New Treasury Regulations for Cuban American Family Travel

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On September 3, 2009, President Obama made some of his campaignpromises official, related to the Cuban-American community; the Officeof Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) at the Department of the Treasuryreleased new Cuba regulations. This was a step forward for theCuban-American community, but what about the rest of U.S citizens – you and me? These changes in OFAC regulations are welcomed, but are long past due.  They don’t mean that we can stop urging a change for a just policy for everyone.

There are three major changes in the September 3rd OFAC regulations. See this Treasury Department pamphlet for a full description of the new regulations here.

First, family visits: With the new regulations, Cuban Americans can visit their families in Cuba for as long as they want and whenever they chose to do so – on a general license (no prior authorization required). This is a big change from President Bush’s policy that only allowed Cuban Americans to visit immediate family members once every three years. The definition of family has now been widened to include other relatives:

“Any individual related to a person by blood, marriage, or adoption who is no more than three generations removed from that person or from a common ancestor with that person.”

Second, remittances: OFAC has eliminated the restrictions on remittances. Now, Cuban Americans can send money to their families in Cuba, including close relatives, without limit and as many times as they would like. Authorized family members traveling to Cuba can carry up to $3,000 with them.

Third, telecommunications: It is now possible for U.S telecom businesses to negotiate satellite and fiber-optic cables, under general licensing, in order to facilitate telecommunications linking the United States and Cuba. This makes satellite radio and television available for those who can afford it, or have family in the United States to pay for it. With these new links, it would also be possible for U.S cell phones to function in Cuba.

“For example, an individual in the United States may contract with and pay a U.S. or third-country telecommunications company to provide cellular telephone service for a phone owned and used by that individual's friend in Cuba.  Moreover, a U.S. telecommunications services provider may enter into a contract with a particular individual in Cuba to provide telecommunications services to that individual.”

In addition to these major changes, the general licensing for the agriculture sector has been altered. Previously, businesses involved in agricultural sales needed to apply for a special license that did not require divulging schedules and information. Now, people traveling for the purpose of sales transactions of agriculture commodities or medicine need to apply for a general license that requires detailed information showing

“That their schedule of activities does not include free time, travel, or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full work schedule and provided the activities appear consistent with the export or re-export licensing policy”

Because there is a lot more paperwork needed to be done in applying for a general license for agriculture commodities and medicine, some wonder if this may deter businesses from pursuing transactions with Cuba.

All in all, these new regulations show progress. Cuban-American families can now travel freely and easily help their families still living in Cuba. However, these regulations are only aiding a minority. Aside from the Cuban Americans, these regulations say nothing about the right for ALL Americans to travel freely to Cuba, nor does it help the people WITHIN Cuba who do not have family in the United States to bring them money to buy cell phones, clothes, and other desired goods that are difficult to buy without access to hard currency. The U.S government may now feel justified in taking humanitarian action by no longer separating Cuban-American families, but now is not the time to stop. The administration could do more; and Congress must act. We need to continue working to end the travel ban for ALL Americans and address the full embargo that 185 nations condemned as a failed policy last October in the United Nations’ General Assembly. Another UN vote is due soon…do we think the result will be any different?