U.S. Embargo on Cuba:

Recent Regulatory Changes and Potential Presidential or Congressional Actions

GAO-09-951R: Published: Sep 17, 2009. Publicly Released: Oct 1, 2009.

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Since the early 1960s, the United States has maintained an embargo on Cuba through various laws, regulations, and presidential proclamations regarding trade, travel, and financial transactions. A stated purpose of the embargo--the most comprehensive set of U.S. economic sanctions on any country--is to deny hard currency to the Cuban government. The embargo, which the President has broad authority to modify, is implemented primarily by the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) through regulation of financial transactions with Cuba and by the Department of Commerce (Commerce) through regulation of the export of commodities, software, and technology to Cuba. Modifications to the embargo by legislation and presidential policy directives in the 1990s and early 2000s alternately eased and tightened restrictions on travel, remittances, gifts, and exports to Cuba. In September 2009, responding to legislation passed in March and presidential policy directives issued in April, Treasury and Commerce published regulatory changes that further ease some embargo restrictions.

The amended regulations that Treasury and Commerce published in September 2009 further ease restrictions on travel, remittances, gifts, and exports to Cuba in response to recent legislation and presidential policy directives. The Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, enacted in March, mandates the easing of restrictions on travel and exports to Cuba; the presidential directives issued in April call for the easing or removal of restrictions on family travel, cash remittances, and gift parcels and to authorize expanded telecommunications services between the United States and Cuba. Examples of the September 2009 regulatory changes include the authorization of family travel under a general license rather than a specific license; removal of limitations on the amount and frequency of family remittances; expansion of the types of items that can be included in gift parcels and the scope of individuals eligible to receive them; and authorization of licensed of U.S. telecommunications service providers to enter into agreements with Cuban telecommunications providers. The President has discretion to further ease regulatory restrictions such as those on travel, remittances, gift parcels, and trade with Cuba. For instance, the President can authorize travel under a general license for non-family travelers--such as freelance journalists, professional researchers, and full-time students--who currently must obtain specific license; further increase the amount of cash remittances that travelers may carry to Cuba; and further expand the list of items eligible for gift parcels. The President is authorized to suspend or end the embargo in the event of certain political changes in Cuba. Under the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996, on determining that a transition Cuban government is in power, the President may take steps to suspend the embargo, including its implementing regulations restricting financial transactions related to travel, trade, and remittances. He may also suspend enforcement of several legislative measures related to the embargo. LIBERTAD also requires that on determining that a democratically elected Cuban government is in power, the President must take steps to end the embargo, including the implementing regulations, and that once he has made such a determination, certain listed embargo-related legislative measures are automatically repealed. Absent a presidential determination of a democratically elected Cuban government, the President could end the embargo only if Congress were to amend or repeal LIBERTAD and various other embargo-related statutes, including provisions in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the Food Security Act of 1985, the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 1999, and the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA). Such provisions include, for example, section 908(b)(1) and 910(b) of TSRA that require payment of cash in advance or third country financing for agricultural exports to Cuba and prohibit Treasury from authorizing travel to Cuba for tourist activities by persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction.

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