A lawyer at another DC firm is having a conniption fit over the part of the new Cuba regulations that authorizes U.S. persons to enter into executory contracts in Cuba that are contingent upon OFAC approval. He apparently thinks that this goes to the “core” of the embargo and that OFAC is overstepping its authority as circumscribed by section 102 of the Helms-Burton Act and, although he does not cite it, section 204 of that same act.
We’ve all been through this before: section 204 applies only if the President seeks to “end” the embargo. As long as imports of chia pets and thermal underwear from Cuba are prohibited, the embargo has not been ended, which leaves OFAC and the White House pretty much free to do what they want in this regard.
Section 102, which is the provision relied on here by the lawyer in question, codifies the Cuban Assets Control Regulations in effect as of the date of the law’s enactment. But those regulations, in section 515.201, specifically provide that everything prohibited by the regulations may be “authorized by the Secretary of the Treasury (or any person, agency, or instrumentality designated by him) by means of regulations, rulings, instructions, licenses, or otherwise.” So, once again, OFAC can pretty much promulgate general licenses and regulations to its heart’s content. Whether it was Mr. Helms or Mr. Burton who left open this truck-height loophole doesn’t really matter.
Leaving aside the broader issue of authority, the blog post criticizing OFAC’s new rules on executory contracts somehow thinks that this rule goes to the “core” of the embargo — but why that is the case is far from clear. The author thinks that the problem arises because the executory contract is somehow or other a “dealing” in the property of a Cuban national. Now granted, OFAC has previously interpreted dealing in such a broad fashion that someone who just thinks about buying a vacation casa in Cuba has probably violated the rules. But, in an actual universe where people speak a language where words have a circumscribed meaning, it seems clear that a contract that says it isn’t dealing in property until OFAC says its okay to deal in that property, isn’t “dealing” in that property. Thus, OFAC can issue this regulation on executory contracts without violating statutory prohibitions because an executory contract can legitimately be seen as not dealing in the property in question, because this regulation has not ended the embargo and because it remains consistent with the authority that Congress gave OFAC in section 102 of the Helms-Burton Act to authorize whatever it wants by regulations and licenses.