Saturday, July 15, 2017

Annotated "Fact" Sheet from the Trump Administration

Fact Sheet on Cuba Policy

President Donald J. Trump is changing the policy of the United States toward Cuba to achieve four objectives:

1.      Enhance compliance with United States law—in particular the provisions that govern the embargo of Cuba and the ban on tourism;
2.      Hold the Cuban regime accountable for oppression and human rights abuses ignored under the Obama policy;
3.      Further the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and those of the Cuban people; and
4.      Lay the groundwork for empowering the Cuban people to develop greater economic and political liberty.

Summary of Key Policy Changes:

·        The new policy channels economic activities away from the Cuban military monopoly, Grupo de Administración Empresarial (GAESA), including most travel-related transactions, while allowing American individuals and entities to develop economic ties to the private, small business sector in Cuba. The new policy makes clear that the primary obstacle to the Cuban people’s prosperity and economic freedom is the Cuban military’s practice of controlling virtually every profitable sector of the economy. President Trump’s policy changes will encourage American commerce with free Cuban businesses and pressure the Cuban government to allow the Cuban people to expand the private sector.

·        The policy enhances travel restrictions to better enforce the statutory ban on United States tourism to Cuba. Among other changes, travel for non-academic educational purposes will be limited to group travel. The self-directed, individual travel permitted by the Obama administration will be prohibited. Cuban-Americans will be able to continue to visit their family in Cuba and send them remittances.

A complete contradiction.  Group travel must go through official Cuban channels and requires use of hotels, some of which are GAESA linked.  Individual P2P travel was the primary source of funding for “the private, small business sector in Cuba”.

·        The policy reaffirms the United States statutory embargo of Cuba and opposes calls in the United Nations and other international forums for its termination. The policy also mandates regular reporting on Cuba’s progress—if any—toward greater political and economic freedom.

Once again the US will be completely isolated and embarrassed in the UN and other international forums.

·        The policy clarifies that any further improvements in the United States-Cuba relationship will depend entirely on the Cuban government’s willingness to improve the lives of the Cuban people, including through promoting the rule of law, respecting human rights, and taking concrete steps to foster political and economic freedoms.

No such requirements were made of China or Vietnam, nor for Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

·        The policy memorandum directs the Treasury and Commerce Departments to begin the process of issuing new regulations within 30 days. The policy changes will not take effect until those Departments have finalized their new regulations, a process that may take several months. The Treasury Department has issued Q&As that provide additional detail on the impact of the policy changes on American travelers and businesses.

For more information on this policy see the below links to the relevant United States Government Departments: Department of CommerceDepartment of StateDepartment of TreasuryDepartment of Homeland Security, and the Department of Transportation.

Washington Post Analysis of Counterproductive Trump Policy

Trump’s Cuba policy tries to redefine ‘good’ U.S. tourism. That includes putting visitors back on tour buses. 

Trump's new Cuba policy, explained

By Nick Miroff June 17

The American traveler in Cuba — sweating, disoriented and probably a bit woozy from the rum drinks — is once more at the heart of the struggle for the island’s future.

Central to President Trump’s plans to peel back his predecessor’s detente with Cuba is the idea that there is “good” and “bad” U.S. travel. The United States, Trump believes, can tightly regulate American vacations to deprive the Castro government of dollars and redirect the money to the island’s growing class of entrepreneurs.

But it will be difficult to pick winners in Cuba’s state-controlled economy, where government businesses and the private sector are thoroughly intertwined. And even harder will be determining what sort of travel constitutes the kind of “people-to-people” interactions the Trump administration says it wants to preserve.

By reinstating restrictions on independent travelers, the Trump administration’s new policy will hurt Cuba’s emerging private sector that caters to American visitors, critics insist.

Instead, the new rules will herd Americans back toward the kind of prepackaged, predictable group tourism that the Cuban government actually prefers — and earns more revenue from.

“I think if you come here on a package tour, you see what the Cuban government wants you to see,” said Andrew Sleyko, 36, a food scientist from Chicago who was visiting the island for the first time as Trump announced his new policy.

Sleyko and a friend had booked rooms through Airbnb and were spending their days walking around the city in the muggy heat.

“We’re talking to people wherever we go,” he said. “Isn’t that the idea of people-to-people?”
[What’s changing and what’s not with Trump’s new Cuba policy]

The Trump plan, announced Friday in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, asserts that the Obama-era rules facilitated what the White House called “illegal” tourism as more U.S. travelers booked their own trips by renting rooms in Cuban homes through sites such as Airbnb.

While the law still allows certain American travelers to visit as individuals for religious, professional or other purposes, it eliminates the “individual educational” category that quickly became the most popular way to go to Cuba without booking a group tour.

Americans will generally still be allowed to visit Cuba if they come on cruise ships, for instance, or book with U.S.-approved tour agencies that ensure travel itineraries do not include too much unstructured time.

The complication for Trump’s rules, however, is that large tour groups are too big for smaller bed-and-breakfast rentals, and their government-appointed guides tend to ply the well-trodden routes that bypass the new galleries, restaurants and night spots opened by enterprising Cubans and others after the openings spurred by Obama.

That, in turn, will cause a ripple effect.

“If independent American travel is cut off, you won’t only hurt the bed-and-breakfasts. It’s also the construction crews, the private tour guides, the taxi drivers, the restaurants and the artists selling handicrafts,” said Andrea Gallina, an Italian entrepreneur who last year opened a high-end boutique hotel, Paseo 206, with his Cuban spouse.

The 1934 mansion has an Italian restaurant on the ground floor, and Gallina estimates two-thirds of his guests are American, booking rooms through Airbnb, Expedia and other U.S. sites.

“To be honest, Americans don’t have time to go to the beach, because they get absorbed into the city,” he said. “Independent travelers have more contact with real Cubans.”

Gallina employs 22 Cuban workers. If his bookings decline because of a travel crackdown, he said, he will probably turn to the European market and “tighten our belts.”

American travel to Cuba has been a political battleground since the early 1990s, when the collapse of the Soviet Union left the island’s communist government starved for hard currency.

[With Cuba shift, Trump could undercut his company’s hotel rivals]

As its resort industry grew and more foreign visitors arrived, the Castro government’s enemies in Miami and in the halls of Congress fought to restrict Americans from going — knowing their dollars could undermine efforts to choke the Cuban economy.

Instead, Cuba’s tourism industry grew on euros and Canadian dollars.

But that’s beginning to change.

The government says it received more than 4 million tourists last year — a record number — of which about 615,000 were U.S. visitors. That includes 330,000 Cuban Americans visiting relatives on the island, but many of the rest were Americans taking advantage of Obama’s landmark moves to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba.

Travel by non-Cuban Americans has been on pace to double this year, according to the latest government data.

But Trump’s rollback is expected to put a brake on that growth. U.S. officials say the new restrictions have yet to be written and will not take effect until then, and Americans who have already booked Cuba travel won’t have to cancel.

Limited economic reforms by Cuban leader Raúl Castro, 86, have allowed Cuban entrepreneurs to buy and sell property and run small businesses, but it was Obama’s normalization measures that kicked the process into overdrive.

In Old Havana’s tourist quarter, entire city blocks of crumbling century-old buildings are being renovated and turned into boutique hostels and chic cafes.

The work is being almost entirely carried out by private sector tradesman and contractors.

“I’ve never been this busy,” said Roberto Claro, a dust-covered construction foreman in Old Havana, whose crew was busy converting a ruined, century-old building into a seafood restaurant. There were two other buildings on the same block also getting an overhaul.

The new rules aim to ban or limit Americans from patronizing military-linked businesses including Cuba’s gargantuan ­GAESA conglomerate, which is estimated to control more than half of the island’s tourist economy.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said Friday it will provide Americans with a lists of prohibited hotels and other businesses linked to the company so American travelers can steer clear.

U.S. travelers will need to keep detailed records and receipts from their Cuba trips in case of an audit by Treasury Department officials, and that alone could be a deterrent if aggressively enforced.

“The real challenge in implementing will be this,” said Chris Sabatini, a lecturer at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and the director of the website Global Americans. “Monitoring travelers, evaluating who is staying in military-owned hotels, tracking license compliance — all that requires bureaucratic capacity and follow up.”

Because Treasury’s foreign assets division is the same office in charge of enforcing sanctions against countries such as Iran and North Korea, it has come under criticism for devoting resources to investigating the vacation receipts of American travelers who visit Cuba. A bipartisan Senate bill that would completely lift travel restrictions has 55 co-sponsors.

“You or I could travel to any country on the globe and there’s not a federal government prohibition from us doing so — the only restriction is Cuba,” Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) told CNN as Trump announced the new measures. “We’re not the Soviet Union. We don’t have to have ‘travel papers’ for the government to decide whether or not you can travel.”

Treasury said it will issue new guidelines in the coming months.

Gallina and others in Havana said they have been flooded with calls and emails from Americans in the past three days asking if they should cancel their trips.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Captain Dynamite Johnny Celebrated in Havana

On Tuesday, June 20th, there were special events in Havana linked to the centenary of the death of Dynamite Johnny O'Brien.

At 9:30 a.m. there was a wreath laying at the plaque honoring O'Brien on the Avenida del Puerto near the entrance of the Plaza de Armas.  Four of his direct descendents from the US took part.  After that we went to the provincial library on the Plaza de Armas where First Lady Michelle Obama donated a bench and two thriving plants.  

As part of its community outreach with students, the library has inaugurated an exhibit about O'Brien/  They and students described the local history program.  Irish traditional music was played by two accomplished Cubans.  Excerpts were shown from "A Captain Unafraid", a new film made by a young Irishman, Charles O'Brien (no relation).  The film premiered at the European Film Festival in Havana on June 3d.

A picture of the plaque can be seen here
O'Brien was a first generation Irish American who grew up on New York's lower east side.  He was a pilot in New York harbor before becoming a "filibuster", a smuggler of arms.  He became a mainstay of the effort led by Jose Marti's successors to overcome Spain's colonial rule, making over a dozen deliveries of weapons and personnel in every quadrant of Cuba's coast.  (99% of the funding came from Cubans living in the US, but Tamany Hall donated $20,000, equivalent to $582,000 currently.)

O'Brien evaded efforts by Spain, the US and Pinkerton detectives to arrest, capture or kill him.  He successfully commanded what Granma has described as the sole engagement of the Mambisi navy near Cienfuegos.
O'Brien's heroism was so appreciated that he became Havana's first port captain after Cuba achieved its independence through a special act of the legislature.  He was also forgiven his transgressions by the US government and took part in the resinking of the Maine outside of Cuban. waters.

O'Brien is a symbol of a less fraught relationship between Americans and Cubans, when our sympathies for their independence were not complicated by economic and strategic ambitions.  (A more peaceful icon is Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, whose bust is prominently exhibited in Santiago.)

An essay by the film maker about O'Brien's life is here 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

My take on President Trump's New Policy

President Trump's strategy to reinforce his base, perhaps with an eye on his serious legal problems, led to outrageous rhetorical excess in Miami.  The larger perspective on national interest of Secretary of State Tillerson was thrown under the guagua.

However the actions taken so far by the Administration are largely symbolic, with the exception of one that defies both the President's own expressed values and common sense, the elimination of the individual general license.   Does that contradiction reflect that the game is far from over, even within Donald Trump and his Administration and certainly with Congress?

The bottom line is that the main channels of travel have not been cut so far: group tours on general licenses, commercial air flights, cruises, remittances, and the protected status of Cuban Americans.  Existing commitments are grandfathered for individuals and for companies.  I say "so far" because the actual regulations when they are issued may try to slip in further bureaucratic roll backs.  Two other major policy roll backs were not made:  restoration of the state sponsor of terrorism listing and of wet foot/dry foot migration rules.

The biggest uncertainty is the impact of the bar on "direct transactions with entities related to the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services".  The presumed target are companies related to the military linked holding company GAESA, including hotels and presumably bus services.  But is a contract with Havanatur that includes a Gaviota hotel a "direct transaction"?  If GAESA sells or transfers companies and properties used by Americans to a state company under the Ministry of Tourism, will it escape US strictures?  What if Habaguanex hotels and restaurants in Old Havana are returned to the Office of the Historian Eusebeo Leal?

Senator Rubio himself tweeted advise to use an individual channel which is at least as hard to define and control as people to people educational travel:

"Individual Americans can travel to #Cuba under Support for the Cuban people category but must use privately owned lodging like AirBnB" 

Other thoughts based on a quick reading of the White House background call for press and OFAC's FAQ clarification of regulations:

1)  The White House in its briefing claimed that its "guiding principle" was to "have the benefits of any economic commerce with the United States go to the Cuban people" and to "steer money away from the Cuban military and towards the Cuban people".  However the new policy eliminates the primary channel that does exactly that at a significantly lower cost for a greater diversity of Americans, i.e. individual, family and small group self-directed travelers who stay in bed and breakfasts, eat in private restaurants and depend on taxis and other public transportation.

2)  It says that group tours are permitted but aspires to forbid use of military holding company linked hotels that provide housing for many groups.

3)  While permitting continuing activity by Airbnb and commercial airlines, it eviscerates their market by ending the individual general license. 

4)  It postures that participation in a guided tour managed and supervised by Cuban authorities is more authentically people to people than a self-organized visit by individuals, families and friends with inherently greater spontaneity, showing colossal distrust of the American people and the Cubans with whom they naturally engage.

5)  The Administration claims to seek to "empower the Cuban people" but does just the opposite by depriving them of unregulated resources from independent travelers and giving greater leverage to security services.

6)  The harsh rhetoric of the President, reflects only the self-delusional beliefs of the old guard Miami minority.  It will be welcome relief over the more subtle challenge of Obama's initiatives for Cuban hard-liners who believe political and economic controls are essential to protect the country from US political interference and economic dominance.

7)  It appears that in the short term the President has accommodated to old guard hard liners whose real objective is to limit the number and variety of Americans that form their own conclusions about Cuba and the wisdom of the embargo.  Ending individual travel returns Cuba largely to the realm of Americans who can afford group tours.

8)  The alternative universe of the hard liners and now of the Administration was  manifested in the White House briefing: "the Cuban regime will see this as an opportunity for them to implement the reforms that they paid lip service to a couple of years ago, but that have not in any way been implemented to the benefit of the Cuban people."  While reforms are slower and narrower than many Cubans desire, they are inescapably present.

I have posted the comments of three friends who frequently meet with US visitors who appreciate their independent experienced perspective: Carlos Alzugaray, Rafael Hernandez and Jose Viera..

I have highlighted and commented on the OFAC and White House documents here

John McAuliff

(revised 6/29)

A Miami Cuban Who is not Fooled


JUNE 15, 2017 7:00 AM

President Trump’s ballyhooed Cuba travel policy is topsy-turvy

Reaction to Pres. Trump from Cuba

No matter what the new policy is about, it is difficult to think of a political meeting and a speech whose content shows less regard for the sensitivities of Cubans. 

Even if everybody knows that it was conceived to please the more reactionary Cuban Americans, it shows a deep conviction that Cuba is nothing more than an appendix of Miami.

There was no effort, not a single line, to express respect for Cuban history, for its independence or sovereignty. It completely showed that those who wrote it or influenced it do not think or care for the destiny of the 11 million Cubans who, at the end, will decide the future of that island.

I could not believe the choice of the chief of the Santiago de Cuba police under Batista to question justice applied in 1959, and that his son was invited to play the American Anthem and only the American Anthem to end the program. What a complete disdain for the Cubans and for those killed by the Batista police all over Cuba from 1952 to 1959. 

It may look clever to choose the military as the target, but it is not.  Of all the institutions created by the Revolution, probably the most prestigious one in the eyes of ordinary Cubans is the Rebel Army. 

In addition, the entrepreneurs in the Island will immediately see that less Americans coming will deeply and first of all affect them.  

In the fight for the minds of the Cubans, President Trump's speech will be a powerful tool to build a consensus around the Cuban Government and Party and to strengthen the legitimacy of their policies.

It is impossible to measure the practical economic impact, but it will be big. They do not prohibit flights, but make it harder for the airlines or cruise ships to have passengers.  Even with groups it will be difficult to select which hotel is blacklisted or not. Just the threat of a possible audit by the Treasury Department will create a serious concern to potential travelers.

The Executive Memorandum already published is not enough to judge the negative consequences on bilateral relations.  It will be necessary to wait for the new regulations from the different departments. 

I am sure the response of the Cuban Government will be serene but extremely firm, and, at the same time, that the path of reform goes on. I think that what we have to prove is that Cuba and the Cubans, can go on and forge a prosperous system with or without embargo. In other words, make the embargo irrelevant.

Jose Raul Viera Linares
formerly First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs


It was a pathetic exercise in an attempt at turning back the wheels of history. Trump’s speech was transmitted live on Telesur and later at 8:30 pm at the end of the National News. Specially damaging for the purposes of Rubio, Díaz Balart, Trump and their cohorts was the histrionic performance of the violinist. It turns out that his father was one of the Batista police'smost brutal officers. He was the Chief of the Police in Santiago de Cuba at the height of the revolutionary struggle in that city. He was personally responsible for the murder of Frank País, one of the heroes of that period. The reaction in Havana since the speech has been anticlimactic. Let us see what the future brings. 

Dr. Carlos Alzugaray Treto
formerly ambassador to the European Union


Trump winds towards Cuba. Notes on a napkin

06/18/2017 11:40 pm ET

Trump’s new policy toward Cuba has had more forecasts than a disturbance in the Caribbean.
Many were freaked out that these winds would recur, going back to December 16, 2014, and sweep away the deals with Obama. The furious of Miami announced a wave that would return us to the ice age of G.W. Bush, and the blacklist of terrorist countries. Most weather commentators were divided between pessimists and very pessimistic.

For other minorities such as mine, that Trump could override Obama’s directive and ban commercial licenses with GAE companies, in addition to continuing with his chatter about human rights and freedoms, was in the cards. It was very unlikely, however, that, for its own interests, he would block cooperation in national security, travel or licenses, such as those granted to commercial airlines, and others (see my interview with Fabiola López, Telesur, June 12).

Now that the disturbance has come out of the sea and entered the earth, we can measure how far the water has penetrated. In terms of visits, it has been downgraded, not to 2014, but to 2015-2016, when to come to Cuba based on people-to-people they had to do it in a group. FAR and MININT companies were blacklisted. Obama’s “Presidential Directive towards Cuba” was annulled. On human rights and blockade, we are where we already know.

Most of the 22 signed agreements remain. No cooperation in security, embassies, rules for remittances, trips without limit for Cuban-Americans and Americans, end of wet-foot/dry-foot, talks about migration, environment, and other subjects, licenses to trade with Cuban non-state companies, academic and cultural exchanges, none of that which had been achieved with Obama has been destroyed.

Despite its negative effect, the noise of this gust has been (and is) greater than the actual damage. There are several reasons for this. In Miami, the furious used it just to boast, for although they did not achieve any of their announced goals, the presidential declaration served for a political show-off. To the Cuban government, it allowed him to update his position before this presidency, using a very carefully calibrated dropper: we reject, but we do not fight, we remain ready to negotiate. To our friends, it encouraged them to reiterate their permanent solidarity. To Cubans, it reminded them of the old face of the US power that is not that of a smiling African American. To our non-enemies, partners, etc., it made them shake their heads at another awkwardness of this president, although not the worst of them all.

It may be too early, perhaps, to estimate all the technical details of this damage. While the tide did not reach the forecasts, there is still uncertainty about licenses for telecoms or hotels, joint testing for cancer vaccines, dollar uses, and credit cards. On the other hand, however, neither freedom to travel nor free trade went to the bottom of the sea. Congress and the Supreme Court can throw them lifelines to stay afloat. As always, the interests generate political winds, which do not stop blowing, even after a cyclone.

Rafael Hernandez
Editor, Revisita Temas

Translation: Walter Lippmann