News and Facts about Cuba

Q&A – Understanding new U.S.-Cuba rules

Q&A: Understanding new U.S.-Cuba rules
BY AMY SHERMAN
12/19/2014 6:11 PM 12/19/2014 10:00 PM

Barack Obama announced this week a reset in the United States’
relations with Cuba, including establishing full diplomatic relations
and easing restrictions, among other things. None of the new
rules about Cuba take effect until they are published in the federal
register in the coming weeks. But based on information released so far
by the White House, the State Department and Treasury Department, here
are some initial answers to questions:

Does this mean anyone can travel to Cuba now?

Technically no — is still banned according to federal law. The
12 categories of allowed reasons for travel — which existed before
Obama’s announcement — are still in effect. Some of those reasons
include to visit family or for educational, religious or humanitarian
activities. It will be easier to travel to Cuba because none of those
categories will now require a general license, which means people won’t
have to seek prior approval from the U.S. government (previously some of
them did). The Treasury Department will release more details in the
coming weeks.

How many cigars and bottles of rum can I bring back if I travel to Cuba?

Visitors can bring back $400 worth of goods from Cuba, including up to
$100 of cigars and alcohol combined.

Can I use my American Express or Mastercard when I go to Cuba?

Yes. The federal government will release rules about this in the next
few weeks, but Obama’s announcement will allow U.S. travelers in Cuba to
use American credit cards. None of the announced changes takes effect
until the new regulations are issued.

Is there a limit on how much money I can send to Cuba?

Obama raised the limit from $500 to $2,000 for nonfamily remittances per
quarter to any Cuban national, with the exception of Cuba government
officials or communist party officials.

Why can’t President Obama lift the trade on Cuba?

Under the federal law known as Helms-Burton, it would require a vote by
Congress to lift the embargo. The law says embargo stays in place until
Cuba holds free and fair elections, releases political prisoners and
guarantees free speech and workers’ rights. The embargo has existed in
some form since 1960 but it was under the president’s purview until
Congress, with the advocacy of Miami U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and
Lincoln Diaz Balart, passed Helms-Burton in 1996.

However, while the embargo will remain, the U.S. will allow many items
to be exported, including certain building materials for private
residential construction, goods for use by private-sector Cuban
entrepreneurs, and agricultural equipment for small farmers.

“The embargo the last 50 years as a concept is an eggshell. It’s just
becoming more and more empty, but it’s still a shell,” said John
Kavulich, senior policy advisor for the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic
Council.

Can Americans open businesses in Cuba?

No, that is not allowed under U.S. law. (Though in reality some
Americans are de facto business owners in Cuba because they fund
businesses that are run by relatives there.)

However, Florida businesses in banking, shipping, trade,
telecommunications and travel are positioned to reap benefits — over
time — depending on how our government writes the rules.

American exports for cuentapropistas — the self-employed — will be
allowed, along with farming supplies and building materials intended for
the Cuban populace.

However, the details about exactly how exporting will work remains to be
seen.

Can a U.S. citizen buy a home in Cuba? Can Cubans buy homes in Cuba?

Americans are not allowed to buy homes in Cuba under Cuban or American
law, and nothing in Obama’s announcement changed that. Again, in
reality, some Americans are de facto owners by providing the money to
relatives in Cuba.

A 2011 law permits Cubans to buy and sell residential real estate,
according to a February 2014 paper written by Philip Peters, president
of the Cuba Research Center. But that law only allows the purchase and
sale of residential property by Cuban nationals who reside in Cuba and
foreigners who are legal residents of Cuba.

Will Cuba have a consulate in Miami?

Miami boasts the country’s largest Cuban population, so Miami would be a
logical choice for Havana to have a consulate. Miami Mayor Tomás
Regalado has said he would be concerned that it would create a safety
problem, but he added Miami would have no say on where Cuba might want
to establish consulates, “but we certainly would not support it.”

Will we build an embassy in Havana?

A few things have to happen before they can change the sign from U.S.
Interests Section to embassy on the door. First, the two countries need
to establish full diplomatic relations through a series of letters or
notes (no formal treaty or agreement is required). Then the U.S. would
transition to having an embassy. Appointing an ambassador would be a
longer process subject to Senate approval.

The workers, about 350 of them, will stay in the same building — which
is the former U.S. embassy, built in 1953. (The six-story building was
reopened in 1977.)

The biggest distinction between an interests section and an embassy is
that the relationship will be directly with the Cuban government and not
under the protection of the Swiss.

Information was taken from Miami Herald articles, a factsheet from the
White House, a transcript from a State Department press conference,
information from the Treasury Department, a paper by the president of
the Cuba Research Center commissioned by Brookings Institute and
interviews with Philip Peters, president of the Cuba Research Center;
Kirby Jones, president of Alamar Associates which consults with
businesses that want to do business with Cuba, and John Kavulich, senior
policy advisor for the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council and
administration officials.

Source: Q&A: Understanding new U.S.-Cuba rules | The Miami Herald –
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article4694163.html

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