Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Revised OFAC Travel FAQs (7/25/17)

UPDATED JULY 25, 2017
Department of the Treasury
Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)

Frequently Asked Questions on President Trump’s Cuba Announcement

1. How will OFAC implement the changes to the Cuba sanctions program announced
by the President on June 16, 2017? Are the changes effective immediately?

OFAC will implement the Treasury-specific changes via amendments to its Cuban Assets
Control Regulations. The Department of Commerce will implement any necessary
changes via amendments to its Export Administration Regulations. OFAC expects to
issue its regulatory amendments in the coming months. The announced changes do not
take effect until the new regulations are issued.

2. What is individual people-to-people travel, and how does the President’s
announcement impact this travel authorization?

Individual people-to-people travel is educational travel that: (i) does not involve
academic study pursuant to a degree program; and (ii) does not take place under the
auspices of an organization that is subject to U.S. jurisdiction that sponsors such
exchanges to promote people-to-people contact. The President instructed Treasury to
issue regulations that will end individual people-to-people travel. The announced
changes do not take effect until the new regulations are issued.

3. Will group people-to-people travel still be authorized?

Yes. Group people-to-people travel is educational travel not involving academic study
pursuant to a degree program that takes place under the auspices of an organization that is
subject to U.S. jurisdiction that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people
contact. Travelers utilizing this travel authorization must: (i) maintain a full-time
schedule of educational exchange activities that are intended to enhance contact with the
Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s
independence from Cuban authorities, and that will result in meaningful interaction
between the traveler and individuals in Cuba; and (ii) be accompanied by an employee,
consultant, or agent of the sponsoring organization, who will ensure that each traveler
maintains a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities. In addition, the
predominant portion of the activities engaged in by individual travelers must not be with
prohibited officials of the Government of Cuba or prohibited members of the Cuban
Communist Party (as defined in the regulations). Once OFAC issues the new regulations,
new individual people-to-people travel will not be authorized.

4. Will organizations subject to U.S. jurisdiction that sponsor exchanges to promote
people-to-people contact be required to apply to OFAC for a specific license?
No. To the extent that proposed travel falls within the scope of an existing general
license, including group people-to-people educational travel, persons subject to U.S.
jurisdiction may proceed with sponsoring such travel without applying to OFAC for a
specific license. It is OFAC’s policy not to grant applications for a specific license
authorizing transactions where a general license is applicable.

Once the State Department publishes its list of entities and subentities with which direct
transactions will not be authorized and OFAC issues its regulations, no new transactions,
including travel-related transactions, may be initiated with these identified entities and
subentities. Prior travel arrangements that may involve these entities or subentities will
still be authorized. See FAQ 8.

5. How do the changes announced by the President on June 16, 2017 affect individual
people-to-people travelers who have already begun making their travel
arrangements (such as purchasing flights, hotels, or rental cars)?

The announced changes do not take effect until OFAC issues new regulations. Provided
that the traveler has already completed at least one travel-related transaction (such as
purchasing a flight or reserving accommodation) prior to the President’s announcement
on June 16, 2017, all additional travel-related transactions for that trip would also be
authorized, including if the trip occurs after OFAC issues new regulations, provided the
travel-related transactions are consistent with OFAC’s regulations as of June 16, 2017.
Once the State Department publishes its list of entities and subentities with which direct
transactions will not be authorized and OFAC issues its regulations, no new transactions
may be initiated with these identified entities and subentities. Prior travel arrangements
that may involve these entities or subentities will still be authorized. See FAQ 8.

6. How does the new policy impact other authorized travel to Cuba by persons subject
to U.S. jurisdiction?

The new policy will also impact certain categories of educational travel as well as travel
under support for the Cuban people, as set forth in the National Security Presidential
Memorandum signed by the President on June 16, 2017. In addition, following the
issuance of OFAC’s regulatory changes, travel-related transactions with prohibited
entities identified by the State Department will not be permitted, unless otherwise
authorized by OFAC. Guidance will accompany the issuance of the new regulations.

7. Will persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction be required to apply to OFAC for a specific
license to engage in Cuba-related travel and transactions consistent with the other
authorized categories of travel?

To the extent that proposed travel falls within the scope of an existing general license,
persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction may proceed with such travel without applying to
OFAC for a specific license. It is OFAC’s policy not to grant applications for a specific
license authorizing transactions where a general license is applicable. Once the State
Department publishes its list of entities and subentities with which direct transactions will
not be authorized and OFAC issues its regulations, no new transactions may be initiated
with these identified entities and subentities. Prior travel arrangements that may involve
these entities or subentities will still be authorized. See FAQ 8.

8. How do the changes announced by the President on June 16, 2017 affect authorized
travelers to Cuba whose travel arrangements may include direct transactions with
entities related to the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services that may be
implicated by the new Cuba policy?

The announced changes do not take effect until OFAC issues new regulations.
Consistent with the Administration’s interest to avoid negatively impacting Americans
for arranging lawful travel to Cuba, any travel-related arrangements that include direct
transactions with entities related to the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services
that may be implicated by the new Cuba policy will be permitted provided that those
travel arrangements were initiated prior to the State Department listing of the entity or
subentity. Once the State Department adds an entity or subentity to the list, new direct
financial transactions with the entity or subentity will not be permitted, unless authorized
by OFAC.

9. How do the changes announced by the President on June 16, 2017 affect companies
subject to U.S. jurisdiction that are already engaged in the Cuban market and that
may undertake direct transactions with entities related to the Cuban military,
intelligence, or security services that may be implicated by the new Cuba policy?

The announced changes do not take effect until OFAC issues new regulations.
Consistent with the Administration’s interest in not negatively impacting American
businesses for engaging in lawful commercial opportunities, Cuba-related commercial
engagement that includes direct transactions with entities and subentities related to the
Cuban military, intelligence, or security services that may be implicated by the new Cuba
policy will be permitted after the issuance of new regulations by OFAC, provided that
those commercial engagements were in place prior to the issuance of the forthcoming
regulations. For example, businesses will be permitted to continue with transactions
outlined in contingent or other types of contractual arrangements agreed to prior to the
issuance of the new regulations, consistent with other CACR authorizations.

10. Does the new policy affect the means by which persons subject to U.S jurisdiction
may purchase airline tickets for authorized travel to Cuba?

No. The new policy will not change the means by which persons subject to U.S.
jurisdiction traveling to Cuba pursuant to the 12 categories of authorized travel may
purchase their airline tickets.

11. Can I continue to send authorized remittances to Cuba?

Yes. The announced policy changes will not change the authorizations for sending
remittances to Cuba. Additionally, the announced changes include an exception that will
allow for transactions incidental to the sending, processing, and receipt of authorized
remittances to the extent they would otherwise be restricted by the new policy limiting
transactions with certain identified Cuban military, intelligence, or security services. However, consistent with the President’s policy announcement, changes will be made to the definition of prohibited members of Government of Cuba that may exclude certain persons from receipt of such remittances.

12. How will the new policy impact existing OFAC specific licenses?

The forthcoming regulations will be prospective and thus will not affect authorized
transactions under existing specific licenses, unless explicitly noted.

13. How will U.S. companies know if a Cuban counterpart is affiliated with a prohibited
entity or subentity in Cuba?

The State Department will be publishing a list of entities and subentities with which
direct transactions generally will not be permitted. Guidance will accompany the
issuance of the new regulations. The announced changes do not take effect until the new
regulations are issued.

14. Is authorized travel by cruise ship or passenger vessel to Cuba impacted by the new
Cuba policy?

Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction will still be able to engage in authorized travel to
Cuba by cruise ship or passenger vessel.

Following the issuance of OFAC’s regulatory changes, travel-related transactions with
prohibited entities and subentities identified by the State Department generally will not be
permitted. Guidance will accompany the issuance of the new regulations.

For more information on the National Security Presidential Memorandum visit:
https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2017/06/16/fact-sheet-cuba-policy.

https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba_faqs_20170725.pdf

Sunday, July 23, 2017

New Organization of Tour Operators for Defense Against Trump

U.S. Cuba tour operators gird for Trump travel crackdown

Marc Frank and Sophia Kunthara


HAVANA/NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. tour operators that send Americans to Cuba are banding together to try to limit damage to business from tighter restrictions on travel to the communist-run island expected in September from the Trump administration.

U.S. President Donald Trump in June rolled back parts of Barack Obama's historic opening to Cuba, saying his predecessor negotiated a “terrible and misguided deal.”

The revised approach includes stricter enforcement of a longtime ban on Americans going to Cuba as tourists. Among changes are limiting visits to 12 existing categories of non-tourist travel and a ban on the use of hotels and other facilities owned by Cuba's military.

Cruise ships are permitted, the administration said, but not independent visits by solo travelers and families under the popular people-to-people travel category which Trump charged was being used to violate the tourist ban.

Many Americans took Trump's message to mean travel to Cuba, except on cruise ships, was again off limits, U.S. tour operators said. It is a misconception they hope to change with a trade group formed in the last month to influence the debate on Cuba and help would-be visitors navigate new rules.

“We need to share information and speak as a united voice on issues that are important to us,” said Cuba Cultural Travel's Michael Sykes, who founded the group American Tour Operators in Cuba (ATOC) that now counts more than 30 U.S. companies.

"Pall" Over Cuba

Trump's move to roll back Obama policies introduced after the 2014 U.S.-Cuban detente has yet to have a significant impact on the number of U.S. travelers visiting the island, according to a survey of a dozen U.S. tour operators by Reuters.

But travel companies fear a hit on future demand from Trump's combative tone and regulations, with some concerned it could even spook U.S. banks that help them do business with Cuba.

“We can work with the new rules with minimal changes, but a pall has been cast over the business and that has me worried going forward,” said Steven Cox, president of Alabama-based tour operator International Expeditions, an ATOC member.

    “Many American travelers are not so well informed and believe that travel to Cuba is being shut off and that just isn’t true,” he added.

Some 300,000 Americans, excluding those of Cuban descent, visited Cuba in the first six months of 2017, more than twice last year's number during the same period, according to the Cuban government. Of those, 40,000 traveled outside organized groups using online booking, tour companies estimated, the majority under the people-to-people category.

Operators said they had been inundated with inquiries from clients worried about future travel and are revising itineraries to avoid Cuban hotels operated by the military.

“We are receiving requests from a lot of small groups, families, couples’ trips, birthday parties and the like, that were already planning on going to Cuba but don’t know what to make of the new rules and how to ensure they are in compliance,” said Collin Laverty, who runs Cuba Educational Travel, another member of the trade group.

Priceline Group Inc (PCLN.O), which agreed in March 2016 to make hotel rooms in Cuba available to U.S. customers through its subsidiary Booking.com, is still taking reservations "within the allowable guidelines and categories," spokeswoman Leslie Cafferty said in an emailed statement.

Online travel agent Expedia Inc (EXPE.O) declined to comment.

Airlines and Banks

Janet Moore, owner of California-based operator Distant Horizons, said new rules could make it difficult for individual travelers to visit Cuba and force airlines to cancel flights, making her tour scheduling more complicated.

Carriers such as American Airlines Group Inc (AAL.O) announced moves late last year to cut the frequency of Cuba flights as demand lagged initially high expectations.

Moore also expressed concern about transferring payments to Cuba.

The trade embargo has always made U.S. banks nervous they could be held responsible if a client was not operating within Treasury Department rules.

Operators said a more hostile Trump administration might raise pressure on banks to ensure clients were in compliance and increase the number of regulations they had to check.

    "What concerns me is if the regulations become even more complicated, the banks are going to be really, really holding on and making sure everything's legitimate. And they may decide 'this isn't worth it to us,'" Moore said.

Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Andrew Hay

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-cuba-travel-idUSKBN1A80IN

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Scaramucci Pro-engagement

New White House communications director has traveled to Cuba to scout investment opportunities
BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES

Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, has traveled to Cuba several times to explore the possibility of doing business on the island.
Scaramucci, whose appointment on Friday led to the resignation of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, is the founder of the global investment firm SkyBridge Capital. He also is behind the annual SkyBridge Alternatives (SALT) Conference that brings together business and government leaders. In 2016, the conference — for the first time —included a panel on Cuba in which the Cuban-American businessman Hugo Cancio was one of the speakers.
At the offices of OnCuba in Havana, a digital media outlet owned by Cancio, Scaramucci was quoted in an interview published in May 2016 about his idea of ​​creating an investment fund for Cuba, adding that, we are eager to exchange (ideas)... about the best ways in which we can contribute to the development of the country, the services and the quality of life of citizens.”
Scaramucci told OnCuba that he first traveled to the island in 2012.
“When I saw that the U.S. policy of rapprochement was heading to reconciliation and the ease of the embargo, I started to get in touch with people to get an idea of whether it was really possible to implement my projects here,” he said

On his Facebook page, Scaramucci shared the interview on a May 4, 2016 post and wrote that during his visit to Cuba he "saw a very beautiful country. I am very hopeful for the future of Cuba and excited to welcome the Cubans to the SALT Conference!”


The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cancio confirmed that Scaramucci is “a good friend.
“He is a very successful businessman and I hope his new vision will be good for the White House and President Donald Trump,” Cancio said.
Trump recently took steps to tighten U.S. policy toward Cuba and ban business with companies linked to the Cuban military, which controls most of the Cuban economy. It also imposed some limitations on individual travel by Americans to the island and ordered more audits for travelers. However, he did not entirely undo all of the easing of restrictions implemented by former President Obama.
Before taking a harder approach on Cuba, several media outlets, including NewsweekBloomberg and the Miami Herald reported the Trump Organization’s interest in doing business with Cuba, even though the U.S. embargo prohibits it.
“I think the situation is oversimplified to one country being capitalist and the Cuban system originating from communism, and as a consequence, there’s an embargo,” Scaramucci said in the interview. “However I think that many Americans would like to get in touch with Cuba and its culture.”
“I have always said that to speak and give an opinion about Cuba, people should travel to the island and be in contact with all kinds of Cubans,” said Cancio, who has served as an adviser for several U.S. companies interested in business on the island. “Anthony has had that opportunity and I hope he can be a new, more calm and coherent voice about Cuba's past and present.”
“Today I sleep more calmly that there is a person close to Trump who can share that vision stemming from the experience on his visits to Cuba,” he added.


http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article162991893.html

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Annotated "Fact" Sheet from the Trump Administration

Fact Sheet on Cuba Policy
JUNE 16, 2017 AT 1:05 PM ET BY THE WHITE HOUSE

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.


https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2017/06/16/fact-sheet-cuba-policy

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.

nick.miroff@washpost.com


https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/trumps-cuba-policy-tries-to-redefine-good-us-tourism-it-might-be-just-what-the-islands-rulers-want-too/2017/06/17/67fab65e-504f-11e7-b74e-0d2785d3083d_story.html?utm_term=.b5f9e01e08aa

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  http://tinyurl.com/cubairishlink
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.  
http://www.granma.cu/cuba/2016-12-19/aniversario-120-del-unico-combate-naval-mambi-19-12-2016-22-12-11
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 https://cubapeopletopeople.blogspot.com/2017/06/dynamite-johnny-obrien-through-lens-of.html 

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..

https://cubapeopletopeople.blogspot.com/2017/06/reaction-to-pres-trump-from-cuba.html

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

https://cubapeopletopeople.blogspot.com/2017/06/new-interim-ofac-rules-annotated.html

https://cubapeopletopeople.blogspot.com/2017/06/annotated-white-house-briefing.html


John McAuliff

(revised 6/29)