On December 17, 2014, President Obama announced significant changes to U.S. foreign relations with Cuba. As noted in another ILG post by
Margaret Spicer, these changes reflect a new policy at the level of the U.S. Executive (the President). The sanctions imposed by U.S. Congress remain fully in place. In Washington DC’s politically-charged environment, US-Cubans and Republicans in Congress have been vocal about their opposition to any change in US-Cuban policy. Republicans assume control of both the House and the Senate in January, 2015.
So, what are the announced changes and what can we expect to happen next?
US-Cuba diplomatic relations re-established: High-level talks will begin in January, 2015 with the goal of re-establishing full diplomatic relations. President Obama announced plans to re-open a U.S. Embassy in Havana within a few months. Led by US-Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio, opponents have threatened to block the required Senate confirmation of anyone nominated by President Obama as U.S. Ambassador to Cuba. US Congress also holds the purse strings and will need to fund the new Embassy. We will need to observe how much support these opponents will receive from other leading Republicans in the US Congress. Senator Bob Corker, incoming Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has said only that he will be “examining the implications” of the policy change in the new Congress. Senator Orrin Hatch, presumptive new Chair of the Senate Finance Committee has issued a pro forma statement of opposition to the announcement. Representative Paul Ryan, incoming Chair of the House Ways & Means Committee (in charge of budgetary and trade issues in the House of Representatives) had, until 2007, voted to lift the embargo against Cuba. Senator Rand Paul (Rep.-KY) has been openly critical of Senator Rubio’s position. And Republican Senator Jeff Flake who flew to Havana to cement the prisoner exchange accompanying the deal, has been a vocal supporter of lifting the embargo. Flake and Paul both sit on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They, and others, will be heavily lobbied by US commercial interests lining up to take advantage of the announced policy and begin trade with Cuba.
In the event of a prolonged battle over funds and the nomination process, it is speculated that President Obama can take the interim step of scaling up the existing US Interests Section in Havana. Similarly, the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. will presumably be scaled up into an Embassy, headed by an Ambassador.
Increased travel and remittances to and small imports from Cuba: Travel to Cuba will still be restricted under the embargo. However, twelve categories of travelers currently authorized to travel to Cuba will no longer need to apply for permission (specific license) to do so: Continue reading