Thursday, January 15, 2015

New OFAC Rules Provide P2P General License to Organizations not to Individuals

This is how I come down so far on the travel part of the new regs.  No doubt I am being unrealistic about how the language had to be written to satisfy lawyers in State and Treasury and to address pressure from those in Congress who are against all travel.  Nevertheless, it needs to be said clearly and honestly that this is only a partial step toward the transformational goal expressed by the President on December 17th.

John McAuliff

Text of new regulations:

OFAC Frequently Asked Questions:

What is good:  OFAC is effectively removed from supervising what constitutes people to people travel and who can do it.  General licenses are not applied for or reported on.  Any organization (including a travel agent) can create a trip and any travel agency or tour operator can book it using a US or third country carrier.  Some administrative costs such as preparing applications and reporting on trips are eliminated so trips should be less expensive.

What is bad:  Bureaucratic inertia was more powerful than the intention of the President.  This is much less than Cuban Americans received, still forcing most Americans into non-spontaneous escorted group tours.  It is a half step, great for organizations like mine, but still cumbersome and costly for 
families and self-organized affinity groups and presumably prohibitive of individual travelers.   Substantial cost reductions that could come from staying in private bed and breakfasts, choosing restaurants personally, and using public transportation are precluded so the demographic of travelers won't change dramatically (older, upper middle class, white)

The problematic language:

1)   "exchanges take place under the auspices of an organization...that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact"

further limited by

"An organization that sponsors and organizes trips to Cuba in which travelers engage in individually selected and/or self-directed activities would not qualify for the general license.  Authorized trips are expected to be led by the organization and to have a full-time schedule of activities in which the travelers will participate."   
Comment:  A policy against trusting American citizens to organize their own trips and allowing for spontaneity.

 2)  "Travel-related transactions pursuant to this authorization must be for the purpose of engaging, while in Cuba, in a full-time schedule of activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities;"  
Comment:  This language was originally written to satisfy Senator Rubio so he released his hold on the confirmation of Assistant Secretary Jacobson and feeds into suspicion among Cuban hard liners and security services about the motives for opening travel.

(3) "Each traveler has a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba;"
Comment: same as under current rules; lots of advance detailed planning required that can only be achieved by working through a Cuban government authorized receiving agency.

(4) "An employee, paid consultant, or agent of the sponsoring organization accompanies each group traveling to Cuba to ensure that each traveler has a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities"
Comment:  unchanged OFAC policing mentality; creates additional costs for travelers who must pay for the monitor, and is inapplicable to family and affinity groups; implicitly bars individual travel which forces it to remain under the table

5)  "Transactions related to activities that are primarily tourist-oriented, including self directed educational activities that are intended only for personal enrichment, are not authorized pursuant to this section."
Comment:  unchanged language which assumes that self directed educational activities don't bring one into special engagement with a society and people. (Does that imply that 'self directed educational activities that are intended for mutual enrichment' would qualify?)
6)  Sponsorship or co-sponsorship of noncommercial academic seminars, conferences, and workshops related to Cuba or global issues involving Cuba and attendance at such events by faculty, staff, and students of a participating U.S. academic institution; 
Comment:  this continues current language that narrows even academic conferences to a single institution, and does not enable other kinds of US groups to organize conferences for their own members with Cuban counterparts

1 comment:

  1. Travel to Cuba is way too controlled at this point. There is little or no freedom of choice as to what the traveler chooses.