News and Facts about Cuba

Obama’s options on Cuba end at embargo

Obama’s options on Cuba end at
Ledyard King, USATODAY 5:56 p.m. EST December 18, 2014

WASHINGTON — Obama’s steps toward normalizing relations with
Cuba don’t alter two key facts: Only Congress can overturn the law
barring widespread commerce with Cuba, and there’s almost no chance that
will happen anytime soon.

Key Republican lawmakers, whose party will take full control of Congress
come January, say there’s no reason to normalize relations with the
communist nation, much less roll back the embargo under the Helms-Burton
Act enacted in 1996.

“Relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone
normalized, until the Cuban people enjoy — and not one second
sooner,” House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said after Obama announced
Wednesday his administration would loosen restrictions on and
trade with Cuba.

In addition to keeping the embargo in place, congressional opponents of
the president’s Cuba policy, including GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida,
have threatened to block anyone he nominates to serve as U.S. ambassador
to Cuba and to strip money the administration would need to build an
embassy in Havana.

But Obama may be able to circumvent the first option by making a recess
appointment of an ambassador to Cuba later this month.

Prior to Helms-Burton, an embargo on U.S. trade with Cuba was achieved
through executive actions by successive presidents. In 1996, Congress
decided, with President Bill Clinton’s support, to turn the embargo into
law after the Cuban air force shot down two civilian planes north of
Havana operated by , a Miami-based anti-Castro group.

Nothing the president outlined Wednesday in announcing looser
restrictions on trade with and travel to Cuba affects the limitations in
the Helms-Burton Act, experts say. For example, tourists still can’t hop
on a plane to Havana for the weekend.

But Obama can make important changes regarding trade, according to
Robert Muse, a Cuban legal expert. Muse noted in a recent paper that
President John F. Kennedy barred U.S. exports to Cuba by issuing a
presidential proclamation.

“President Barack Obama or a successor is just as free to rescind the
proclamation that Kennedy made,” he wrote.

Rubio, a Cuban American who has emerged as the most strident opponent of
Obama’s decision, said he’s not sure how much the president can do on
his own.

“We need to determine how much of this is within his executive
authority, and how much of this is directly… prevented by existing
laws,” he said during a news conference in Miami Thursday. “Our brief
conversations yesterday with the State Department leads us to know that
they themselves don’t quite know how they’re going to implement this.”

There’s little evidence to suggest the GOP lawmakers who will be in
charge of Congress next year are ready to thaw relations with Cuba. They
would be joined by New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, a Cuban
American and fierce critic of the Castro regime who is the top Democrat
on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky reacted
coolly to the president’s announcement and said he would defer to Rubio
on the issue.

Rubio suggested there could be a legal challenge down the road. But some
notable Republicans are siding with Obama, complicating any attempt at a
coordinated effort to torpedo the president’s initiative.

“The 50-year embargo just hasn’t worked,” Republican Sen. Rand Paul of
Kentucky, a potential candidate for president in 2016, told NewsRadio
800 WVHU radio in West Virginia. “If the goal is regime change, it sure
doesn’t seem to be working and probably it punishes the people more than
the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship.”

American professor William LeoGrande, an expert in U.S.
foreign policy toward Latin America, said he doubts Helms-Burton will be
repealed anytime soon.

“But the president can make further exceptions to the embargo using his
licensing authority,” he wrote in an email. “Cuba clearly understands
the limits of Obama’s authority, so I do not think failure to repeal
Helms-Burton will derail the process Obama set in motion.”

Contributing: USA TODAY’s Alan Gomez and the Associated Press

Source: Obama’s options on Cuba end at embargo –

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