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#CubaNow Briefing: The Pointlessness Of The Embargo Is Par For The Course

#CubaNow Briefing

Jul 29, 2016


Even as America’s political convention season winds down and Congress continues its seven-week recess, the work of normalization continues—and the embargo grows even more absurd. This week saw a number of developments between the U.S. and Cuba, including more talks around the resolution of property claims, the imminent start of commercial flights to the Island, and an ongoing number of exchanges between academic and educational institutions. It also saw the release of a particularly uncomfortable story for supporters of the embargo in South Florida, as Bloomberg reported that executives working for Republican presidential nominee and businessman Donald Trump may have violated the embargo.

To be clear, there’s nothing inherently nefarious or ill-seeming about the possible violations. Trump Organization executives appeared to have traveled to Cuba to scout “golf-related opportunities” on the Island, consistent with Trump’s previous public statements that he was interested in doing business when the law permitted. What is legally murkier is whether the purpose for their travel fell under the category of “professional research” without promoting tourism—a barred activity under codified sanctions.

This is the embargo to a T: transforming mundane activities into complex legal headaches. And Trump has no one else to thank besides his own party’s South Florida delegation, which has only persisted in holding onto a failed policy even as the Cuban-American community they claim to represent leaves them behind.

When the dust settles in November, the future of the Cuban embargo will be in the hands of a new Congress and a new president. What that Congress will look like remains to be seen. But we know this: the next president will either be a former Secretary of State who publicly called for lifting the embargo in Miami…or a businessman who will likely have a personal reason to be teed off about Cuba sanctions.

Thank you for your support,

David Gomez

Political Director, #CubaNow

Bloomberg: Trump Organization May Have Violated Arcane Embargo Laws Scouting For “Golf-Related Opportunities.”

Bloomberg: Trump Organization Executives Visited And Golfed In Cuba. “On an afternoon late last year, the golfers teeing off included a group of U.S. executives from the Trump Organization, who have the enviable job of flying around the world to identify golf-related opportunities. The company operates 18 courses in four countries, including Scotland and the United Arab Emirates. It would like to add Cuba. Asked on CNN in March if he’d be interested in opening a hotel there, Donald Trump said yes: ‘I would, I would—at the right time, when we’re allowed to do it. Right now, we’re not.’ On July 26 he told Miami’s CBS affiliate, WFOR-TV, that ‘Cuba would be a good opportunity [but] I think the timing is not right.’” [Bloomberg, “Did Donald Trump’s Executives Violate the Cuban Embargo?” 7/28/16]

Golf Is Not On The List Of Permissible Commercial Activity Under The Embargo. “That, however, hasn’t stopped some of his closest aides from traveling to Cuba for years and scouting potential sites and investments. The U.S. trade embargo, first established in 1962, prohibits U.S. citizens from traveling to the island. But over the years, the U.S. has carved out allowances for family visits, journalism, and other social causes. Most commercial activity is still forbidden, though, with a few exceptions, such as selling medical supplies or food. Golf isn’t on that list.” [Bloomberg, “Did Donald Trump’s Executives Violate the Cuban Embargo?” 7/28/16]

Cuba Sanctions Expert: Golf Is Forbidden If It Promotes Tourism In Cuba. “‘Professional research’ makes it easier for companies to explore business opportunities in Cuba, but it may not put the Trump Organization in the clear. Golf could be seen as promoting tourism, which remains illegal for U.S. companies. (President Barack Obama can’t change that—the tourism ban cannot be repealed without an act of Congress.) ‘If the Treasury Department believed that a new golf course in Cuba were intended to attract tourists from outside Cuba, then U.S. persons who meet in Cuba to develop the golf course could be charged with promoting tourism in Cuba,’ says Richard Matheny, chair of the national security and foreign trade regulation practice group at Goodwin Procter in Washington. ‘This is unlawful under the current sanctions.’” [Bloomberg, “Did Donald Trump’s Executives Violate the Cuban Embargo?” 7/28/16]

U.S.-Cuba Engagement Continues Into The Dog Days Of Summer

U.S. And Cuba Hold Claims Talks. “The United States and Cuba held a government-to-government claims discussion in Washington, D.C., on July 28, 2016. The U.S. delegation was led by Brian Egan, the Legal Adviser for the U.S. Department of State. The meeting allowed the countries to exchange further details on outstanding claims and build upon the previous claims discussion in Havana, Cuba. It also allowed for an exchange of views on historical claims settlement practices and processes going forward. Outstanding U.S. claims include claims of U.S. nationals that were certified by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, claims related to unsatisfied U.S. court judgments against Cuba, and claims of the United States Government. The United States continues to view the resolution of these claims as a top priority for normalization.” [State Department, “United States and Cuba Hold Claims Discussion,” 7/28/16]

JetBlue To Begin First Commercial Flights To Cuba Next Month. “JetBlue’s first regularly scheduled flights to Cuba will begin next month, with fares beginning at $99 one-way. JetBlue’s first non-charter Cuba route will launch Aug. 31, when it begins nonstop service between Fort Lauderdale and the central Cuban city of Santa Clara. JetBlue initially will operate three flights a week before going to daily service on Oct. 1. That would appear to put JetBlue in line to be the first U.S. carrier to begin normal airline flights to Cuba since the Obama administration moved to normalize relations between the nations. American Airlines and Silver Airways also have announced their initial schedules for regular Cuba flights, though the first of those services don't begin until a few days after JetBlue's first flight.” [USA Today, “Jet Blue: First Cuba flights will launch next month,” 7/28/16]

Logan University Team Up With Cuba’s Institute Of Sports Medicine To Exchange Faculty, Research, And Patient Care. “Logan University of chiropractic education in Chesterfield has teamed up with the Institute of Sports Medicine in Cuba to share faculty, research and patient care. Logan's online master's degree program in sports science and rehabilitation will be translated into Spanish. Instructors from the Institute will be included in the course work. Starting next year, exchange student programs will be set up at both institutions. ‘The prospect of working closely with one of the world's most highly regarded sports institutes and bringing chiropractic care to Cuba's elite athletes and ultimately to their public is an incredible opportunity for both of our students and faculty,’ said the university's president Dr. Clay McDonald in a statement. The Institute in Cuba is part of the country's National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation, created in 1961 after Fidel Castro ended professional sports leagues in favor of an amateur sports program.” [St. Louis Dispatch, “Logan University announces partnership with sports institute in Cuba,” 7/26/16]

CubaOne Foundation Offers Young Cuban-Americans Chance To Explore Their Heritage In Cuba. “Lissette Calveiro, 23, a half Cuban, half Ecuadorian publicist had never visited the island that her father left behind in his early 20s. Growing up in Miami, Calveiro lived vicariously through her many friends whose Cuban abuelas had hearty meals prepped and ready for visitors. But recently, she was able to meet her parental grandmother for the first time, sharing photos, conversation, and yes, even food with her own abuela. ‘The first thing she did when she saw me, she said “You're too skinny,”’ said Calveiro. ‘She fed me four cups of mango juice in one day!’ Calveiro was able to finally meet her grandmother through a program offering young Cuban Americans the opportunity to explore their heritage and build relationships with people and relatives in the island.” [NBC News, “Through Program, Cuban American Millenials Visit Island for 1st Time,” 7/26/16]

CubaOne Foundation Co-Founder Giancarlo Sopo: Cuab Should Be More Than Just Black-And-White Photos For Young Cuban-Americans And Future Generations. “She was one of 9 American millennials who recently got a chance to visit the island of their families' heritage through CubaOne Foundation's Tu Cuba program. Modeled after Birthright Israel, a program that has sent 500,000 young Jews to Israel since 1999, the foundation strives to keep the Cuban culture alive with one goal: to introduce a new generation to Cuba. For the young Miami professional, meeting her father's mother for the first time was one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments. ‘When I actually met her, I had no words,’ said Calveiro. Co-founder and spokesperson Giancarlo Sopo, 33, says the organization is rooted in personal stories. The son of a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion, Sopo is all too familiar with the fascination and mystery surrounding Cuba. ‘Everyone always talks about Cuba, but they've never been there,’ said Sopo. The four founders, who have put nearly $100,000 of their own money to fund the trips, believe that Cuba should be more than just black-and-white photos for this and future generations.” [NBC News, “Through Program, Cuban American Millenials Visit Island for 1st Time,” 7/26/16]

Cuban Researcher Helps Duquesne University Scientist Study Marine Bacteria That Could Ease Pain And Addiction. “A group of local amateur boxers will face their Cuban counterparts Saturday in a match on the Roberto Clemente Bridge. That’s one result of a Pittsburgh-led ‘citizen diplomacy’ visit to the island nation last fall. Another result of that diplomatic effort is taking place inside a Duquesne University laboratory, where a scientist who was on the same trip is working to deepen academic ties with the University of Havana, recruiting one of its students to help with his research into how certain marine bacteria could be used to ease pain and addiction. Amanda Menendez-Garces is spending the summer as an undergraduate researcher for Kevin Tidgewell, assistant professor of medicinal chemistry in the Mylan School of Pharmacy at Duquesne University. Mr. Tidgewell was among the delegation of Pittsburgh-area business, education and political leaders that traveled in Cuba last November.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Pittsburgh sees dividends from its diplomacy with Cuba,” 7/25/16]

American And Cuban Museums Collaborate On New Cuba Exhibit Highlighting The Island’s Biodiversity. “Throughout the Cold War, as the United States and Cuba clashed over the Soviet Union and Cuba’s export of revolution, scientists from the American Museum of Natural History and their Cuban counterparts continued to collaborate on scientific research. Even when politics were severely strained over Cuban involvement in Africa during the Reagan years, the collaboration continued. In 1986, a joint U.S.-Cuba team reported eight sightings of the ivory-billed woodpecker, which was thought to be extinct, on the island. Cuban and American scientists, working together, also unearthed extinct monkey fossils from 1989 to 1999. But one of their biggest collaborations yet will come this fall when the museum and the Cuban National Museum of Natural History inaugurate a new bilingual ¡Cuba! exhibit that will include a live Cuban boa, skittering lizards and tree frogs.” [InCubaToday, “Collaboration that endured Cold War explores Cuba’s biodiversity,” 7/25/16]

Happening In Cuba

New York Times Editorial Highlights Positive Changes Across Cuba As A Result Of Normalization. “Some positive things have happened on the Cuban side since December 2014, when Washington and Havana announced their intention to normalize relations. Cubans have grown bolder in pressing for reforms to Cuba’s centrally planned economy, as well as for broader access to the internet. The government has taken modest steps on both fronts, establishing dozens of Wi-Fi areas where ordinary Cubans can connect online and signaling its willingness to create a regulatory framework for small and midsize private enterprises. Dissident groups, meanwhile, report that their ranks have grown steadily, as more Cubans are sold on their vision of representative democracy with strong safeguards for civil liberties. Opposition groups are preparing to field candidates next year for the lowest rung of Cuba’s election system — the only one the Communist Party does not fully control — hoping to transform the system gradually from the bottom up.” [New York Times Editorial, “America’s Conflicted Cuba Policy,” 7/23/16]

Using Cuba’s Economic Difficulties As An Opportunity To “Squeeze” Castros Would Backfire And “Certainly Sow Misery” Among The Cuban People. “Some congressional proponents of continuing the embargo might see Cuba’s difficulties as an opportunity to squeeze the octogenarian Castro brothers during their last years in power. That would be a mistake. Cuba’s shoddy infrastructure would continue to deteriorate, foreign investors would recoil, already marginal communities would become even poorer and the exodus of desperate Cubans to the United States would accelerate. It seems highly unlikely that this scenario would usher in an era of greater freedoms. But it certainly would sow misery.” [New York Times Editorial, “America’s Conflicted Cuba Policy,” 7/23/16]

Vice’s THUMP Investigates How Cuba’s DJs Produce Electronic Music Without Regular Internet Access. “Rodriguez remembers his first computer, which he got in 2008 after moving to Havana. ‘It was just the tower,’ he recalled. ‘No monitor, no keyboard, no mouse.’ As a touring DJ with Cuba's leading hip-hop duo, Obsesión, he had the chance to travel abroad and bring back his own gear. Still, he continues to barter for audio gear in lieu of cash payments as he improves his home studio piece by piece. There are no Guitar Centers in Cuba, so all audio gear has to come in from abroad. House producer Roberto Puig covets sound cards, interfaces, and Midi controllers. He also claims to have one of only five pairs of Technics MK1200 turntables in the whole country. Puig is fortunate. ‘We haven't learned how to play with controllers because we don't have them,’ Electro Palestina's Cesar Jimenez told me. ‘It's all Virtual DJ or Traktor; we've never gotten past the laptop.’” [THUMP, “How do Cubans Make Electronic Music Without Reliable Internet?” 7/26/16]

Cuban Migration To U.S. Already Exceeding Last Fiscal Year. “One year after U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations were reestablished, a growing number of undocumented Cubans are nevertheless arriving in the United States. More than 44,000 came so far this fiscal year, already more than in all of the previous fiscal year. The Customs and Border Patrol agency reported 44,353 undocumented Cubans arrived at a U.S. airport, border crossing and by sea from the start of Fiscal Year 2016 on Oct. 1 to July 11. The number does not include arrivals at the U.S. Virgin Islands. Figures by Customs and Border Protection showed 40,115 undocumented Cubans arrived in all of FY2015. The majority arrived at the U.S. border with Mexico after treks that usually started in Ecuador or Guyana and took them through Colombia, Central America and Mexico.” [InCubaToday, “Cubans’ exodus to the U.S. already tops last fiscal year’s,” 7/27/16]

¡No Me Digas!

Cuba Holds Third “Otaku” Festival In Havana For Fans Of Japanese Art And Video Games. “Cuba may be one of the world's least connected countries but that is not stopping the Japanese subculture of animated movies, manga comics and video games from spreading feverishly among its youth. More than a thousand ‘Otakus,’ or fans of such fantasy worlds, descended on Havana this week for the country's third Otaku festival, defying the sweltering heat to sport the costumes of their favorite characters. Some performed scenes from animation movies on stage, while others belted out songs in Japanese with Spanish subtitles projected in the background. Still others did role playing dance choreographies. A prize was awarded for best cosplay, or role playing in costume, and for best manga drawing.” [Reuters, “Japanese fantasy world fever grips young Cubans,” 7/24/16]