Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cuba Notes Practical Steps Not Taken by the Obama Administration

Following is the introductory section of Cuba's annual documentation of the impact of the unilateral US embargo in preparation for the scheduled UN debate. It cites numerous reforms that lie within the exclusive authority of the Executive which the Obama Administration has declined to initiate, in effect Cuba's commonsense road map for the US if it wishes to achieve a more normal relationship.


On March 28, 2009, US Vice President Joseph Biden, in the framework of the Summit of Progressive Leaders in Chile, made a press statement that the government of that country would not lift the embargo on Cuba. On April 7th of the same year, Robert Wood, the State Department spokesperson declared at a press conference: “I think that we have been very clear that we do not consider this is the right time to lift the embargo”.

On April 19, 2009, David Axelrod, Obama’s advisor, replied in an interview on CBS-TV when asked if the White House had any thoughts about lifting the “embargo”: “...we are far from that”.

That same day, President Obama’s economic advisor Lawrence Summers declared on an NBC-TV interview when referring to the lifting of the embargo: “That is not something for tomorrow and it will depend on what Cuba is going to do, Cuba knows what it should be doing for some time now, and it depends on them in terms of their policies, their democratization and all the steps they might take (...) it is a topic that will be decided on the basis of Cuba’s conduct”.

It is evident then that the US government does not harbour any intention of producing a change in its policy towards Cuba, or of complying with the reiterated resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly that ask the government of that country to put an end to the economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba. On the contrary, the US government continues holding on to inacceptable interfering conditions and demands as a condition for a change of policy towards Cuba.

Despite having considerable support in Congress, the press, public opinion and the business sector, that transcended any preceding consensus in American society regarding policy towards Cuba, something that would have allowed him to act with a high level of autonomy, President Obama has stayed well below the expectations created by his speech about the claims from different sectors in American society and the international community, as well as his prerogatives to change significant policy aspects, even without intervention from Congress.

By virtue of those prerogatives and if such political will for that were to exist, President Obama would have had sufficient authority to significantly make the embargo against Cuba more flexible. In that sense, and without the need for mediating congressional approval, the President would have been able to issue a broad range of permits to authorize the following measures:

* Substantially expand travel by Americans and foreigners residing in the US by a broad interpretation of the 12 categories for travel established by law (for example, expansion of educational travel, permits to participate in professional conferences, academic, scientific, student, cultural, sports, religious exchanges and authorization of humanitarian projects, just to name a few).

[These categories are: travel for official government business, foreign governments or international organizations; family travel; educational travel; religious; for public presentations, sports competitions and exhibitions; travel for activities in support of the Cuban people; for humanitarian projects; trips for private foundation, research institute or educational activities; travel for export, import or transmission of information or informative materials activities; and travel for activities relating to the export of agricultural products.]

* Eliminate limits on travel associated expenses such as accomodations, food and local transportation that Americans and Cubans residing in the US can make when they visit Cuba (Americans, including Cuban-Americans, after the amendment to the Budget Act for the 2009 fiscal year, cannot spend more than the limit set for travel expenses abroad for US government officials, today set at 179 USD per day).

* Eliminate the prohibition on use of credit and debit cards, personal cheques, travellers’ cheques, issued by both US and third country banks.

* Broaden the list of US airports authorized to operate charter flights to Cuba (at the present time, there are only three approved: Miami, New York and Los Angeles).

* Permit ferry service between the US and Cuba.

* Authorize all US travel agencies to organize trips to Cuba, or make the requisites and procedures in force more flexible so that travel agencies may obtain the necessary permits for this activity (today there are some 150 agencies authorized to do so, via specific licences).

* Authorize travelers visiting Cuba to buy Cuban products and take them to the US for personal use or as gifts, and eliminate the limit on their value (up to the present time they can only take information materials, including art objects).

* Eliminate the prohibition on Cuban companies to participate in the transportation of US visitors to and from Cuba, or Cuban visitors to and from the US.

* Permit certain bank relations, such as correspondent banks and the opening of accounts by Cuban entities in US banks to facilitate agricultural exports.

* Eliminate the prohibition that prevents vessels transporting agricultural products to Cuba from carrying goods in our country even though their destination may be a third country.

* Expand the list of products that may be exported to Cuba to include, for example, insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, agricultural equipment and even wooden furniture and objects manufactured with materials having animal or vegetal origins.

* Permit broader forms of collaboration in the development, marketing and supply of medicines and biomedical products originating in Cuba.

* Authorize the importing of medicines and medical products of Cuban origin and the payments corresponding to the Cuban exporters.

* Authorize the export of medicines and medical equipmentbb that may be used in the manufacture of Cuban biotechnological products.

* Instruct US representatives in international financial institutions not to block the authorization of loans or other financial facilities to Cuba.

* Loosen up or eliminate the prohibition on using the dollar for Cuba’s international transactions.

* Permit foreign subsidiaries of US companies to carry out certain transactions with Cuba, such as financial services, insurance, services and investments (The Torricelli Act prohibits commerce in goods but not the mentioned transactions).

* Lift the two prohibitions established in the Torricelli Act regarding vessels: the one forbidding entry to US ports for 180 days by vessels from third countries that have carried goods to Cuba; and the one making it impossible for vessels carrying goods or passengers to or from Cuba to enter US ports (the Torricelli Act and regulations for its implementation authorize the president to issue licenses for that).

*Exclude Cuba from the list of states sponsoring international terrorism. This list was first published in 1982 under the Reagan administration and has remained in effect until today. It involves the application of certain sanctions.

[Among the sanctions being applied to a State sponsoring terrorism, according to the list drawn up by the US, are: the prohibition on financial transactions without a permit, the prohibition on financial and direct technical aid by the US government, the prohibition on exports of certain goods such as heavy industrial products, high tech equipment, and products having dual usage, the prohibition on transfer of munitions, and the prohibition on granting temporary visas to nationals of the country without special decision of the Secretary of State.]

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