.354 billion in 2015 and the following year reached 3.6 billion, said Cuban economist Armando Nova cited by the news agency.

A considerable sum that forces the government, he estimates, to create new mechanisms to make remittances profitable. The basic objectives would be infrastructure investments and economic growth. “One of the options that are considered is the creation of a bank fund for certain economic activities, state or private, with an attractive interest rate, which can be collected from time to time either by the shareholder himself or by a chosen relative,” says the story.

But there are other options, such as fully opening the doors of the domestic market to foreign capital, facilitating imports and their joint distribution. This should include the possibility that the private sector can import directly without going through state agencies, which always increases consumer prices. “It would be possible to channel the real cash income, received through remittances, in the economic development of the country,” Nova said to IPS.

A survey carried out in 2016 by the Center for Population Studies of the National Bureau of Statistics and Information of Cuba, showed that 77% of Cuban emigrants send, permanently or temporarily, some kind of help to their families and friends on the island. Which goes into the hands of 32% of Cubans living in their country.

Washington Post: Where Travel From the U.S. to Cuba Currently Stands

For Americans traveling to Cuba, the future looks less like jaunts to the Ernest Hemingway estate and cigar factories and more like visits to community youth programs and quality time with artisans who make cigar humidors. As a result of tighter restrictions on how Americans are allowed to spend their time in Cuba, meaningful, supportive interaction with locals is imperative.

After the Trump administration’s latest crackdown on travel to the island nation last month, tour companies are consulting lawyers, poring over scant federal guidance and tweaking their offerings to provide legal trips that can still appeal to a wide swath of U.S. citizens.

The new rules, announced June 4, eliminated the two most popular ways for Americans to get to Cuba since President Barack Obama eased restrictions in 2016: cruises and “people-to-people” group tours that merely required interaction with locals.

Americans can legally visit Cuba only under approved categories, and the bulk of those — including family visits, educational purposes, professional conferences and athletic competitions — come with detailed requirements. With people-to-people trips now off the table, that leaves one, all-purpose category: “support for the Cuban people.”

That leaves some big questions for travelers: What makes a trip supportive? What is off-limits? And what’s the best way to get there?

“It’s been confusing, to say the least,” says Gus Maxwell, head of the Cuba practice at the law firm Akerman. “You have seen the elimination of a category overnight.”

The answers are tied up in a tangle of federal regulations that aren’t always clear, even to experts. And not every company is making the same changes as they adapt to the new category.

Commercial flights are still allowed, and people can either travel independently or with an organized group. But visitors must comply with the somewhat murky requirements set out by the Treasury Department, keep careful track of their activities and hold onto their records for five years.

Anyone who booked a people-to-people trip before the new changes went into effect can still travel under that category, though cruises ended immediately. Pure tourism (such as a beach vacation) is prohibited, as it has been for decades.

Staying at a private home and eating at privately owned restaurants go some (but not all) of the way to meeting the latest requirements, and in some cases, staying at a hotel would be allowed. No one is permitted to stay, shop or do business with companies on the government’s list of restricted entities — which includes many hotels — that are affiliated with the Cuban military. Tour companies are familiar with which hotels, restaurants and stores keep U.S. tourists within the guidelines.

According to federal authorities — specifically, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control — individuals and organizations can travel under the support-for-the-Cuban-people category. To stick to the rules, they must have a full-time schedule of activities that enhance contact with locals, support civil society in Cuba, result in meaningful interaction with residents or promote independence from Cuban authorities.

The department lays out some scenarios that would fall within the law: staying in a room at a private home while engaging with the host; eating at privately owned restaurants; shopping at private stores run by locals; and supporting entrepreneurs who are launching their own businesses.

Under another example, a group of people volunteering with a nongovernmental organization to build a school for local children would also be compliant. They would even be fine to rent bikes to explore and visit an art museum in their downtime.

The government also provided an example of what is not allowed: staying at a hotel and renting a bike to explore neighborhoods and beaches with brief exchanges with beach vendors. “None of these activities promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba,” the regulations say.

“It’s not really like it’s purely black-and-white; there’s a lot of gray,” says James Williams, president of the advocacy coalition Engage Cuba. “I think you have to err on the side of caution.”

Collin Laverty, founder of Cuba Educational Travel, said the category of “support” is similar to the old people-to-people one but goes further than just visiting and interacting with people on the ground.

“You have to kind of prove how you’re helping them and supporting them,” he says. “So there’s ... more of a ‘doing’ component and a little bit more of a deliverable.”

His company offered several categories of travel before the latest changes were announced but is now tweaking itineraries that fell under the people-to-people category to meet the new requirement.

He said that under a people-to-people trip, a group might have gone to a dance school and watched a performance and done a walking tour with an architect. Under the new requirements, they might bring donations for the dance school or artist, have conversations about how they could improve their operations and connect them with U.S. resources. Instead of just an architecture tour, visitors might go to private homes, hear from families about their living conditions and offer donations.

“Not everyone wants to go and do a volunteer vacation,” Laverty says. “It’s kind of like trying to figure out how to support people without making it overbearing — and having fun.”

Tom Popper, president of InsightCuba, said his company operated the bulk of its tours under the people-to-people category but has adjusted activities to comply with the updated rules. He said about 15 to 20 percent of the programming has been changed.

Instead of going to cigar factories, Popper said, the company will bring travelers to meet with craftspeople who make humidors. Rather than going to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, groups will visit an artists’ studio cooperative that has a focus on promoting art by vulnerable social groups.

Although, Popper said, some tour operators might still find ways to include famous spots like Finca Vigía, Ernest Hemingway’s house, InsightCuba will leave it off the schedule, along with the Che Guevara memorial and famous cemeteries. Instead, the company will facilitate private meetings with university students and young entrepreneurs, a visit to an organic farm and restaurant that provides programs for youths, and time with a community ballet company.

“We took out anything that, under the new rules, might be questionable and just found a superior replacement,” he says.

Even some companies that didn’t have to change much of their programming are scrambling.

“The biggest effect is in the minds of the U.S. traveler,” says David Lee, founder of Cultural Cuba, which provided custom trips under the “support for the Cuban people” category. “I read articles where ‘ban on travel to Cuba’ was the headline. Some people don’t even read past headlines. That sounds like ‘Well, Cuba’s done, can’t go to Cuba anymore.’”

What followed has been, as Lee put it, “a period of reeducation” — another one, after the Trump administration clamped down on travel in 2017.

The immediate ban of cruise ships last month has resulted in far fewer travelers on the ground in Cuba; according to Cruise Lines International Association, the sudden change hit nearly 800,000 bookings that were scheduled or underway at the time.

But business isn’t necessarily drying up for tour companies. After the administration warned in April that it was putting more travel restrictions into effect, some travelers were motivated to make plans right away.

“That was when people who had Cuba on their list were, like, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve got to book it right now, I’m grandfathered in,’” Lee says. “That created a really big rush."

Laverty said a number of cruise travelers who had signed up for private excursions with the company have now booked land vacations after their cruises had to lose the Cuba stop.

Popper believes that while the overall market for American travel to Cuba will shrink without cruises, tour operators will get some of the business from those who would have otherwise taken a cruise.

And, he says, there is still a silver lining: “Amidst all of these different changes and negative headlines really since June of 2017, the good news is, any American can still legally travel to Cuba, and it’s still easier than it was back in 2014.”

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WLRN: Reverse Trump's Cuba Reversals, Democratic Candidates Say. Do Cuban Americans Agree?

It’s no surprise the Democratic presidential hopefuls in Miami for debates this week want to reverse President Trump’s Cuba policy. But it’s not completely certain most Cuban-American voters will want that.

Of the 25 Democratic presidential candidates, 19 have staked out policy positions on Cuba. (According to nonprofit groups such as Engage Cuba, among those who have not publicly declared on Cuba is Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam — unusual for a South Florida politician. His aides say they are consulting him on the matter.)

Just about all of those 19 favor a return to former President Obama’s policy of engagement with communist Cuba — which Trump has rolled back.

In a Miami Herald op-ed this week, front-runner Joe Biden called Trump’s efforts to isolate Cuba “a Cold War-era retread.” Biden — who was Obama’s vice president — also accused Trump of “callously limiting the ability of Cuban-Americans to reunite with and support their families in Cuba.”

Other candidates — including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — call for ending the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. They also want Americans to be able to travel to Cuba with no restrictions.

Most American voters agree with those positions. But it’s not certain most Cuban-American voters do. In Miami-Dade County, the Cuban community once again seems split over the embargo issue. And a Mason-Dixon poll out this week shows 59 percent of Cuban-Americans approve of Trump.

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Travel Weekly: Tour Operators Remind Public It's Still Possible to Visit Cuba

As the cruise industry scrambled to adjust schedules in the wake of President Trump's ban on sailings to Cuba, some tour operators were dusting off campaigns intended to make it clear to travel advisors and the public that the island nation remains accessible to Americans.

While there were early concerns that all the headlines and confusion about the ban would lead to a drop in bookings, some Cuba operators said last week that they were seeing a boost in interest, including from people whose cruises had been canceled.

Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, said his company has been proactive in reaching out to past, current and potential clients to explain the changes. He said his group also had partnerships with two cruise lines that have been sending him customers.

"We've had dozens of small and large groups that were planning on visiting by cruise ship reach out," he said. "And we've rebooked them with compliant land programs that allow them to visit and see Cuba now, often the original draw that had them sign up for the cruise."

Likewise, the president of Apple Vacations, John Tarkowski, said Apple was "actively educating travel advisors through social media and other avenues of communication so that they in turn could educate the consumer" that the Cuba packages Apple offers under the "support for the Cuban people" category remain legal.

Apple also plans to develop tours that "are designed to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba or promote the Cuban people's independence from Cuban authorities."

"There is still high demand for Cuba," Tarkowski said, "and Apple Vacations will continue to offer opportunities for American travelers to interact with Cuban culture in compliance with [Office of Foreign Assets Control] regulations."

Still, there were plenty of questions and uncertainty about exactly what travel has been banned, leading some agencies and operators who were doing business under the people-to-people category to stop taking new bookings. Some agencies ordered advisors to stop booking all Cuba travel.

U.S. Tour Operators Association president Terry Dale said that sorting out Cuba would be at the top of the trade group's priorities when it takes members to Washington next week for its annual congressional caucus.

"In fact, James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, will be one of the guest speakers," Dale said. "We believe more clarification and direction will come from our time on the Hill."

Terry Beaty, CEO of Regency Travel in Memphis, who for the past 10 years has led mostly art-related Cuba trips, said he had talked to three major tour operators "that had almost weekly [departures] coming up for Cuba going into perpetuity, but they no longer are even taking deposits on future trips."

For example, he said, "I talked to Tauck this morning, who's a high-end provider, and they stopped officially ... taking deposits for future trips. And that's a huge blow to the traveling public, because they found security, and they knew they were going to get good hotels and that sort of thing through a vendor like Tauck."

Jeremy Palmer, senior vice president of Tauck Land Journeys, said the details of the new rules weren't clear enough for the company to comfortably take new bookings but that "we're continuing to monitor the situation and will keep our guests informed as we learn more."

Likewise, the Globus family of brands, which ran trips under the people-to-people category, said it will operate those trips booked prior to June 5 as allowed under the new restrictions, but it has stopped taking new bookings.

Tom Popper, president of InsightCuba, said his company will continue to actively promote and lead trips under the "support for the Cuban people" license category. 

"This category allows for any American to legally travel to Cuba, provided that their daily activities result in meaningful interactions with the Cuban people, which is a travel industry trend many travelers already embrace," he said. 

Additionally, he said, "InsightCuba is offering its program lineup to include Boutique Residences. These are generally centrally located, charming, full-service, fully renovated residences with modern amenities, and it is one of the best ways to experience Cuba. We've already been offering the option for guests to stay in our boutique residences for many years, with great success."

David Lee, owner of Cultural Cuba, said his company has launched a campaign to let agents and the public know that its private, custom tours remain legal. 

"We are utilizing email blasts, social media, face-to-face meetings with our travel agency partners and, of course, daily conversations with media," Lee said. 

And while Beaty said he expected interest in travel to Cuba to wane in light of the administration's latest policy changes, Popper said that with so many changes and headlines and misinformation about travel to Cuba in recent years, "the traveling public and travel agents seemingly bounce back more quickly each time."

He said InsightCuba's website traffic showed a spike on June 4 and 5, when restrictions were announced.

"What's interesting about this spike in web traffic is that visitors visited our tour pages rather than informational pages commonly associated with news cycles involving Cuba, meaning people were shopping for travel options," he said. 

The latest restrictions, he said, present "the perfect situation for travel advisors to create value for their clients."

"But it's important for travel advisors to find the right tour operator that knows how to operate in a regulatory environment and Cuba," Popper said. "Our goal is to make selling Cuba simple and easy for advisors and for them to know they can count on us to handle all regulatory requirements as well as logistics in-country."

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PBS: What Travelers Need to Know About Trump’s Cuba Restrictions

The last American cruise ship pulled out of Havana for the foreseeable future Wednesday after the Trump administration tightened travel restrictions to Cuba by banning what’s called a “people-to-people” travel license used by many Americans to visit the country.

The U.S. says it will still allow travel for certain group trips that have already been authorized, in which a traveler has “already completed at least one travel-related transaction (such as purchasing a flight or reserving accommodation) prior to June 5, 2019.” But all U.S. cruise ships with current Cuban itineraries are being rerouted to other destinations.

Americans account for the second-highest number of travelers to Cuba after Canada, and the ban is poised to deliver economic pain to both the state-run tourism sector, as well as a burgeoning industry of private entrepreneurs. The Associated Press reported that Cuban state could lose out on $130 million during peak cruise season.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement the travel ban was being implemented because of Cuba’s “destabilizing role in the Western Hemisphere,” its efforts to suppress democracy and its support for “U.S. adversaries in places like Venezuela and Nicaragua.”

Ana Quintana, senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said the Obama administration weakened Cuba travel restrictions with executive action, referring to the series of actions he took to restore diplomatic ties with the country. “Now the Trump administration is essentially correcting those executive actions to bring the U.S. back in compliance with the law,” she said.

But while supporters of a hardline approach to Cuba are hailing the decision, advocates for normalizing relations with Cuba say the U.S. is infringing on a fundamental freedom of movement.

“It is really not the government’s job to go around policing peoples’ vacation plans,” said James Williams, president of the advocacy organization Engage Cuba.

After Fidel Castro seized power in 1959 and began to align the country with the Soviet Union, the U.S. placed an embargo on exports to Cuba in 1960. For decades, the U.S. has banned tourism travel to the country.

But there were still several categories of approved travel, including the “people-to-people” license, which allowed travel as long as it promoted contact between the American and Cuban people.

The license was first expanded by President Bill Clinton, then restricted by President George H.W. Bush and expanded again under President Barack Obama in 2016.

Obama sought to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba throughout his tenure. In 2014, he moved to restore diplomatic ties between the two nations, lifting certain travel restrictions, authorizing the reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington, giving U.S. banks access to Cuba’s economy and removing Cuba from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. However, Congress never lifted completely the embargo against exports to the island.

“The history of the United States and Cuba encompass revolution and conflict; struggle and sacrifice; retribution and, now, reconciliation,” Obama said in a speech about restoring the two countries’ relationship. “It is time, now, for us to leave the past behind.”

The people-to-people license — falling under the approved category of “educational” travel — was interpreted broadly under Obama. People-to-people travel had to be conducted under the auspices of an organization promoting contact — either individually or in groups — between U.S. and Cuban people, according to the Treasury Department’s definition. In practice, this meant Americans could freely travel to Cuba as long as they planned their trip around engaging with the Cuban people and culture in some way. Many travel agencies designed and sold group tours that met the requirements.

In 2017, President Donald Trump announced he was rolling back the Obama-era policies and would seek to end economic practices that “disproportionately benefit” the Cuban government, part of a larger U.S. crackdown on Cuba that includes the latest ban.

In April of this year, Trump declared that, for the first time, lawsuits could be filed against businesses operating on land obtained by the Cuban government after the country’s 1959 revolution. The president also recently reversed another Obama-era rule that allowed Cuban baseball players to sign directly with the MLB.

In another seeming setback — or at least strange chapter — for U.S.-Cuban relations, U.S. embassy workers in Cuba last year reported a mysterious illness caused by strange, high-pitched sounds, resulting in a drawdown of American personnel. While the State Department released a travel advisory claiming it was a targeted attack, a more recent scientific analysis of one recording of the sound suggested the noise was actually caused by crickets.

There are still a number of approved categories for travel to Cuba, like for family visits, official government business or journalistic activity. In addition, the U.S. allows traveling by sports teams, taking part in cultural events, attending business meetings and volunteering in Cuba. There is also a “Support for the Cuban People” license, which allows visitors as long as they assist Cuban people in some way.

The “people-to-people” license has the most immediate effect on cruise companies and airlines, which fall under the State Department’s ban on passenger or recreational vehicles visiting Cuba.

The Cruise Line International Association said in a statement that the move would immediately affect 800,000 passenger bookings that are scheduled or already underway.

“It’s a huge, huge hit,” said Engage Cuba’s Williams, adding that about 70 percent of American travelers who visited Cuba last year went for a non-family purpose.

Even though the most popular category of U.S. travel to Cuba has been eliminated, commercial airlines retain more leeway because of the other acceptable categories.

The Department of Transportation reported that about 893,000 Americans flew to Cuba in 2018, up from 177,000 in 2016. The Associated Press reported that cruise ships brought 142,721 people to the island in the first four months of this year, up 300 percent over the same time period last year.

Cruise lines, airline operators and travel agencies have said they are studying the changes and will provide customers with up-to-date information on their current services and opportunities to travel legally to Cuba in the future.

The latest travel restrictions mark another blow to Cuba’s already fragile economy. The country is grappling with food shortages, and its oil supply is at risk, as its major supplier Venezuela faces a dire economic and political crisis.

“During the Obama-era, there was mutual interest and discussions on narco-trafficking, on immigration issues,” said Karen Poreh, a senior director at the Albright Stonebridge Group. Poreh added that now, there is limited staffing in the embassies of both countries.

“It is a significant setback for relations,” Poreh said. “But there has been so much progress in the last few years, that I don’t think we are going back to an era without mutual understanding.”

The Trump administration’s policies aim to put pressure on Cuba by keeping “U.S. dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence, and security services,” Mnuchin said in a statement Tuesday.

The recent spike in visitors and investment in Cuba has also helped create a boom in entrepreneurship. In 2017, there were 567,000 licensed entrepreneurs in Cuba, up from 157,000 in 2010. Opponents of the restrictions say the latest travel ban won’t target the Cuban government, as intended, but rather Cuban entrepreneurs and American companies that are doing business in the country.

Further travel restrictions could dampen business expansion, but Americans are likely to continue seeking ways to visit the increasingly popular travel destination.

“At the end of the day, it is still possible to travel to Cuba,” Poreh said. “We will need to see how this affects the companies who facilitate travel to Cuba, but there are still ways to go.”

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Skift: All U.S. Leisure Travel to Cuba Is Banned by Trump Administration

The Trump administration placed sweeping restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba Tuesday, closing off the island to nearly all U.S. travelers and potentially hurting industry players excited by renewed tourism to the island.

Cruise ships are no longer authorized to visit the island, cutting off one of the most popular methods of U.S. travel to the region. Of the 257,000 U.S. citizens who visited Cuba in the first four months of 2019, 142,000 came on cruise ships, according to Cuba government figures. The new restrictions also end authorization for group educational trips to Cuba, which are known as “people-to-people” travel.

“Today, the United States took strong action to prevent U.S. travel to Cuba from enriching the Cuban military, security, and intelligence services by announcing new restrictions on authorized travel and vessels to the island,” the announcement from the Department of State reads.“ The United States will no longer permit visits to Cuba via passenger and recreational vessels, including cruise ships and yachts, and private and corporate aircraft,”

A cruise ship from the defunct Fathom line docked in Havana.

The move is the latest and the heaviest blow under the Trump administration to tourism in the region. It comes as part of a larger effort to reverse the opening up of U.S.-Cuba travel enacted by the Obama administration.

In 2016, the Obama administration made it possible for most U.S. citizens to visit Cuba, but in June 2017 the Trump administration ended that, only allowing visits to Cuba as part of educational group tours. Months later, the administration also banned U.S. travelers from staying at certain hotels on the island, which it said had ties to the Cuban government.

And in April, the administration announced upcoming restrictions on non-family travel to Cuba, and limited the amount of remittances Cuban-Americans can send to relatives.

“Restricting Americans’ freedom to travel is an attack on our fundamental right as citizens. The federal government should not be policing where Americans go on vacation,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a nonprofit lobbying group. “Today’s news is especially damaging for the Cuban people, particularly the burgeoning Cuban private sector, who rely on American travelers to support their businesses and families.”

Meanwhile, it is sure to impact the cruise industry. Cruise lines that have enjoyed the opening up of Cuba will have to reroute their ships.

“The most pressing, time-sensitive question is what it means for cruisers who already have their cruise to Cuba booked — is there any leeway for passengers who have already paid in full, and what does it mean for passengers who have yet to pay their final deposit?” said Erica Silverstein, senior editor at cruise review platform Cruise Critic.

“That said, cruise lines are able to swap itineraries relatively quickly. We see it often during inclement weather, or in the wake of disruption in particular regions. While we can’t say for sure just yet, if the lines are mandated to cancel sailings to Cuba, we’ll likely see itinerary adjustments.

“For cruises where a stop in Cuba is part of a wider Caribbean itinerary, it will be a matter of replacing just the Cuba calls with another port in the Caribbean. For Cuba-focused cruises, they’ll be forced to replace the itinerary entirely.”

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Washington Post: Trump Administration Ends Group Travel to Cuba By Americans

The Treasury Department published new regulations Tuesday ending group travel to Cuba for “people to people” educational purposes and prohibiting visits to the island via cruise ships, personal aircraft or personal boats.

The regulations, part of President Trump’s continuing rollback of the Obama-era thaw with Cuba, implement policies announced in April by national security adviser John Bolton in a Miami speech to veterans of the failed CIA-launched Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961.

The new rules do not include new restrictions on money sent by Cuban Americans to relatives on the island. Although it was also announced by Bolton, that policy is likely to be far less popular among the Cuban community in Florida. A Treasury Department spokesman, while declining to address the specific issue of remittances, said additional Cuba regulations were expected in the coming months.

The administration has accused Cuba — which it says has embedded more than 20,000 military and intelligence agents in Venezuela — of being the main prop holding up the Venezuelan government of President Nicolás Maduro. Cuba has denied that charge, while saying it has sent thousands of medical and educational personnel to Venezuela, under a program that exchanges their services for cut-rate and free Venezuelan oil.

In his April speech, Bolton said that President Barack Obama’s “misguided” policy, which reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba and expanded U.S. travel and trade, “provided the Cuban regime with the necessary political cover to expand its malign influence and ideological imperialism across the region.”

Quoting Trump, who has charged the Democratic Party with seeking to install what he describes as Cuba- and Venezuela-like socialism in this country, Bolton said that “the twilight hour of socialism has arrived in our hemisphere.”

Although the congressionally mandated economic embargo of Cuba and a ban on tourism remained, Obama’s actions allowed individuals to make vaguely defined “people to people” visits under an embargo exemption for educational travel.

In November 2017, Trump eliminated that permission but left in place a provision that allowed group visits under the “educational purposes” heading. Education was one of 12 categories, including religious, humanitarian, academic and other specified purposes, for licenses issued for group visits to Cuba by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

The new regulation closes off all “people to people” travel. The change includes a grandfather provision saying that previously authorized travel can be undertaken, provided “the traveler had already completed at least one travel-related transaction (such as purchasing a flight or reserving accommodation)” before Tuesday.

While commercial aircraft flying U.S.-Cuba routes apparently are still allowed, a Commerce Department spokeswoman said that “cruise ships as well as recreational and pleasure vessels are prohibited from departing the U.S. on temporary sojourn to Cuba effective tomorrow.” It was unclear whether cruise ships could sail Wednesday, even with previously paid passengers.

The provision is believed to cover U.S. companies and any others that sail from U.S. ports, including three Carnival Cruise lines, as well as Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Swiss-registered MSC. Voyages from Miami and other U.S. cities have become a staple of their Caribbean routes. Private trips to Cuban waters for fishing or other purposes are also popular in Florida and other Gulf of Mexico ports, as are private airplane flights.

U.S. citizens who violate the travel provisions — which require documentation of permitted activities undertaken in Cuba, to be presented on demand for years after the travel takes place — are subject to prosecution. In the past, such enforcement action was extremely rare, and the extent to which the Trump administration intends to enforce the new restrictions is unclear.

The administration has also prohibited U.S. citizens or entities from any dealings with more than 200 Cuban companies and entities that it charges have financial links to the government and security services, including numerous hotels on the island. And in April, it activated a 1996 legislative provision, suspended by all previous administrations, that allows Americans, including naturalized Cuban Americans, to sue in U.S. courts any company or individuals involved in “trafficking” in property expropriated or otherwise seized by the revolutionary government that took control of the island in 1959.

The first two lawsuits, by Cuban Americans whose families once owned docks in Havana and Santiago that are now used by Carnival Cruises, among others, were filed against the cruise line last month. U.S. officials estimate that thousands of people are eligible to sue, for potential damages they calculate in the billions of dollars.

Critics of the new administration policies, including some lawmakers and many in the U.S. business community, argue that Cuba’s communist rulers are best undermined by increased U.S. engagement.

Engage Cuba, a U.S. coalition of companies and organizations that oppose travel and trade restrictions, said in a statement Tuesday that “restricting Americans’ freedom to travel is an attack on our fundamental right as citizens” and that private-sector Cubans who “rely on American travelers to support their businesses and families . . . should not be used as political pawns.”

Collin Laverty, the president of Cuba Educational Travel, which organizes trips to the island, called the actions “political grandstanding aimed at Florida in the run-up to the 2020 elections.”

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CNN: Trump Admin Imposes New Travel Restrictions on Cuba, Banning Cruise Ships

The US announced major new travel restrictions Tuesday on US citizens planning to visit the island of Cuba.

The Trump administration’s new travel restrictions include a ban on many forms of educational and recreational travel.

The Treasury Department said in a statement that the U.S. will no longer allow the group educational and cultural trips known as “people to people” travel to the island. Those trips have been used by thousands of American citizens to visit the island even before the U.S. restored full diplomatic relations with the communist government in December 2014.

Treasury said it would also deny permission for private and corporate aircraft and boats. However, commercial airline flights appear to be unaffected and travel for university groups, academic research, journalism and professional meetings will continue to be allowed.

“It kills the people-to-people category, which is the most common way for the average American to travel to Cuba,” said Collin Laverty, head of Cuba Educational Travel, one of the largest Cuba travel companies in the U.S.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the measures are a response to what it calls Cuba’s “destabilizing role” in the Western Hemisphere, including support for the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.

“Cuba continues to play a destabilizing role in the Western Hemisphere, providing a communist foothold in the region and propping up U.S. adversaries in places like Venezuela and Nicaragua by fomenting instability, undermining the rule of law, and suppressing democratic processes,” he said. “This administration has made a strategic decision to reverse the loosening of sanctions and other restrictions on the Cuban regime. These actions will help to keep U.S. dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence, and security services.”

The new restrictions had been previewed by national security adviser John Bolton in an April speech in Miami to veterans of the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion but details of the changed were public until Tuesday. Treasury said the sanctions would take effect on Wednesday after they are published in the Federal Register.

Late Tuesday morning, Engage Cuba, a coalition of private companies and organizations working to end the travel and trade embargo on Cuba, released the following statement:

“Restricting Americans’ freedom to travel is an attack on our fundamental right as citizens. The federal government should not be policing where Americans go on vacation. Our core freedoms should not be held hostage by politicians for naked partisanship.”

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The Globalist: US Cuba Policy Is an Embarrassment

The Trump administration’s recently decided to allow Cuban-American immigrants to sue the Cuban government for property confiscated from them after Fidel Castro took power in 1959.

The administration is also limiting the amount of money that Cuban Americans can send to their relatives on the island, as well as the frequency of transactions.

These are wrong decisions that will only increase the suffering of the Cuban people, and unnecessarily increase the antagonism between the Cuban and U.S. governments.

James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a Washington-based advocacy group which is working to lift the embargo on Cuba, wrote in a statement that “The only way to get property claimants what they deserve is through diplomatic negotiations, which President Trump just threw off the table.”

At the same time, limiting remittances to the island will only increase the suffering of Cubans who depend largely on the financial aid from their relatives in the United States.

Shortly after President Trump announced his decision allowing U.S. lawsuits, the European Union and Canada issued a joint warning against the United States.

“The EU and Canada consider the extraterritorial application of unilateral Cuba-related measures contrary to international law,” stated EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, in a statement also signed by Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.

They also warned U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that enforcement of these measures would lead to reprisals in Europe.

In repeated public health-related visits to Cuba I got a first-hand sense of the problems besieging Cuban society: The need for foreign money, the oppressive nature of the regime and the dissatisfaction of the country’s youth.

These impressions were also confirmed during a visit to the island when I headed a UN mission to assess the progress of Cuban scientists in developing interferon, an antiviral substance.

Highlighting the Cuban government’s shortcomings doesn’t disregard its achievements. During one of my visits to that country, I met Fidel Castro.

Although we didn’t raise any political issues in our conversation, I was able to assess his enormous interest in — and knowledge of — health issues and the value of education.

His interest and knowledge underlie the Cuban government’s accomplishments in health and education. Cuba, for all its other faults and drawbacks, is at the forefront in both fields when compared to other Latin American countries. And in some areas, it is on par with the United States.

This progress, however, has been hindered by the unnecessary and ineffective embargo against the country, a situation that has cost the United States materially.

In addition, the embargo has hurt U.S. prestige among Latin American governments, which consider it a violation of a fellow Latin nation’s rights and sovereignty.

There is no doubt that political pressure from the powerful Cuban exile community in Florida has been an important factor in maintaining the U.S. embargo. However, the descendants of that immigrant generation have now a more nuanced view of the Cuban regime.

In particular, they have seen the damage caused by decades of antagonism between both countries — and are eager for friendlier relations between them.

While Cubans have always been clear about their admiration for the American people — which I have observed first hand during my visits to the island — the embargo has fostered more hate and mistrust of the U.S. government than toward the Cuban government among Cubans.

These new measures may prove harmful also to the United States. Rebecca Bill Chavez, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs under Obama recently wrote:

Trump and his ideologically driven national security advisors are pushing Cuba into the arms of China and Russia. At the same time, Trump’s Cuba policy increases the risk of a humanitarian crisis by creating conditions for mass migration from an island just 90 miles from Florida shores.

If repeated votes in the UN General Assembly are a test, no country in the world now supports the embargo.
Rather than strengthening it, the United States should ease and eventually lift the embargo. This should be followed by an intense exchange of scientists, doctors, artists and ordinary citizens.

The effect would be dramatic in neutralizing the atmosphere of antagonism between Cuba and the United States, at a time when the world desperately needs this kind of action.

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Prensa Latina: US Lawmakers Introduce Draft Bill on Agricultural Exports to Cuba

The Engage Cuba coalition and groups from the US states of Arkansas and Colorado expressed their support for the introduction of a draft bill to expand agricultural exports to the Caribbean island.

US Senators John Boozman and Michael Bennet said on Tuesday that they had submitted the Agricultural Export Expansion Act (S.1447), in order to remove restrictions to private financing for US agricultural exports to Cuba.

'These restrictions are arbitrary and serve no purpose other than hurting our farmers and the Cuban people,' Engage Cuba President James Williams said in reference to the limitations that force Cuba to pay in cash and in advance for US products.

'As US producers across sectors struggle with sluggish markets and Chinese tariffs, it's time we move this bad policy out of the way of our farmers, who deserve to be able to compete on equal ground for market share in Cuba,' he added.

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Travel Pulse: Trump Administration Cuba Restrictions May Scuttle Cruise Ship Calls

Recently announced Trump administration restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba could bring an unceremonious end to American cruise-line voyages and group travel to the Caribbean nation, said Engage Cuba president James Williams in a Thursday briefing with media.

Elimination of the specific license for group people-to-people travel, now used by the wide majority of U.S. cruise passengers and organized tour groups, would also dramatically diminish American travel to Cuba, Williams said. Cuban cruise arrivals grew 48 percent year-over-year in 2018, according to Ministry of Tourism official Michel Bernal.

“There’s been criticism from hard-liners [who say] this is not meaningful interaction with the Cuban people,” said Williams, “but tourism dressed up as a people-to-people exchange.” As a result, the Trump administration is seeking to “severely limit or totally eliminate” the category.

If enacted, the restrictions would create “an immediate cost to current companies and a chilling environment” on potential businesses including tourism and hospitality firms, Williams said. The regulations would also have a “significant impact for U.S. travel and the U.S. travel industry, particularly the cruise lines,” he added.

Williams disputed the assertion that people-to-people travel is tourism disguised as education. “It is not veiled tourism if [suppliers] are doing what they’re supposed to be doing under the law,” he said.

“People-to-people trips to Cuba offer fully immersive and authentic educational experiences,” added Martha Honey, Executive Director of the Center of Responsible Travel, in a statement issued earlier this year.

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced the activation of Titles III and IV of the Helms-Burton Act In an April 17 address. The same day, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton, announced changes to the Cuba policy, including a cap on the number of remittances U.S. nationals can send to the island nation.

Titles III and IV of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (LIBERTAD Act), commonly known as the Helms-Burton Act, are closely tied to the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Title III enables U.S. nationals whose property was seized by Cuba’s government after 1959 to sue for damages in U.S. courts.

In what Williams termed “a departure from the norms of sovereignty and in opposition to international law,” Title III also affords claimant rights in U.S. courts to Cuban-Americans who were Cuban citizens when their property was confiscated.

Passed in 1996, the legislation “has never been implemented before” and “was always seen by [previous administrations] as an extreme step that was reviled by America’s closest allies,” Williams said. “With the new regime in charge, they decided to move forward with it.”

Title III also impacts companies currently operating on confiscated Cuban property and companies that indirectly profit from such relationships. U.S. companies are not exempt from Title III suits and may face “a slew of lawsuits,” said Williams, leaving them unlikely to expand operations in Cuba.

In fact, earlier this month two U.S. citizens sued Miami-based Carnival Corp. for restitution for property they say was seized after the Cuban Revolution. In response, Carnival Corp. officials said the company has a U.S. Treasury license to do business in Cuba and its cruise schedule remains unchanged.

Title IV directs the U.S. State Department to deny visas to foreign nationals who traffic in confiscated property or are corporate officers or shareholders of involved entities. The legislation has never been suspended, but the Trump Administration has stated it will increase the number of such investigations for potential visa denials.

While the travel-related restrictions have not yet been enforced, the Trump administration has successfully reinstated a cap on Americans’ ability to send cash remittances to the island. U.S. nationals may now send up to $1,000 per quarter, per person, to people living in Cuba.

Remittances surged after President Obama removed remittance caps 2015 after lifting limits on family remittances in 2009. Williams said the Havana Consulting Group estimates between $1.4 and $4 billion is sent to Cuba from the United States annually since the U.S. removed remittance amount limits.

Because many Cuban private sector entrepreneurs (“cuentapropistas”) depend on remittances from relatives and friends in the United States, the policy change will compel the entrepreneurs to find other ways to generate capital “at a time when reduced U.S. travel has already dealt a huge blow to Cuban private sector revenue,” Williams said.

Williams said a 2018 report found that after President Trump’s tightening of restrictions on travel to Cuba in 2017, occupancy in private bed-and-breakfast establishments dropped to 44 percent, while some of Havana’s top private restaurants saw revenue fall by up to 40 percent.

In fact, U.S. land-based travel to Cuba declined 33 percent decline between 2017 and 2018, according to a recent survey by travel insurance provider Allianz Global Assistance.

The survey also found 63.3 percent of Americans do not understand current Cuba travel restrictions, likely a factor in the decline in overnight, land-based visits between 2017 and 2018. Ironically, this year Cuba celebrates the 500th birthday of its capital city, Havana, and the country expects to host 5.1 million visitors.

Conversely, some tour operators reported Cuba bookings increased following Bolton’s speech. Insight Cuba CEO Tom Popper said his company experienced a 23 percent week-over-week increase in traffic to its website following the speech, with bookings up 18 percent.

Overall, Cuba hosted 4.75 million international visitor arrivals in 2018, up from 4.5 million in 2017 according to the country’s Ministry of Tourism. Canada, the U.S. and Cuban residents abroad represent the country’s top three markets.

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WJCT News: First Lawsuit Against Company Operating In Cuba Is Filed Under Title III

The first lawsuits against a corporation have been filed under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act — a tool unleashed by the Trump Administration as part of a multi-pronged strategy against the Cuban government.

The section of the Helms-Burton Act allows individuals or corporations that had property confiscated by the Cuban government after the Cuban Revolution to sue corporations that use those confiscated properties in business dealings. Title III had been suspended by successive U.S. presidents since it came into law in 1996, until last month when the Trump Administration announced in Miami it would allow the lawsuits to move forward.

“Americans who have had their private and hard-earned property stolen in Cuba will finally be able to sue,” national security advisor John Bolton said last month in Little Havana.

The first of the suits are against Carnival Cruise Lines — a company that has its corporate headquarters in South Florida — relating to confiscated docks it uses to bring passengers into the island nation. The Cuban government confiscated the docks from the Havana Docks Corporation and La Marítima in the 1960s.

“In the 1960s the Castro brothers and the communist friends came and stole our property from my grandfather at gunpoint," said Mickael Behn, the president of Havana Docks Corporation. "That was a business his father built in 1917 to supply and modernize, and it was a successful business. The cruise lines have been using Havana Docks port infrastructure for several years without consequence to them ... They knew very well the ownership, it wasn’t a secret to them or anyone else.”

“They just hoped my family would die and fade away,” he said. “We won’t.”

Javier Garcia-Bengochea is the descendant of owners of La Marítima, which owned similar confiscated dock facilities in Santiago de Cuba. “I began this crusade for the full implementation of Title III almost 10 years ago,” he said. “I was repeatedly told amidst the laughter that this was a hopeless endeavor and that it was a waste of time and money, and yet here we are today.”

Canival did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission in 1971 certified that the Havana Docks Corporation had a claim against the Cuban government. The commission found that the value of the properties in 1971 was $8,684,360.18, the equivalent of about $54.5 million in today’s dollars.

There are nearly 6,000 certified claims of American property confiscated by the Cuban government, totaling an estimated $8 billion in current values. The State Department expects a sharp uptick in property claims by Cuban-Americans now that Title III is in effect.

Unleashing the ability to sue companies that use confiscated properties in business dealings in Cuba has been celebrated by those who oppose the Cuban communist government.

“I think Title III is the strongest possible measure the U.S. can impose on Cuba,” Ana Carbonell, a Republican political consultant in Miami and a Cuban exile activist, told WLRN last month.

Others say allowing these lawsuits to go forward will be detrimental to U.S. interests and could isolate the country internationally. Several companies owned by U.S. allies in Europe and Canada, for instance, could now be legally liable for their business dealings on the island. Upon passage of the Helms-Burton Act, the European Union pushed back against the U.S. Congress, and the World Trade Organization has indicated it might dispute Title III now that it is being implemented.

Every President from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump only a few months ago cited these potential diplomatic strains as a reason to prevent Title III from being fully implemented.

“These legal tensions could also spill over into other aspects of bilateral relationships with U.S. allies, as in Venezuela,” notes Engage Cuba, a group working to deepen trade and business relationships with the island, on the group’s website.

Legal experts express doubts that U.S. companies like Carnival Cruise Lines can be held legally liable for doing business with confiscated properties because they are not operating on confiscated properties, and they are simply taking people to and from them. The U.S. Office of Foreign Assett Control took that interpretation when it issued licences for Carnival and other companies that travel to and from the U.S. and Cuba, under the Obama Administration.

Nevertheless, activists see the lawsuits filed against Carnival as a turning point in the fight against the Cuban government. Sylvia Iriondo organized protests against Carnival Cruise Lines when it started sailing ships to Cuba, as president of the Mothers and Women Against Repression, a Cuban non-governmental organization.

“This is an extraordinary day for justice, and a step forward in the right direction to end impunity in Cuba and to end the trafficking in stolen properties that were illegally confiscated without compensation,” said Iriondo. “The Cuban government did the wrong thing but the commercial enterprises are cooperating with the Cuban government in forwarding the wrong thing. It’s a matter of money versus principles.”

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Quartz: Cuba’s entrepreneurs are under attack by Donald Trump

The Trump administration is setting out to crush free markets in Cuba.

This week, White House National Security advisor John Bolton announced new policies to further restrict US travel to Cuba, allow lawsuits against businesses operating there, and reduce the previously unlimited amount of money that Cuban-Americans can send back to their families on the island to $1000 per person every three months.

If fully enacted, the policies will crimp the Cuban government’s access to foreign exchange, but in the process it will damage Cuba’s nascent private sector far more than a ruling regime that has out-lasted six decades of US embargo. Trump is pulling the rug out from Cuba’s cuentrapropistas—literally, self-employed—eliminating their sources of capital and revenue and reducing their influence during the all-important transition to a post-Castro Cuban government.

As many as four in ten working-age Cubans work legally in the Cuban private sector. The most visible of these entrepreneurs are in tourist services, operating small private hotels and restaurants, or working as drivers or guides, but their ranks include barbers, retailers, mechanics, and other small businesses who work directly for Cubans. Much of their capital comes from Cuban-Americans, particularly much-needed investment in building renovation that keeps laborers and contractors employed.

Cuba’s economic situation is already precarious, with Communist Party chief Raul Castro warning Cubans last week that economic troubles are ahead. The disintegration of Venezuela robbed Cuba of a key economic patron, and the country already struggles with food and fuel shortages.

On a recent trip, Cubans I met worried that they might enter another time akin to the “special period” after the fall of the Soviet Union, when the island endured grueling recession. In a joke that is not a joke, one friend recalled how her generation of Cuban nineties kids grew up shorter than older or younger generations because they simply did not have enough food to eat.

At the time, Cuba was forced to begin liberalizing its economy, a process that has continued in fits and starts. It exploded after president Barack Obama’s decision to push for normalization with Cuba despite the legal trade embargo on the island. Obama’s decision to loosen travel restrictions and allow limited business activity allowed visitors and Cuban Americans to bring much needed foreign capital into the country. At the same time, Cuba began to expand the categories of work that could be performed by entrepreneurs and integrate them into the country’s economy.

Today, this generation of entrepreneurs are pushing their government for access to wholesale markets and the creation of new corporate laws, offering an organic Cuban alternative to stagnant state-owned enterprise. Bolton and other American hardliners with Cold War mentalities are taking an all or nothing approach: Any policy that might benefit the Cuban economy will benefit the Cuban regime.

But 2019 is not 1991 or 1961. There’s no question that Cuba is not a free country. Human rights groups cannot visit, and the government uses detention, shaming, and censorship to block criticism and stifle dissent. Yet human rights groups like Amnesty International argue against more travel restrictions, which they say only serve to further isolate the Cuban people and give their government a convenient opponent to rally against.

Trump will become the first president not to suspend a 1996 law that allows lawsuits against any company doing business in connection with Cuban properties seized after the revolution. The huge amount of legal uncertainty around these claims is expected to reduce much-needed foreign investment in Cuba and it will also cause friction with European allies whose global companies operate there. The harsher diplomatic fall-out may be yet to come: Cuba will only have more incentive to make concessions to Russia and China as it is cut off from other sources of economic independence.

At a time when Trump brags about his friendship with murderous autocrats like North Korea’s Kim Jong Un or Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, Cubans are skeptical that he is taking a stand for democracy. They fear privation, and see the president creating an electoral bogeyman out of Venezuela and Cuba to deploy in the 2020 elections. American businesses with Cuban interests agree. James Williams, head of the trade group Engage Cuba, says that the only reason for the policies is to “appease fringe hardliners in South Florida ahead of the 2020 election.”

In more than sixty years of embargo and revolution, pragmatism has come to define the Cuban character. A Chinese engine can work in a vintage Chevy, and a family home can be a restaurant or a hotel. US policy toward Cuba, meanwhile, is defined by a near-theological belief that isolating the Cuban people will lead them to abandon national self-determination. American and Cuban hard-liners find themselves sharing the same agenda: Crushing the private sector to ensure that only socialism remains.

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Trump Administration Declares Economic War Against Cuba

In a major policy shift after 23 years, the Trump administration announced it will activate a clause of the Helms-Burton law of 1996 that allows claims holders to sue foreign companies that do business in the island using properties confiscated more than five decades ago.,

Highlighting Cuba’s support for what he described as “the former Maduro regime” and arguing that Cuba’s “main export is oppression”, which “directly threatens U.S. national security”, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in a five-minute press briefing in Washington Wednesday morning that the Trump administration will implement Title III “in full”, effective May 2.

Pompeo did not take any questions.

Later that day, during a speech to Bay of Pigs veterans at the Biltmore Hotel in Miami, National Security Advisor John Bolton announced that Treasury Department measures are pending to further restrict non-family travel to Cuba he described as “veiled tourism”. He did not elaborate. He also said that remittances to Cuba will be capped at $1,000 per person every quarter. Bolton did not mention any plans to return Cuba to the State Department’s list of “state sponsors of terrorism”, as some observers fear.

Quoting an official who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Miami Herald reported that U.S. travel to Cuba will be limited to family visits. At closing of the New York Stock Exchange the same day, shares of cruise giants Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., Carnival Corp. and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. were all down.

Referring to a U.S. policy dating back to 1832 that is commonly rejected in Latin America, Bolton ended his speech declaring that “the Monroe Doctrine is alive and well”, suggesting that the United States will take measures against any outside power trying to influence nations in this hemisphere.

“He totally confesses the intent of complete domination, recolonization and hegemony over Latin America”, said Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez in Havana, referring to Bolton. “They are announcing measures — of course we have to study the regulations — that for sure will damage the Cuban economy. But more than anything they will damage people.”

Rodríguez highlighted Cuban families, private businesses in Cuba, and U.S. citizens whose freedom to travel is further restricted.

In a tweet, the foreign minister called the measure “an attack on international law, and on the sovereignty of Cuba and other states”.

The Trump administration will also begin enforcement of Title IV of the 1996 law, a senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity said on Tuesday. That provision blocks U.S. travel by executives of companies accused of “trafficking” in Cuban properties.

Activating Title III is part of President Trump’s rollback of Obama-era detente with Cuba, that official said.

Concerned about backlash from close allies, as well as from certified claimants worried about messing up the legal process, all presidents since Bill Clinton have routinely suspended Title III of the Helms-Burton law. But the Trump administration is forging ahead even though European Union leaders and the foreign ministers of Canada and Spain have made clear their opposition in the run-up of the announcement.

Backlash

In a letter to Mike Pompeo April 10, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said the bloc might file a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and predicts counterclaims against U.S. companies in European courts.

The two EU officials called on Washington to honor a 1998 agreement to grant a consistent waiver for EU companies and citizens while the bloc suspends a WTO challenge over the issue.

“Failing this, the EU will be obliged to use all means at its disposal, including in cooperation with other international partners, to protect its interests,” the letter said. “The EU is considering a possible launch of the WTO case.”

The letter also said that EU courts were empowered to allow EU companies to recover any losses caused by claims over Cuba, adding that an overwhelming majority of the 50 largest U.S. claimants, making up more than 70% of the value of claims, had assets in the European Union.


“This could trigger a self-defeating cycle of claims that will impair the business climate, without bringing justice to holders of claims, or impacting the situation in Cuba in any positive way,” the two EU officials wrote.

In a joint European Union-Canada statement on Wednesday, Mogherini and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland call the U.S. measure “regrettable” and that they are “determined to work together to protect the interests” of their companies, warning that EU and Canadian laws allow counter-claims against any U.S. lawsuits.

A day later, the Mexican government condemned the step and said it will protect Mexican companies in Cuba. The same day, the United Kingdom joined the chorus, saying it “will work alongside the EU to protect the interests of our companies.”

Meanwhile, a Spanish official said, on condition of anonymity, that her government will ask the European Union to file a complaint before the WTO. A spokeswoman for the Spanish government said authorities will offer support to any Spanish company affected by possible U.S. lawsuits. Without elaborating, Isabel Celaa said that “the Spanish government will give its backing to Spanish companies in Cuba.” European Commission spokesman Alexander Winterstein announced that the EU “is ready to protect European interests, including European investments and the economic activities of EU individuals and entities in their relations with Cuba.”

Property confiscations are generally considered part of the national legal realm of each country.

“We cannot accept that a country tries to impose its laws outside its own borders,” said Alberto Navarro, EU ambassador in Havana, in March, according to AFP. “That would be a return to the jungle.”

The Trump administration is aware of European opposition, the anonymous U.S. official said during the Tuesday briefing. The Europeans are entitled to sue or file a WTO complaint, but they “will fail”, he added.

The measure will only cause a “bump” in the business community, but have an economic impact on Cuba and show U.S. resolve, the official said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce disagrees.

“Six decades of trying to isolate Cuba has failed to bring change to the island,” the powerful business lobbying organization said in a statement about the Title III activation. “Today’s measure doubles down on this strategy.”

“We strongly support U.S. government efforts to protect the property rights of U.S. citizens abroad, but full implementation of Title III is unlikely to achieve those aims and is instead more likely to result in a protracted legal and diplomatic morass that ensnares U.S. courts, companies and partners,” the Chamber statement says. “The U.S. government established a legal mechanism for certifying and processing U.S. citizens’ claims to property in Cuba, and elsewhere, specifically to prevent such a scenario from unfolding. Furthermore, it is difficult to see how this action squares with the administration’s earlier commitment to hold harmless U.S. companies legally authorized and previously encouraged to do business in Cuba.”

“Many American companies will now be subjected to countersuits in Europe, Canada, Latin America, and elsewhere. Today’s announcement threatens to disrupt our trade ties to these countries, which are among our closest allies and best customers. Instead, we should be working with them to make the case for democratic change in Cuba.”

“Allowing these lawsuits marks another own goal in President Trump’s Cuba policy,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a Washington-based pro-normalization advocacy group. “This doesn’t punish the Cuban government; it lets them off the hook. Instead of negotiating direct compensation from the Cuban government for property confiscation, American and European companies will now be the ones paying. This decision punishes the Cuban people and American companies — companies who were given permission by the U.S. government to do business and are now having the rug pulled from underneath them.”

“It is ironic that President Trump would make this fringe decision after the Trump Organization worked for years to open a Trump Hotel and golf course in Cuba,” Williams added.

The Russian government reacted by declaring the sanctions “illegal” and by stepping up help. Deputy Foreign Minister Serguei Riabkov assured Cuba that his government will “do everything possible to help Cuba and Venezuela,” Cuban Foreign Ministry General Director of Bilateral Affairs Emilio Lozada García said in a tweet.

Potential impact

To be sure, the actual impact is hard to predict. While it has added general uncertainty, a partial lifting of Title III in March that allows U.S. lawsuits against some 200 Cuban entities affiliated with the armed forces has not produced a single lawsuit in the four weeks since, says Robert Muse, a Washington-based lawyer.

John Bolton added to fears among investors.

“I can’t wait for those lawsuits,” he said in a PBS NewsHour interview. “For major American companies, for major European companies, there may well lawsuits be filed, and settled out of court. That’s often the nature of complex corporate litigation.”

No matter whether they are filed at all, or whether they produce billions of dollars in judgments against foreign companies, the mere threat of lawsuits is expected to slow down Cuba’s efforts to attract foreign investment. Even though Title III shields companies that use confiscated assets in connection with legal travel, it could also affect U.S. airlines, cruise companies and one hotel operator that flocked to Cuba during the Obama administration.

It is hard to predict how Title III will play out in U.S. courts. There are close to 6,000 registered claims in the U.S. register, for an estimated total of $8 billion; however, Title III would also allow non-certified claims holders, who were Cuban nationals at the time of confiscation, to sue. In a Q&A after Pompeo’s remarks, Assistant Secretary of State Kimberly Breier said that holders of up to 200,000 uncertified claims, “valued easily in the tens of billions of dollars”, could file suit. She also said these claims could eventually be certified.

Also, the administration has yet to reveal what kind of entities could be sued.

Adding uncertainty to the impact, in the 1990s, Canada and the European Union introduced measures in response to Helms-Burton that block enforcement of U.S. judgments in Europe and Canada.

Finally, Cuba — which has settled claims with all nations except the United States — has a law on its books dating back to 1996 that eliminates from future compensation any claims holders who sue in U.S. courts.

“Anyone who uses the processes and mechanisms of the Helms-Burton Law damaging others will be excluded from possible future negotiations,” the foreign ministry said in a statement in March.

“Cuba’s nationalizations were made in accordance with the law, with strict adherence to the constitution and in conformity with international law,” the foreign ministry statement added. “All nationalizations included just and adequate compensation processes, which the U.S. government rejected to consider. Cuba reached and honored global compensation agreements with other nations that today invest in Cuba, such as Spain, Switzerland, Canada, UK, Germany and France.”

Companies react

Toronto-based Sherritt International, probably the foreign company most heavily invested in Cuba, said its business will “not be materially impacted”, Reuters reported. The company will “continue to operate as usual” and “focus on meeting its nickel/cobalt production targets”.

Spain’s Meliá Hotels International — the biggest hotel management company in Cuba — said that the Title III activation will not change anything in how it does business in the island. “Cuba is an exceptional destination and must remain open for international tourism,” the company added.

U.S. cruise companies and airlines will likely be affected by Bolton’s planned measures against “veiled tourism”, but most companies said they were still waiting for specific regulations before commenting.

“We are closely monitoring recent developments with respect to U.S.-Cuba travel,” a spokesperson for Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings said. “At this time no new regulations have been issued and accordingly, the company’s itineraries which include Cuba as a destination will continue as scheduled.”

Meanwhile, a European businessman in Cuba suggested, on condition of anonymity, that foreign companies already established in Cuba are prepared.

“For a long time, investors have taken great care to avoid risks related to investing in a property that might have been seized. Investing in Cuba has been so controlled anyway; the risk is always considered even before planning for a business begins. Today, any new business involving foreign investors will be located in a special development zone or in a new place exempt from any pending claim. There is plenty of space available.”

“In terms of impact on our company itself, there is no additional exposure deriving from Title III or IV.”

He said, however, that he expects his import business to be affected through rising unpredictability and insecurity in its relationships with suppliers and banks.

“Let’s take an example: We sell a product of German origin to Cuban customers,” he said. “Will our provider ask us for final users now, restrict final users, misinterpret compliance limits? A problem that we’ve been dealing with for quite some time is banks and their compliance policy.”

What is hard to gauge is how companies considering to invest in Cuba are reacting to the U.S. measure.

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Trump's new Cuba crackdown puts US at odds with Canada and Europe

Donald Trump has taken another step towards reversing Barack Obama’s historic rapprochement with Cuba with a measure that earned swift criticism from allies in Canada and Europe.

The US announced on Wednesday that it would enable lawsuits against foreign companies that use properties nationalised by the communist government after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.

The policy shift, which could draw hundreds of thousands of legal claims worth tens of billion of dollars, aims to put pressure on Cuba at a moment when the US is demanding an end to Havana’s support for Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolás Maduro.

It was condemned by Cuba as “an attack on international law” and by Canada and the European Union as “regrettable”, since their companies have significant investments in hotels, distilleries, tobacco factories and other properties on the island.

Title III of the Helms-Burton Act had been fully waived by every president over the past 23 years due to concerns from the international community and fears that it could overwhelm US courts with lawsuits.

But Trump, who has made a habit of breaking from his predecessors, gave the go-ahead for it to be activated. Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, said that, for the first time, US citizens will be able to bring lawsuits against individuals trafficking in property that was confiscated by the Cuban regime.

Pompeo accused the Obama administration of playing a “game of footsy with the Castros’ junta” which did not deter it from targeting human rights activists. “Detente with the regime has failed,” the secretary told reporters.

The issue has come to a head now as the US argues that Cuba’s security and intelligence support is crucial to Maduro’s grip on power amid Venezuela’s economic and political crisis.

Pompeo added: “Cuba’s behaviour in the western hemisphere undermines the security and stability of countries throughout the region, which directly threatens United States national security interests. The Cuban regime has for years exported its tactics of intimidation, repression and violence.

“They’ve exported this to Venezuela in direct support of the former Maduro regime. Cuban military intelligence and state security services today keep Maduro in power.”

The decision represents a blow to Cuba’s efforts to draw foreign investment. The foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, retorted on Twitter: “I strongly reject the announcement of State Secretary Pompeo. This is an attack on international law and the sovereignty of Cuba and third states. Aggressive escalation of USA against Cuba will fail.”

Numerous foreign companies have invested in Cuba since Obama eased restrictions. A joint EU-Canada statement said the US move was “regrettable” and will have an “important impact on legitimate EU and Canadian economic operators in Cuba”.

James Williams, president of the pressure group Engage Cuba said: “President Trump is doing this for one reason, and one reason only: to appease fringe hardliners in South Florida ahead of the 2020 election. The only way to get property claimants what they deserve is through diplomatic negotiations, which President Trump just threw off the table.”

On Wednesday Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, also announced a series of new sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela, including a new cap on the amount of money that families in the US can send to relatives in Cuba.

Remittances from the United States have surged since Obama started easing restrictions on them in 2009, becoming an important part of the Cuban economy and fueling the growth of the private sector by providing startup capital.

He also said the United States would also further restrict “non-family” travel by Americans to Cuba, though he offered no details.

In a speech to an association of veterans of the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, Bolton said the US was adding five names linked to Cuba’s military and intelligence services to its sanctions blacklist. “Under this administration, we don’t throw dictators lifelines,” Bolton said in Miami. “We take them away.”

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