Archive for the ‘Cuba Sanctions’ Category


Aug

29

Let No Such Man Be Trusted


Posted by at 8:46 pm on August 29, 2016
Category: Cuba SanctionsOFAC

Send a Piano to Cuba by Cubanos en UK via Cubanos en UK Facebook Page per http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/UK-Effort-to-Donate-Piano-to-Cuba-Runs-Afoul-of-US-Blockade-20160822-0008.html [Fair Use]Some Cubans in London wanted to send a piano to Conservatory Amadeo Roldan in Havana. They raised money for this gift by holding a classical music concert and sold tickets for the event through the U.S. company Eventbrite. Things immediately went downhill for that poor piano.

Not surprisingly, Eventbrite confiscated the money from the ticket sales and refused to send it to Cubanos en UK. Daniesky Acosta, the head of that group, tried to tell Eventbrite that, as the group and the concert were in London, the confiscation of the funds was “outside U.S. law.” Except of course Eventbrite isn’t.

So Acosta tried a different tack, citing the E.U. blocking regulation that prohibits people in the E.U. from complying with the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Unfortunately, Eventbrite is in San Francisco and not subject to the directive. Cubanos en UK has sought to enlist the U.K. government on its side, again without much success given the location of Eventbrite.

Cubanos en UK then, oddly, talked to the Attorney General of the State of Iowa:

Cubanos en UK sought legal advice from the … attorney general of Iowa, Tom Miller, who has years of experience working on OFAC regulations with regards to the Cuba blockade. Miller told the organization that the transaction was legal, but Eventbrite continues to insist that it is in violation of OFAC regulations.

I’m not quite clear why the Attorney General of Iowa is an OFAC expert in the first place, but his alleged claim that the export of the piano to Cuba would be perfectly legal suggests that he might not in fact have profited much from his “years of experience” working on OFAC’s rules on the Cuba embargo. The closest exemption in the Cuba regulations would be the section which permits humanitarian donations to “projects involving formal or non-formal educational training.” This, without more, might cover the donation of piano to a music conservatory. The problem is the further qualification: the covered eductation training is limited to

Entrepreneurship and business, civil education, journalism, advocacy and organizing, adult literacy, or vocational skills; community-based grassroots projects; projects suitable to the development of small-scale private enterprise; projects that are related to agricultural and rural development that promote independent activity; microfinancing projects, except for loans, extensions of credit, or other financing prohibited by §515.208; and projects to meet basic human needs.

Although “civil education” is somewhat vague, it presumably means the sort of things taught in a civics class, and although you and I might agree that music is a basic human need, I think OFAC means more basic needs like food, water and shelter. So, for as much as I favor sending pianos to Cuba, it seems that a specific license would be needed.

[Title of this post is taken from here.]

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Aug

9

Gone Fishin’ (Again)


Posted by at 11:49 pm on August 9, 2016
Category: BISCuba SanctionsOFAC

Boat in Ernest Hemingway International Billfishing Tournament via http://www.internationalhemingwaytournament.com/images/stories/fish/DSC_6712.jpg [Fair Use]Longtime friend and blog reader Pat had a good catch (so to speak) with respect to yesterday’s post on the Ernest Hemingway International Billfishing Tournament in Cuba. The post noted that participation in the tournament by U.S. persons might be covered by the new OFAC General License in section 515.567(b) relating to participation in competitions in Cuba. Whether that license would apply depends upon whether Cubans could participate in the tournament, something which I thought was perhaps affected by the high cost of participation in the tournament.

Even if the OFAC license applied, U.S. participants who wanted to take their own boats into Cuban waters would need to deal with the temporary export of the boat into Cuban territorial waters, an export controlled by BIS. I noted that BIS had granted such licenses, but Pat pointed out in a comment to yesterday’s post that last September BIS amended license exception AVS to permit temporary sojourns of less than 14 days by U.S. recreational boats in Cuban waters as long as it was pursuant to travel authorized by a general or specific license from OFAC.

That’s a great point, and I had forgotten about the amendment to License Exception AVS. It also, given the 14 day sojourn limitation, raises the issue of the OFAC rule in section 515.207 that prohibits a boat that has entered Cuban waters and purchased goods (in this case, think live bait) from entering a U.S. port for 180 days.

OFAC does have an exception in section 515.550 for return in advance of this date by “vessel used solely for personal travel (and not transporting passengers)” and where the export was covered by BIS’s license exception AVS. As usual, OFAC’s drafting leaves much to be desired given that the distinction between personal travel and transporting passengers may not always be clear. Probably the distinction rests on whether the other passengers are paying or not, excluding, I suppose, personal friends sharing expenses. But I’m not sure I would want to run the risk of overstepping this not very well drawn line.

What about chartering a fishing boat in Miami to participate in the tournament? Although that would still probably be a “recreational vessel” covered by license exception AVS, it’s not clear whether that would be personal travel (by the charterers) or transporting passengers (by the captain and crew). I, for one, would want specific guidance from OFAC before getting on that boat.

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Aug

8

Gone Fishin’


Posted by at 8:12 pm on August 8, 2016
Category: BISCuba SanctionsOFAC

Camellia George via http://www.kansascity.com/sports/outdoors/article94168762.html [Fair Use]
ABOVE: Messrs. Wilkins and
Whitlock in Cuba

[See update to this post here.]

Every year Cuba has an internationally famous sport fishing tournament. Fisherman from the United States have always cast envious eyes at the tournament just a short hop a way from U.S. territorial waters, but, obviously, the U.S. embargo on Cuba poses just a few tiny problems.

Stan Wilkins, a Kansas City lawyer just published an article in the Kansas City Star detailing his participation in the tournament with his friend Bob Whitlock, both pictured to the right with Havana in the background. This provides a good opportunity to discuss the regulatory requirements in play, particularly since Mr. Wilkins says little about how he actually managed to fish the tournament, other than to say, quite incorrectly, that “[f]ishermen may qualify for travel under the new ‘general license’ category.”

Given that there is no general license for “fishermen,” the general license that would most likely be relevant and available here is the one set forth in section 515.567(b). That general license covers “athletic and other competitions.” No offense to any fisherman out there, but I’d say that the fishing tournament is an “other.” (This is probably because when I go fishing it’s not terribly athletic. My arms mostly get used to carry the beer can to my mouth and almost never to pull an actual fish out of the water. For some reason, incomprehensible to me, fish always turn their noses up at my bait and lures.) Certainly, the people-to-people general license won’t work unless Cuban fish count.

There is, however, a significant qualification to the General License for athletic and other competitions: the competition must be “open for attendance, and in relevant situations participation, by the Cuban public.” I’d say that since you can’t attend a fishing tournament by, say, sitting in lawn chairs on the beach, this is one of those “relevant situations” where the tournament must be open to participation by Cubans.

The official website registration form does have “Cuba” listed as a country in its drop down list, so Cubans can, at least in theory, register and participate. But the site also lists a registration fee of 450 CUC (or about US$450). Given the average salary of Cubans is approximately $20 CUC per month, it seems fair to wonder if an event that requires an amount equal to 2 years salary is really open to Cubans. But I suppose setion 515.567(b) could be read to say that putting Cuba in the drop down list on the registration form is enough.

Readers of this blog, particularly those who remember the sad saga of a ship called Lethal Weapon, probably recognize another procedural hurdle to participation by U.S. fishermen, at least fishermen who want to use their own boats and equipment (which is, of course, more or less the point). Sailing into Cuba for the tournament is an export, albeit temporary, of the boat and requires a license from BIS. BIS has granted them in the past, with conditions, so this part is doable, even if it is another layer of red tape.

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May

4

Banks Caught Between Scylla (OFAC) and Charybdis (Customer Wrath)


Posted by at 2:38 am on May 4, 2016
Category: Cuba SanctionsOFAC

Industrial Bank Clock by Clif Burns via Flickr https://flickr.com/clif_burns [All Rights Reserved]

By now, we’ve all seen these stories. A slightly dimwitted, possibly drunk, prankster writes “I ❤ ISIS” in the memo line of a check or in the description field of an online payment service and then is shocked, shocked to learn his check or payment has not been processed. The prankster immediately takes to Twitter, swears on a stack of Marvel comic books that he’s not a terrorist, laments the utter stupidity of his bank or payment provider and then waits for a horde or reporters to gather on his steps. Within hours, reporters, bloggers and TV news crews have breathlessly reported the injustice of it all, with almost all of them saying (erroneously) that OFAC (rather than the bank) had seized the funds and with the prankster now lamenting that, as a result of this seizure, his third cousin in Venezuela will not be able to pay for the drug she needed to cure a rare river parasite infestation and would likely die in a matter of days, if not hours. Reddit then stirs up its gang of Internet trolls who vow revenge the minute they can take a break from playing Halo LVII.

It’s about time to step back from this wave of mass hysteria and take stock of what is going on here and how we got where we are. This excellent article in the Tampa Bay Tribune, besides quoting my friend Peter Quinter, sheds some light on what is going on. It starts with the story of a merchant who sells fedoras, guayaberas and other Cuban-style articles made wholly outside Cuba but sold through a site called MyCubanStore.com. Even though none of the merchandise sold is Cuban, customer payments, the merchant claims, are regularly seized or held up. The article notes that once OFAC whomped one payment service with a massive fine, the payment services and banks did what any sane business would do: they started erring on the other side, holding up, questioning or blocking anything vaguely suspicious.

Frankly, if you were in the bank or payment provider’s shoes, with OFAC standing behind you wielding an enormous hatchet and threatening mayhem if you clear as much as a nickel in error, wouldn’t you do the same thing? You want to call your store Havana Hats or Tehran Trinkets, then get used to some cash flow issues or pick another name. No one is going to risk a massive fine to clear a 50 cent fee on a $10 order from one of your customers. The answer here is not to shame the banks and the payment providers. Rather it is to insist that OFAC settle down and take a more measured approach to this issue, perhaps even issue some reassuring guidance assuring banks and others involved in clearing payments. Even that might not settle down a shell-shocked industry.

In the meantime, people, please find some other way to amuse yourselves besides seeing whether you can slip references to hardened terrorists past your local bank. Take a walk, read a poem, tutor a school kid, learn to speak Chinese, or listen to all the Shostakovich symphonies in order. If you want to play a prank, call up CVS and ask them if they have Prince Albert in a can.

Photo Credit: Copyright Clif Burns 2013 (www.clifburns.net)

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Apr

28

Two Heads Are Not Always Better Than One


Posted by at 9:22 am on April 28, 2016
Category: BISCuba SanctionsOFAC

Havana by Bryan Ledgard [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/nwFDPh [cropped and processed]

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) last week updated its Cuba FAQs with this perplexing little blurb that can only charitably actually be called an “answer” or the “A” in FAQ.

68. May a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction export or reexport to Cuba items that include U.S.-origin content, but are not 100 percent U.S.-origin?

Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction may engage in all transactions ordinarily incident to the exportation or reexportation of 100 percent U.S.-origin items from a third country to Cuba, consistent with the export licensing policy of the Department of Commerce. Items that are not 100 percent U.S.-origin would require OFAC authorization, which would be subject to certain statutory restrictions.

This is nothing more than a paraphrase of section 515.533(a)(1) of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations. In fact, the FAQ might have been more clearly stated and just as useful if it was written this way:

68. Do you really mean what you say in section 515.533(a)(1)?

Yes.

Of course, the FAQ neatly dodges the ugly truth that if the item is 99 percent U.S.-content, then you will need a license from both BIS and OFAC to reexport that item from a foreign country to Cuba. You want real export reform? Here’s where you start. There is no need in this instance, or ever in any other instance, for two federal agencies to decide whether something can be exported. Of course, you could avoid the double license requirement by shipping the item from the third country to the U.S. before exporting it to Cuba in which case you will only need the BIS license. This workaround further illustrates how absurd the double licensing requirement is here.

There is a second ugly truth that the FAQ dodges. Both the FAQ and section 515.533(a)(1) imagine that the phrase “100 percent U.S.-origin items” actually means something and can be determined to be true or false with respect to any given product. Nowhere in OFAC’s rules, or FAQs, or website, or presumably even on scraps of paper on the floor of OFAC’s basement is there any guidance as to how to determine U.S. content. Anyone who has ever struggled with this issue in its many contexts (including customs country of origin rules) will realize that there are a number of ways to analyze such a question, based on tariff shift rules, substantial transformation rules or the FTC’s “substantially produced in” rule. And often, if not almost always, each of these rules will result in a different country of origin for a product.

Take this example: apples grown and packaged in the United States are packaged in boxes made in the United States with cardboard imported from Canada. A substantial transformation rule might say that the box was U.S. origin; a tariff shift rule might say that it was not; and the substantially produced test would also probably say that it was not. Under the tariff shift rule, BIS licenses the reexport; using the others then both may have to license the re-export.

Here’s a harder case: take the same example above but with the box made in the United States with U.S. cardboard made from U.S. trees and printed with ink made in the United States, although one of the chemicals in the ink is imported from China. Probably under all the tests described above, the packaged apples would be 100 percent origin. Still, there is a Chinese chemical in the ink on the box. Without BIS or OFAC committing to any of the three tests described above, this is not a 100 percent origin U.S. product.

That being said, there are probably no 100 percent origin U.S. products (short of unpackaged agricultural produce without foreign-produced pesticide residue). In that case, you always need both licenses for re-exports and there was really no need at all — unless there was some desire to confuse — for Cuba FAQ 68.

Photo Credit: Havana by Bryan Ledgard [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/nwFDPh [cropped and processed]

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Copyright © 2016 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
(No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)