New U.S. Cuba Policy Drawn From Council-sponsored Independent Task Force Recommendations

June 17, 1999

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In the fall of 1998, the Council on Foreign Relations sponsored an Independent Task Force on U.S.-Cuban Relations in the 21st Century, which published a set of recommendations proposing modifications in U.S. policy toward Cuba. The Task Force’s specific recommendations included: (1) allowing unlimited travel to Cuba by Cuban Americans as well as easing other travel restrictions; (2) expanding people-to-people exchanges for academic, scientific, athletic, artistic, and humanitarian purposes; (3) permitting the sale of food and medicine to governmental and nongovernmental entities that are not part of the repressive security apparatus; (4) authorizing direct commercial flight services, direct mail service, and limited direct private investment; and (5) expanding the maximum annual remittances to family members in Cuba by American citizens and residents to $10,000. These and other measures are designed to reach out to the Cuban people and to promote a stable and peaceful transition on the island.

Drawing from the work of the Independent Task Force, in January 1999 the Clinton administration announced a package of measures that included: (1) liberalizing travel to promote people-to-people contact; (2) allowing all American citizens to remit to Cuba $1,200 per year; (3) permitting the sale of agricultural inputs to independent buyers; (4) expanding chartered flights from cities in the U.S. other than Miami and to cities in Cuba other than Havana; (5) restoring direct mail service; (6) streamlining procedures for granting visas to Cuban visitors including Communist party members; and (7) increasing funds for Radio and TV Marti.

On May 13, 1999, the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published new regulations to implement the January measures regarding travel, remittances, and the sale of agricultural inputs. The changes concerning remittances and agricultural sales fall short of the Task Force’s recommendations and will have limited impact in the foreseeable future. However, the Clinton administration’s new travel regulations substantially expand opportunities for many more Americans to travel to Cuba legally and with far less bureaucratic hindrance than has been the case for most of the present decade.

I. New Travel Guidelines

A. General Licenses

As recommended by the Independent Task Force, the new measures remove the requirement of pre-clearance for travel to Cuba by extending the coverage of a "general license," which had previously been available only to full-time journalists and government officials. A general license is now available to any American citizen to engage in "professional research" of a "non-commercial, academic nature" that has a "substantial likelihood of public dissemination" and comprises a "full work schedule" during the individual’s travel to Cuba. A general license is also available to individuals attending professional meetings sponsored by an international organization. In addition, the general license coverage is now extended to amateur and semi-professional athletes and to technical personnel associated with full-time journalists. Individuals qualifying for a general license may now travel to Cuba without having to seek approval from OFAC prior to their travel and without having to provide documentation upon return to the United States. When asked by customs agents about the nature of their travel, individuals with a general license need only state the nature of their trip and why it qualified under the general license.

B. Specific Licenses

Drawing from the Task Force’s recommendations, OFAC will now issue multiple-entry, multiple-year specific licenses to educational, academic (including secondary schools), religious, humanitarian, and cultural institutions to carry out programs in Cuba. These institutional licenses will cover individuals participating in such programs and will eliminate the requirement that every American participating in such an exchange apply individually for his or her license. In addition, specific licenses may be issued for participation in a public performance, clinic, workshop, or exhibition provided proceeds from the event are donated to a U.S. charity or an independent nongovernmental organization in Cuba. It is expected that by creating a multiple-year, multiple-entry license, OFAC will streamline license application procedures.

An entirely new clause in the new regulations directed at the "activities of private foundations or research or educational institutions" will enhance the abilities of institutions such as the Council on Foreign Relations to bring its members to Cuba with minimum red tape. Multiple entry, multiple year licenses will be issued after a one-time application to OFAC by private foundations and educational institutions with an "established interest in international relations, to collect information related to Cuba for noncommercial purposes." In addition, the new regulations open up the possibility for private foundations to make in-country grants upon receipt of specific licenses.

II. Transactions in Cuba

The new regulations increase the per diem amount of money that legal travelers may spend from $100 to the per diem for U.S. government officials, currently $183. Institutions eligible for specific licenses may also apply for licenses to cover additional transactions in Cuba in excess of this amount in order to cover the costs of their activities on the island.

III. Agricultural Sales

Under the new regulations, specific licenses will be granted to vendors for travel to the island to explore possibilities for sales. Such sales may include insecticides, herbicides, pesticides, seeds, fertilizers, and beverages. However, the regulations ban the sale of equipment. The Commerce Department will only grant licenses for sales if the vendor can demonstrate that the buyer is an "independent, nongovernmental" entity. This criterion limits potential buyers to private peasants, privately run restaurants, and other entities that are "not controlled, owned, or operated by the Cuban Government." This limitation effectively blocks sales because government-run import agencies in Cuba control imports for all consumers in Cuba, whether schools, churches, hospitals, private farms, or private restaurants. Whereas the Clinton administration’s January 1999 announcement of this measure indicated that private financing of such sales would be permitted, the implementing regulations explicitly ban all financing whether government or private.

IV. Remittances

The new regulations allow for any U.S. resident over 18 years of age to send up to $1,200 per year to a Cuban household, with the exception of "senior government or senior Communist party officials." U.S. residents may receive a specific license to send remittances to organizations independent from the Cuban government. A remitter may not send both a family remittance and an individual-to-household remittance to the same household within the same three-month period.

V. Direct Chartered Flights

OFAC is requesting assessments from various airlines of the potential market for travel to Cuba from U.S. cities other than Miami. This process is incomplete; no additional cities of origin have yet been announced

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