Beyond Trade & Travel: Normalizing US-Cuba Relations

While much attention has been focused on the changes to ease travel and trade between the United States and Cuba, President Obama’s Policy Directive on US-Cuba Normalization lays out a broader vision for normalization of relations and mutual cooperation between the two neighbors. Issued October 14, 2016 (along with other regulatory changes discussed here) the Directive also lays out six priority objectives for normalization and actions to implement them.obama-castro-handshake

Among other things, the vision laid out by President Obama’s Policy Directive includes – travel to Cuba for U.S. persons that is safe and secure from natural and man-made hazards and regional cooperation with Cuba towards these goals, and a strengthened U.S. position in international systems by removing an irritant from its relationships with allies and partners and gaining support for a rules-based order.

The six U.S. medium-term objectives for US-Cuban policy are to:

  1. Continue high-level and technical engagement;
  2. Continue to encourage people-to-people linkages;
  3. Seek to expand opportunities for U.S. companies to engage with Cuba;
  4. Support further economic reforms by the Cuban government;
  5. Expand dialogue with Cuba in international fora; and
  6. Seek greater Cuban government respect for human rights while recognizing that the United States must leave the future of Cuba up to the Cuban people.

To facilitate the effective implementation of this Policy Directive, U.S. departments and agencies will have the following roles and responsibilities:

National Security Council (NSC) staff will provide ongoing policy coordination and oversight of the implementation of overall Cuba strategy and of the Directive.

The Department of State will continue to be responsible for formulating U.S. policy toward and coordinating relations with Cuba. This includes supporting the operations of Embassy Havana and ensuring it has adequate resources and staffing, issuing visas, refugee processing, promoting educational and cultural exchanges, coordinating democracy programs, and political and economic reporting.

The U.S. Mission to the United Nations (USUN) will coordinate with the State Department to oversee multilateral issues involving Cuba at the United Nations.

The Department of the Treasury is responsible for implementation of the economic embargo restrictions and licensing policies.

 The Department of Commerce will continue to support the development of the Cuban private sector, entrepreneurship, commercial law development, and intellectual property rights as well as environmental protection and storm prediction.

The Department of Defense (DOD) will continue to take steps to expand the defense relationship with Cuba where it will advance U.S. interests, with an initial focus on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and counternarcotics in the Caribbean.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will, together with the Department of Justice, engage with the Cuban government to combat terrorism and transnational organized crime.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) will, together with DHS, engage with the Cuban government to combat terrorism and transnational organized crime.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) will support exchanges with the Cuban government in areas of mutual interest, particularly on formalization of small businesses and to spur the growth of new enterprises.

The Office of the United States Trade Representative will provide trade policy coordination in international fora and prepare for negotiations to normalize and expand US-Cuba trade.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) will work to increase U.S. food and agricultural exports to Cuba.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in accordance with the June 2016 Memorandum of Understanding between HHS and the Cuban Ministry of Public Health, will collaborate with Cuban counterparts in the areas of public health, research, and biomedical sciences, including collaboration to confront the Zika virus, dengue, chikungunya, and other arboviruses.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will coordinate the U.S. response to natural and man-made environmental disasters.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) will continue to develop air and surface transportation links between the United States and Cuba and provide required regulatory and safety oversight of transportation providers and systems.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) will support efforts to normalize relations with Cuba and seek opportunities for engagement with Cuban counterparts on areas of common interest and information exchange on mutual threats.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) will continue to cooperate with Cuba on marine protected areas and to engage Cuban counterparts to finalize arrangements on wildlife conservation, terrestrial national protected areas, and seismic records.

In issuing the Directive, President Obama stated:

This new directive consolidates and builds upon the changes we’ve already made, promotes transparency by being clear about our policy and intentions, and encourages further engagement between our countries and our people.

This clarity and transparency is important given the long and complicated history of US-Cuba relations that dates back to the 1880s. The Directive is also aimed at ensuring the recent changes in US-Cuba policy outlive the Obama Administration. We can hope that the next Directive will implement the lifting of the outdated and ineffectual embargo, the low point in this history.

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Thawing of US-Cuba Relations: What to Expect Next?

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