Monday, January 17, 2011

Analysis of the Presidential Statement 1 (John McAuliff)

Preliminary Assessment of the Content of the White House Announcement

Most dramatic step forward:  higher education and religious organizations will have general licenses, i.e. no application to or clearance by OFAC is required. 

Short term survey programs can be undertaken by colleges and universities for their own and other students as long as academic credit toward a degree is given.  (This is more freedom than schools had before 2004. However, third party non-profit and commercial providers that organize most student exchange programs will not be covered by this section.)

National and local “religious organizations” can sponsor trips for “religious purposes” as often and for as long as they desire.  (However, groups using this license will probably be required by Cuba to have a religious visa which generally needs 90 days for clearance.)

Zone of uncertainty:  all other educational exchanges will require a specific license. 

The potential for greatest expansion and the strongest impact in both countries is embodied by the President’s goal “to enhance contact with the Cuban people and support civil society through purposeful travel, including religious, cultural, and educational travel.” 

Theoretically this ought to include trips by third party student exchanges, high schools, educators of the retired, college alumni, world affairs councils, museums, chambers of commerce, Rotary Clubs, farm organizations, sports teams, community groups, professional associations, foundations, NGOs, doctors, environmentalists, artists, architects, musicians, singers, dancers, etc.  However OFAC may seek to narrow permitted categories and set challenging criteria for licensing.

If “an organization that sponsors and organizes people-to-people programs” means the group must already have organized such travel, eligibility will be drastically curtailed.  Groups new to exchanges will be required to work through intermediaries which can substantially inflate costs and complicate arrangements.

Depending on the direction and oversight of the State Department, OFAC can treat applications as a formality for purposes of registration and tracking as seemed to be the case in the late Clinton Administration, or it must expand its staff and divert its attention from more serious responsibilities as happened during the early Bush years. 

(OFAC could once more become a bottleneck requiring of applicants intrusive and time consuming detail of itineraries, agendas and evidence of organizational qualifications.  Licensing decisions should become transparent and be shown on line to avoid past appearances of arbitrariness and subjectivity.  Less sophisticated grass roots groups will require assistance so they are not intimidated by the procedure and anticipated costs.)

An important opening is that “specifically licensed academic institutions” can sponsor “academic seminars, conferences, and workshops related to Cuba” for “faculty, staff and students”.  Interpreted broadly this could include stand alone research entities and think-tanks, but does not seem to allow them to invite outside experts for track 2 or track 3 meetings unless they are affiliated with a cosponsoring institution.

Any organization appears entitled to get a specific license for “non-academic clinics and workshops”.  However, the intention is not clear of specifying they be “for the Cuban people”.  Presumably a US legal, medical, environmental, agricultural or business group can organize a training program for its professional counterparts.  (Could a US not-for-profit group hold a workshop to benefit both Cubans and Americans?  Can ASTA, for example, bring together US tour operators who specialize in cultural and educational exchange with Cuban counterparts, both state owned companies and proprietors of private bed and breakfasts and restaurants?)

“Specific licensing for a greater scope of journalistic activities” could mean that bloggers and internet newsletters, student reporters and others who are not full time journalists for conventional publications can be licensed if OFAC favorably evaluates their professed qualifications (or their perspective).


Remittances are restored as a general license category for all Americans not just those with family links to Cuba.  The amount specified of $500 per quarter is unrealistically low “to support private economic activity, among other purposes”.  The designation of recipients as “non-family members” suggests that Cuban civil society, social service agencies and medical institutions may not be sent donations.  (In practice under a general license such a limit is very hard to monitor or enforce, especially for donations from individuals who can pass funds through friends and family members.)

Religious institutions have a preferred status but it is not clear whether the general license for apparently unlimited remittances “in support of religious activities” includes the humanitarian and social service work of Cuban religious groups such as the Martin Luther King Center of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Havana and the Christian Center for Reflection and Dialog of the Presbyterian Church in Cardenas.

Who Apparently Is Left Out

1)      Americans who wish to participate in Cuban organized academic, professional and specialized interest conferences.

2)      US organized conferences in Cuba in which Americans are the primary participants, with Cuban counterparts invited as registrants, observers or guests.

3)      US non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and foundations that want to explore, implement, send and monitor assistance for humanitarian, environmental and development purposes.

Updates from US Cuba People to People Partnership
Inquiries may be sent to
On line petition of support for the President’s executive order                                         1/17/11  

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