House Spending Bill Includes Measure Blocking Funds For American Embassy In Cuba

On June 3, the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the State Department and foreign operations voted for a proposed U.S. House of Representatives appropriations bill that would prohibit new funding for an American embassy or other diplomatic facility in Cuba, beyond what was in existence prior to the President Obama’s December announcement that his administration was moving to normalize relations with Cuba. The fiscal year 2016 annual spending bill also restricts funds to facilitate the opening of a Cuban embassy in the U.S., increases democracy assistance and international broadcasting to Cuba, and provides direction to the Secretary of State on denying the issuance of visas to members of the Cuban military and the Communist party.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-FL., a member of the funding subcommittee, said: “As President Obama continues to appease the Castro brothers, I will work with my colleagues to ensure that the Congress stands in solidarity with the Cuban people rather than providing further concessions to their oppressors.”

The re-opening of the U.S. embassy in Havana is also opposed by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL, who in a recent letter to Secretary of State John Kerry wrote: “Despite more than five months of discussions with the Cuban government, I am very concerned about the lack of political reforms, and progress on human rights; the continued harboring of known terrorists and other fugitives from U.S. justice; the outstanding American property claims and judgments against the Cuban government; and the limitations that continue to be placed on American diplomats working in Havana ,” Senator Rubio continued. “I intend to work with my colleagues to block the Administration’s efforts to pursue diplomatic relations with Cuba and name an Ambassador to Havana until substantive progress is made on these important issues.”

A PDF of Senator Rubio’s letter is available here.

It remains to be seen whether House Republicans can derail the White House from quickly restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba. The appropriations legislation which only addresses funding still must be approved by the full House and survive negotiations with the Senate, which is drafting its own spending bill. Moreover, the bill does not prevent the State Department from establishing an embassy in Havana, but it makes it more difficult.

Jose A. Aquino is a member of the Duane Morris Cuba Business Group. Lawrence W. Diamond is chair of the Duane Morris Cuba Business Group.

House Bill Would Stall Process of Normalizing U.S. Relations with Cuba

This week a Department of Transportation appropriations bill was introduced in the US House of Representatives that would thwart the normalization process that President Obama and the Cuban government have been pursuing. Tacked onto the appropriations bill are provisions that would prevent the US government from using any funds to recertify airlines and cruise lines that travel to Cuba, thereby effectively preventing new travel to Cuba.   By including these provisions in the DOT appropriations bill, which is viewed as critical legislation, its supporters are trying to insulate the proposed legislation from a presidential veto. This maneuver is a risky one that may backfire for the following reasons.

  • A lot of momentum in favor of normalizing relations has built up since December 17, when the President announced the initiative
  • US businesses have shown great interest in the possibilities that normalization would bring for them to tap into a new Cuban market
  • The American people may be tiring of paralyzing political actions
  •  Recent surveys‎ show that a majority of Cuban-Americans, as well as a majority of Americans in general, support retraction of the embargo.
  • Pope Francis brokered the agreements made by President Obama and President Castro to pursue normalization, and the Pope is coming to visit both Cuba and the US in a few months
  • Senator Menendez, one of the most outspoken advocates for maintaining the embargo, is facing his own battle now that he has been indicted, probably reducing his power to affect the dialogue

Co-authored by Lawrence Diamond and Jose Aquino

Jose A. Aquino
Jose A. Aquino

Pope Francis Will Travel To Cuba In September Ahead Of His Visit To The US

The Vatican announced Wednesday that Pope Francis had accepted an invitation to visit Cuba. The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said in a statement: “I am able to confirm that the Holy Father Francis, having received and accepted the invitation from the civil authorities and bishops of Cuba, has decided to pay a visit to the island before his arrival in the United States for the trip announced some time ago.” No further details of the Pope’s plans to visit Cuba were given by the Vatican. Francis will be the third pope to travel to Cuba, following visits to the island nation by John Paul II in 1998 and Benedict XVI in 2012.

The announcement of the Pope’s visit follows the recent steps toward renewal of full diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. The Vatican hosted secret meetings last year between diplomats from the two countries that are credited with helping bring about last December’s diplomatic warming between the two nations. The Pope also personally intervened by sending letters to both President Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro urging them to find ways to move forward on issues that separate the two nations. The Vatican initiative culminated with the December announcement that Cuba and the United States planned to renew diplomatic ties.

President Obama Asks Congress To Remove Cuba From List Of State Sponsors Of Terrorism

The White House announced on Tuesday that President Obama intends to remove Cuba from the Government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.  In a message to Congress, the President said that Cuba “has not provided any support for international terrorism” over the last six months.  He also told Congress that Cuba “has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.”

The President’s decision to remove Cuba from the list eliminates a major obstacle to the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two nations. The issue of Cuba being on the list of nations that sponsor terrorism has helped delay the opening of embassies in Washington and Havana.  Its being on the list also has impeded Cuba from doing business with American banks, a cornerstone to increase commerce between the two nations.

The President’s final decision followed a State Department review of Cuba’s presence on the list.  President Obama ordered a review of Cuba’s status in December, after announcing that he would seek normal ties with the island nation

Cuba will officially be removed from the terrorism list 45 days after the President’s message was sent to Congress. Lawmakers could vote to block the move during the 45 day period. However, any such resolution to block its removal is likely to be vetoed by Mr. Obama.

New U.S. Policy Towards Cuba Put In Motion By Construction Of Church

The construction of Cuba’s first Roman Catholic Church since Castro came to power in 1959 may well be the first test of the new U.S. policy towards Cuba. The new church, with an expected capacity to accommodate at least 200 worshipers, is set to be built in Sandino, a small, secluded town in the province of Pinar del Rio. Most of the money for the church’s construction was raised by the St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Tampa, Florida. Father Tom Morgan, the vicar of St. Lawrence’s parish, told CNN that he was optimistic that recent changes in U.S. policy towards Cuba would permit his parish to send supplies and building materials to Cuba to help construct the new church.

The changes in Cuba policy mentioned by Father Morgan were put into effect by amending the Commerce Department’s Export Administration Regulations (EAR). On January 16, 2015, the EAR were amended to authorize the export and re-export of certain items to Cuba that are intended to improve the living conditions of the Cuban people. The new regulations permit the export of building materials, equipment and tools for use by the private sector to construct or renovate privately-owned buildings, including places of worship such as the proposed church being built in Sandino. Hence, the efforts of Tampa parishioners to build a church in an out-of the-way village in Cuba could be an early test of the President’s strategy of strengthening civil society in Cuba by supporting independent economic activity.

The new regulations also permit the sending of building materials to Cuba to build privately-owned residences, businesses and buildings for private sector social or recreational use. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s EAR, found at 15 CFR parts 730-774, can be read by clicking here.

Bill Introduced In Senate To End Travel Restrictions To Cuba

On January 29, 2015, a coalition of four Republican and four Democrat senators introduced legislation to restore freedom to travel to Cuba.[1] While President Obama has announced normalization of some relations between the two countries and relaxed travel restrictions to Cuba such that Americans traveling to Cuba no longer have to obtain specific licenses or get permission from the government, Americans are required to certify that their trip falls under one of the twelve categories of permitted travel.[2] Congressional action is necessary to permanently lift all restrictions on travel to the island nation. Bipartisan bill, S. 299, the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015, would end restrictions in laws enacted in 1996 and 2000 on travel by American citizens and legal residents to Cuba. The bill would also end restrictions on related transactions incident to such travel, including banking transactions.

Several of the bill’s sponsors expressed their enthusiasm. Senator Jeff Flake said: “We have tried this current policy — we have prohibited travel for about 50 years, and it hasn’t worked . . . It’s time to allow Americans to travel freely to Cuba.” Senator Dick Durbin said: “It’s time for a new policy. . . I think we’re going to see dramatic change in Cuba if there’s more travel, exchange and business between our two countries.”

Zane Kerby, President and CEO of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), expressed the industry’s support for the proposed legislation: “While the Administration’s recent actions on Cuba were a step in the right direction, it is Congress that needs to step up to the plate on travel freedom. We are seeing that leadership now from Senators Flake, Leahy and their bipartisan coalition, and we will do everything in our power to get this bill across the finish line.”

A companion bill to S. 299 is expected to be introduced in the House of Representatives next week by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Mark Sanford (R-SC).

To read a draft of S. 299, the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015, click here.

[1] The four Republican senators are: Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Mike Enzi (R-WY), and John Boozman (R-AR). The four Democrat senators: Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

[2] The categories of permitted travel to Cuba are: (1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.

Easing Of Restrictions On Travel To Cuba Goes Into Effect

On December 17, 2014, the Obama Administration announced new regulations governing travel to and trade with Cuba. Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Commerce published in the Federal Register the revised Cuban Assets Control Regulations and Export Administration Regulations, which put into effect changes to the sanctions against Cuba administered by Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security.[1] The regulations are effective as of January 16, 2015.

The new regulations will immediately impact travel to Cuba. Although travel to Cuba for general tourist activity is still prohibited, under the new regulations, Americans will face fewer obstacles when traveling to Cuba, effectively ending the travel ban to the island. The administration’s new rules on travel and trade further the President’s goal of normalizing relations with Cuba by easing restrictions on travel, business and remittances. Under the previous rules, Americans traveling to Cuba had to justify their trips under 12 categories of permitted travel and in most cases obtain a specific license from the Treasury Department.[2] Although travel to Cuba will still be limited to the twelve existing categories, the new regulations are drafted in such a way that allow most Americans to travel to Cuba without obtaining a specific license from the U.S. government. Travel previously authorized by specific license will be authorized by general license, subject to appropriate conditions. This means that individuals who certify that meet the conditions laid out in the regulations will not need to apply for a license to travel to Cuba.

Airlines and travel agents will also be allowed to provide service to Cuba without a specific license. Americans may now book travel directly with airlines and travel agents instead of through government authorized agencies. The new regulations will significantly affect the travel, hospitality and leisure sector, including airlines, cruise lines, hotels and travel agencies.

Travelers will be allowed to spend as much money as they want on travel-related expenses while in Cuba, which was previously limited. Additionally, travelers will be allowed to engage in transactions related to travel within Cuba, including paying for costs of living expenses and purchasing goods for personal use while in Cuba. Travelers will also be allowed to use U.S. credit and debit cards in Cuba.

U.S. insurers will be allowed to provide coverage for global health, life, or travel insurance policies for individuals ordinarily resident in a third country who travel to or within Cuba. Health, life, and travel insurance-related services will continue to be permitted for authorized U.S. travelers to Cuba.

[1] U.S. Department of the Treasury regulations can be found at 31 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), part 515, see here. U.S. Department of Commerce regulations can be found at 15 CFR parts 730-774, see here.

[2] The twelve categories of permitted travel to Cuba are: (1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.

US Agriculture Coalition for Cuba Takes Off With the Goal of Normalizing Relations Between the United States and Cuba

On December 17, 2014, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba and reverse a more than 50-year policy of isolation. President Obama’s move to establish relations and ease sanctions against Cuba stirred the interest of U.S. business. In particular, the American agricultural industry, which is anxious to increase its market share of the Cuban food market, has led the support for President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba.[1]

On January 8, 2015, more than 25 companies and farm trade associations joined together at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to launch the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba.  The goal of the Coalition is to promote collaborative action for improved agricultural trade relations with Cuba. The Coalition believes that the improvement of agricultural trade between the U.S. and Cuba is the foundation for building successful and enduring relations between both countries.  Continue reading “US Agriculture Coalition for Cuba Takes Off With the Goal of Normalizing Relations Between the United States and Cuba”

U.S. Business Embraces President’s Plan For A New Course On Cuba

Yesterday, President Obama announced wide-ranging adjustments of US policy towards Cuba including opening an embassy in Havana. The Obama Plan involves a series of measures aimed at increasing trade between the two countries. The basic premise of the plan is to permit certain exports to Cuba, relax restrictions on financial transactions and repeal limits on remittances to the island. Secretary of State, John Kerry, will begin to implement the initiative. He is to “immediately initiate discussions with Cuba on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.”

Continue reading “U.S. Business Embraces President’s Plan For A New Course On Cuba”

PREPA Places Hold on Signing New Renewable Energy Contracts

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) has stopped granting new contracts for renewable energy projects pending the results of an evaluation of the costs that PREPA would incur to purchase electricity under 63 of those contracts negotiated under the previous administration. Collaborating with PREPA in this review are the Permit Management Office, the Planning Board, the Energy Affairs Administration, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources.

Continue reading “PREPA Places Hold on Signing New Renewable Energy Contracts”

© 2009- Duane Morris LLP. Duane Morris is a registered service mark of Duane Morris LLP.

The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

Proudly powered by WordPress