At the height of the Cold War, and following the Cuban government’s expropriation of U.S. properties and its move toward adoption of a one-party system of government, the U.S. imposed an embargo on Cuba in 1960 and broke diplomatic relations in 1961.
On December 17, 2014, President Obama announced a new chapter in U.S.-Cuba relations. A major step in this process was reached on July 1, 2015, when President Obama announced the decision to re-establish diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, effective July 20 with the re-opening of embassies in both countries. President Obama’s trip to Cuba in March 2016 marked a historic milestone in the normalization process between the U.S. and Cuba.
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U.S. policy toward Cuba today is focused on supporting values, such as freedom of speech and assembly and the ability to access information, through engagement. The U.S. government is reaching out to the Cuban people by fostering increased people-to-people exchanges, encouraging the development of telecommunications and the internet, and creating opportunities for U.S. businesses to support the growth of Cuba’s nascent private sector. Through the opening of embassies, the U.S. is now able to engage more broadly across all sectors of Cuban society, including the government, civil society, and the general public. The U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act remains in place and “wet-foot, dry-foot” remains U.S. policy regarding Cuban migration.
On the U.S. side, the biggest unknown revolves around President-elect Trump’s tweets about his Cuba policy, culminating in a threat to, “terminate the deal,” should unspecified conditions fail to materialize.
Bilateral Economic Relations
Although economic sanctions remain in place, the U.S. is one of Cuba’s primary suppliers of food and agricultural products, with exports of those goods valued at $149 million in 2015. The U.S. is also a significant supplier of humanitarian goods to Cuba, including medicines and medical products. Remittances from the U.S., estimated $3 billion for 2015, play an important role in Cuba’s state-controlled economy.
Since January 2015, the U.S. announced five rounds of regulatory changes that, among other things, remove limits on donation remittances to Cuban nationals, authorize expanded commercial exports from the U.S. of certain goods and services, permit U.S. institutions to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions, and permit the use of U.S. credit and debit cards by authorized travelers to Cuba. Five U.S. telecommunications firms have reached agreements with the Cuban government on direct interconnection for voice and data services since re-establishment of diplomatic relations.
Travel to Cuba by Americans remains restricted unless engaged in certain specified activities. In January 2015, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued general licenses in the 12 categories of travel authorized by law, meaning that those travelers who qualify under these licenses do not need to wait for U.S. government approval in order to travel. If one’s travel does not qualify for a general license, individuals would need to apply for a specific license. Further information on the licensing process can be obtained OFAC or at its website.
Those contemplating travel to Cuba should consult the consular information page about the country. Following the resumption of the U.S.–Cuba Migration Talks to discuss implementation of the 1994-95 Migration Accords, in July 2013 the State Department announced the extension of the duration of certain non-immigrant visas for qualified Cuban travelers from six months (single entry) to five years (multiple entry).
Other transactions by persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction in which Cuba or a Cuban national has an interest are also prohibited unless licensed by OFAC. For more information on transactions, please consult OFAC’s website.
Certain exports to Cuba must be authorized by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS). Further information on exports to Cuba can be found at the BIS website. Most imports from Cuba and other Cuban-origin goods (e.g., merchandise purchased or otherwise acquired in Cuba or of Cuban origin acquired in a third country) are prohibited, although importation of Cuban-origin information and informational materials (for example, publications, films, posters, photographs, tapes, compact discs, and certain artwork) are exempt from the prohibition. Moreover, certain goods and services produced by independent Cuban entrepreneurs are eligible for importation into the United States – for more information, see the State Department’s Section 515.582 List. Further information on imports from Cuba can be found at the OFAC website.
Cuba’s Membership in International Organizations
Cuba has an activist foreign policy and aims to find new sources of trade, aid, foreign investment, and political support. Cuba and the U.S. belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations and the World Trade Organization. Cuba was excluded from participation in the Organization of American States in 1962. That exclusion was lifted in 2009, with its future participation to be determined through a dialogue initiated by Cuba and in accordance with the practices, purposes, and principles of the OAS. In April of 2015, Cuba attended the Summit of the Americas for the first time, where President Raul Castro met with President Obama in the first face-to-face meeting between leaders of the U.S. and Cuba in more than 50 years.
The Charge d’Affaires ad interim of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, is Jeffrey DeLaurentis; other principal officials are listed in the Department’s Key Officers List.
Cuba is represented in the U.S. by the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Here are the four most important developments in Cuba since Fidel Castro’s death:
1. Three cruise companies — Pearl, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean — are among several that were rushing to conclude deals with Cuba before the start of President-elect Donald Trump’s administration. These new cruise itineraries start in early 2017. Simply put, this means a lot more engagement, cash flow and commerce between the U.S. and Cuba. Here is the outlook for the cruise industry in Cuba in 2017.
2. Cuban farmers are allowed to hire laborers directly rather than through cooperatives. This news emerged amid media reports of tourists causing shortages of food in the island nation – despite vast amounts of fertile soil and plenty of labor. “The new resolution aim fundamentally to stimulate the hiring of workers related to agricultural labor in an agile, orderly and legal way,” according to Cuban state-run media.
3. ETECSA, Cuba’s monopoly telecommunications company, this month announced a price reduction for Internet browsing at its Wi-Fi hot spots around the country. Effective immediately, the new price was reduced to 1.50 CUC (equivalent to 1.65 USD) per hour from 2.00 CUC.
4. Data for Google services will be stored on Google servers in Cuba, under a deal announced last week between the company and the Cuban government. As the Associated Press reports, the deal will not expand public internet access in Cuba, one of the world’s least-connected countries, but it is expected to decrease load times for Google services like Gmail and YouTube. Speeds for non-Google services will likely not be affected.