Date: May 21, 2019
The Trump Administration’s approach to Cuba policy… and consequently, to Cubans… has taken another turn for the worse. How is that possible, you ask? That we can’t answer, but we can urge you to not sit on the sidelines in responding to the most recent attack on Cuba—an attack again focused on regime change. DON’T SIT THIS ONE OUT!
What’s Going On?
On April 17, the Trump Administration, via the voices of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, announced a new round of sanctions targeting Cuba. There are several key components to the announcement.
Title III of Helms-Burton
The administration is allowing Title III of the Helms-Burton law to go into effect, allowing lawsuits in U.S. courts against anyone “profiting” from formerly American-owned property in Cuba that was confiscated shortly after the 1959 Cuban revolution. Included in the definition of “American” are Cuban Americans who were Cuban citizens when their property was nationalized.
Mind you, Title III had been waived every six months since the law’s passage in 1986 by every single U.S. president since then, Republican and Democrat. Why? Because every president realized the damaging nature of this law, and because our allies around the world were extremely upset about its extraterritorial nature. Yet this administration, under the tutelage of Bolton—and Senator Rubio (R-FL)—has taken a different tactic.
Now, Title III claimants can file suits against any company, American or foreign, that profits from using previously confiscated properties. What will be the effect of these lawsuits? If there is a flood of activity, U.S. courts will be heavily burdened. Relations with our allies, especially the European Union, Canada, Mexico, will be strained, which might lead some of these countries to take retaliatory measures that allow litigation against U.S. companies. U.S.-Cuba relations will be set back decades. There will be a chilling effect on companies, foreign and domestic, considering investing in Cuba, and the Cuban economy will suffer even more.
Yet, in the end, who suffers most? The Cuban people, of course. Title III went into full effect on May 2.
The administration is imposing a limit on Americans’ ability to send remittances to Cubans on the island. Under President Obama’s policy, there had been no cap on remittances. This administration is limiting remittances to $1,000 per quarter, per person, to people living in Cuba. What will be the effect of these new limits? Families who depend on donations from family abroad in the United States will suffer and many Cuban private sector entrepreneurs will be denied the assistance they need to receive capital for their businesses.
U-Turn Financial Transactions
Further, the Trump Administration announced that it will ban so-called “U-turn” transactions. Such transactions happen when foreigners transfer funds that must pass through a U.S. bank before being directed to the recipient in Cuba, or the other way around. This will further discourage the global business community from investing in Cuba, as substantial fees will now be incurred for processing Cuban transfers in U.S. dollars in institutions outside the United States.
New Travel Restrictions
The announcements on April 17 included a warning that the administration plans to “restrict non-family travel” to Cuba. However, the details are still unclear. Some of the possible restrictions include ending general licenses and requiring aspiring travelers to apply for and receive a specific license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Department of the Treasury for all categories of travel. (Many of you may remember this nightmare from the Bush years…)
There are rumors that the Trump Administration is also considering restrictions that would severely limit or end cultural or people-to-people cruise ship tours. All 12 current categories of legal travel could be affected. And, a decrease of travel by Americans to Cuba would ultimately impact U.S. airlines currently flying to Cuba, likely reducing significantly the number of flights to the island.
The Department of State is also adding new entities to its “Cuba Restricted List,” as shown on the department’s website. U.S. travelers and companies are prohibited from doing business with Cuban entities on that list.
It is clear that the administration is seeking to reduce the number of U.S. travelers to Cuba, with the aim of damaging the Cuban economy and undermining the Cuban government. Yet we know that the real burden will fall on Cuban families, Cuba’s private sector (self-employed Cubans and those who work for them), and Cuban civil society in general.
What we do know is that there is a little time for us to make our voices heard, as the administration mulls over what travel restrictions to impose. While we won’t ignore Congress* in the long term, our action today is focused on the Trump Administration, the source of the new restrictions.
Please make one quick and easy phone call to protest the new sanctions on Cuba, especially the still- undefined new travel restrictions. Do it while we have time, before the travel restrictions are decided upon and implemented!
Call the Office of Cuban Affairs at the Department of State at (202) 647-9273 and direct your comments to Tim Zuniga-Brown, the director of the Cuba Desk.
Script: “Please convey to the White House my strong opposition to the new sanctions on Cuba recently announced by the Trump Administration. DO NOT further restrict American travel to Cuba. DO NOT eliminate general licenses for the 12 categories of travel. Rather, continue the current rules for all categories of travel to Cuba, and continue the process of normalization of relations. I support an end to the travel ban in its entirety.”
It’s possible that after a number of calls to this office, they will simply send most calls to voice mail. If that’s the case, leave your name, city, and state as well as a message expressing your opposition to new sanctions.
You can also leave a written comment on the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs website here. And if all else fails, you can leave your message on the White House Comment Line at (202) 456-1111.
As hopeless as the current situation may seem, we cannot sit back while this administration continues its onslaught on Cuba policy. Now’s the time to STAND UP and PUSH BACK! The White House must and will hear our dissent. We say NO to travel restrictions. We say NO to a reversal of diplomatic relations. And we say NO to any and all attacks against the welfare of the Cuban people!
* Congressional Cuba travel bills are currently being prepared and co-sponsors are being recruited. When these bills are introduced in the Senate and House, we will come to you with an action focused on Congress, where the ultimate solution lies!