02.05.16

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) On Recent Regulatory Changes Related To Cuba

Mr. President, last week the administration took another step in unraveling the web of onerous, misguided, and self-defeating restrictions on the ability of American citizens to travel to Cuba and to interact with the people of Cuba.

Effective as of January 27, the Departments of Treasury and Commerce published revised regulations that end certain payment and financing restrictions, allow for more authorized exports to Cuba in a variety of sectors, and expand authorized travel categories and allow additional travel-related transactions.

Restrictions on providing access to credit, which have been among the most commonly cited barriers to exporting to Cuba, were removed. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control amended regulations regarding nonagricultural exports, and it is now possible for U.S. banks to provide direct financing for authorized exports to Cuba, as opposed to requiring cash in advance or routing through a third country which had stymied many transactions that could benefit American companies and Cuban consumers.

General licenses, meaning that a specific license application is no longer required, are now provided for a variety of categories, including telecommunications items that improve communications to, from, and among Cubans; certain agricultural items, such as insecticides and equipment, although not agricultural commodities; items for the safety of civil aviation and safe operation of commercial aircraft; and items necessary for the environmental protection of U.S. and international air quality, waters, or coastlines including items related to renewable energy or energy efficiency.

And it is now permissible, subject to case-by-case review, to export to some Cuban state-owned enterprises that provide goods and services to the Cuban people.'' This includes items for agricultural production, education, food processing, public transportation, wholesale distribution, and construction of facilities for supplying energy, among others. As much as we disagree with many of the policies of the Cuban Government, it is undeniable that it provides health care, education, public transportation, and many other services that the Cuban people rely on.

However, exports to state-owned enterprises that primarily generate revenue for the government remain ineligible to receive U.S. exports along with military, police, intelligence, and security services.

Categories for authorized travel to Cuba have been expanded to include organizing professional meetings and for professional media and artistic productions such as movies, TV, and music, among others. These are long overdue and will be welcomed by American scholars, artists, and journalists. I am disappointed, however, that American tourists are still prohibited from traveling to Cuba, unlike to any other country in the world.

These are all positive steps, for which I commend the White House. Frankly, it is hard to believe that it has taken so long to finally begin to dismantle a policy of unilateral sanctions against Cuba when it has been obvious for so many years that it has failed to achieve any of its objectives, while it was hurting the people of both countries.

But a great deal remains to be done to reverse 50 years of an ill-conceived, punitive policy. It is for that reason that I urge the Administration to act expeditiously to take further action, including amending regulations that would allow Cuba to use the U.S. dollar in third-party country transactions, which would greatly facilitate U.S.-Cuban commerce.

The Treasury Department should also do what the American people want by letting them travel to Cuba on a people-to-people license as individuals and stop treating them like children and making them pay thousands of dollars to large tour group operators. The U.S. Government is not in the business of requiring costly chaperones for Americans who travel anywhere else overseas, and it should not do so for Americans traveling 90 miles to Cuba.

Allowing all Americans to travel under a general license would significantly boost the number of Americans traveling to Cuba, it would create a much richer travel experience, and it would save taxpayers money.

There are some who will undoubtedly continue to insist that any change in policy is somehow a capitulation to the Cuban Government and that, because Cuba's Communist Party remains in control, we should continue supporting a policy that has helped keep them there. That illogical, myopic view has been repudiated by a huge majority of the Cuban people, including some of Cuba's most outspoken critics of the government, and it is rejected by a large and increasing majority of Americans, including Cuban-Americans.

The White House has all the support it needs from the American public, the business community, farmers, ranchers, energy companies, faith-based groups, academia, the media, the scientific and medical community, and so many others across this country to take bold action to expand engagement with Cuba. There is no time to waste.

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