Archive for the ‘Cuba Sanctions’ Category



Buy Me Some Peanuts and OFAC-jacks

Posted by at 1:13 am on January 29, 2015
Category: BaseballCuba SanctionsOFAC

Yoan Moncada via MLB [Fair Use]
ABOVE: Yoan Moncado

It’s cold outside. It’s been snowing. So it’s time, of course, to dream of spring training and the boys of summer. Let’s talk baseball. And OFAC. Batter up!

Baseball blogs, reporters and social media are a-twitter that Yoan Moncado, the 19-year-old baseball phenomenon from Cuba, is not currently able to sign with a Major League Baseball team because of OFAC and the embargo against Cuba.

The new Cuba regulations leave in place the general license, useful mostly to baseball teams, which unblocks Cuban nationals after they have taken up permanent residence in a country outside Cuba. Once a Cuban baseball player has been unblocked, he can be signed by a U.S. baseball team.

Moncado, it seems, has become a permanent resident of Guatemala. So what’s the hold-up? Well, it’s not OFAC. It’s worse. It’s fear of OFAC. Notwithstanding the provision unblocking Moncado, MLB, apparently fearing the ire of OFAC (and a mega-fine) if evidence of permanent residence outside Cuba is faked, still requires a specific license from OFAC prior to allowing a team to sign a Cuban player. The problem is OFAC is apparently saying that it won’t issue a specific license when the conditions for the general license are met. Unstoppable force, meet immovable object. Immovable object, meet unstoppable force.

According to an MLB memo, reported here, MLB and OFAC are in discussions to resolve this impasse. Don’t break out the Cuban cigars yet to celebrate Moncado’s signing.

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No Cigar for You!

Posted by at 10:13 pm on January 20, 2015
Category: BISCuba SanctionsOFAC

Cuba Capitole by y.becart(Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Flickr recent revisions to the U.S. sanctions on Cuba has generated a great deal of press coverage and, not surprisingly, more enthusiasm than accuracy. Here are a few bloopers I’ve seen recently.

The NBC outlet in Miami announced that the new regulations, released on January 15, would permit “South Florida cigar shops [to] soon be able to carry cigars from Cuba.” The only delay would be the time it will take those shops to “stock up” on the cigars. Nope. The amended section 515.560(c)(3) can bring back these products “for personal use only.”

It comes as less of a shock that the online news outlet Havana Times would say this:

The only thing you have to do to go to Cuba is book your travel. No government forms, no permissions, no licences. Just go.

Nope, again. U.S. travelers have to qualify for one of the twelve general licenses set out in 515.560. The only change is that you don’t need to wait for a specific license from OFAC. But you can’t get on a plane to go sip mojitos on the beach since, at least at the moment, there is no general license for drinking or sunbathing.

It comes as more of a shock, that the Huffington Post would suggest that Americans should get on a plane to “soak up some sun at Tropicoco Beach.” To give HuffPost some benefit of the doubt, let’s suppose they meant taking time off from an activity eligible for a general license to spend a little beach time. Whether you can or not, depends on what is meant by a “full-time schedule” since these general licenses normally require a “full-time schedule” devoted to the eligible activity. In the past, OFAC has said that missionaries that took a few hours off to visit a beach violated this requirement.

The situation may be a little more favorable for journalists than missionaries because the amended regulations say that the journalist’s activities schedule of activities” cannot include “recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule.” The same language does not appear in the general license for missionaries or in the other general licenses.

And I’ve saved the best for last. A columnist for the Charlotte Observer, for reasons that are not entirely clear, wants to export Bruce Jenner to Cuba. Of course former U.S. Olympic athletes whose appearance offends a columnist in Charlotte is not among the category of items authorized for export to Cuba under the new BIS regulations. Besides, if we’re going to start shipping off celebrities to Cuba, my vote goes for sending Justin Bieber.

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New OFAC Cuba Regs Adopt the “Sicko” Exception

Posted by at 11:50 pm on January 15, 2015
Category: Cuba SanctionsOFAC

Promo Still for SickoBack in 2007, we published a post on OFAC’s inquiry into the Michael Moore film Sicko, a film that, it was safe to assume, was not on the current administrations list of 10 best films of the year. Having learned that filmmaker Moore filmed part of the documentary film Sicko in Cuba without a license claiming he had the right to do so under the general license for journalistic activities, OFAC demanded that Moore provide proof that he was “regularly employed as a journalist by a news-reporting organization.” We found this an odd request given that OFAC had not been similarly miffed when Charlize Theron filmed a documentary on hip-hop in Cuba claiming eligibility under the general license for journalism. Of course, Theron’s film was critical of Castro and Moore’s was not.

Well, the new Cuba regulations, which were released today and which implement the changes previously announced by the White House, have a provision to put to rest whether a documentary filmmaker must be employed by CNN or the like (or at least say nasty things about Castro) in order to qualify for a general license to travel to Cuba. Under the amended section 515.564 relating to professional research, OFAC notes:

The making of a documentary film in Cuba would qualify for the general license in this section if it is a vehicle for presentation of the research conducted pursuant to this section.

This effectively takes the issue of Cuba documentaries out of the journalism general license and put them into the professional research general license, thus eliminating any need for the documentary filmmaker to prove regular employment by a news-reporting organization. Of course, under this analysis, the documentary filmmaker would have to establish that the film, and the research it embodies, relates to the filmmaker’s “area of expertise.” That probably means that Justin Bieber can’t go to Cuba to film a documentary on, say, alternate dispute resolution mechanisms, filmmakers like Michael Moore can go to Cuba to film segments related to their documentary projects.

(I’ll have more to say about the new regulations over the weekend.)

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How the OFAC Stole Christmas

Posted by at 2:03 pm on December 23, 2014
Category: Cuba SanctionsOFAC

Santa Flanked by F-16

A spokesman for the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) told Export Law Blog this morning that discussions between OFAC and the North Pole over Santa Claus’s Christmas Eve itinerary had once again broken down and were not expected to be resumed before Santa’s scheduled departure on December 24 at 10 pm EST.

The dispute arose from a dilemma that the U.S. sanctions against Cuba posed for Santa’s planned delivery of toys to children in Cuba. If Santa delivers toys for U.S. children first, there will be toys destined for Cuba in the sleigh in violation of 31 C.F.R. § 515.207(b). That rule prohibits Santa’s sleigh from entering the United States with “goods in which Cuba or a Cuban national has an interest.” On the other hand, if Santa delivers the toys to Cuban children first, then 31 C.F.R. § 515.207(a) prohibits the sleigh from entering the United States and “unloading freight for a period of 180 days from the date the vessel departed from a port or place in Cuba.”

A press release from the North Pole announced that the OFAC rules left Santa no choice but to bypass the children of the United States this Christmas. A spokesman from OFAC warned that if Santa attempted to overfly the United States, his sleigh would be forced to land and his cargo seized. He continued:

We know that the outcome is harsh, but we cannot allow the Cuban regime to continue to be propped up by Santa’s annual delivery of valuable Christmas toys to Cuban children. We also note that the proposed rule that might in the future allow entry into the United States by sleighs that were on humanitarian missions in Cuba is not yet in effect and may still be overruled by Congress.

Congressional leaders did not return our calls.

This post is an annual tradition and appeared previously in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 in slightly altered form. Alert readers will notice a small addition to this year’s post.

Export Law Blog would like to take the opportunity of this post to extend its best holiday wishes to all of its readers. Posting will be light between now and the end of the holidays.

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Don’t Light Up Those Cubans Just Yet

Posted by at 8:35 pm on December 17, 2014
Category: Cuba Sanctions

Obama Announces Changes in Cuba Regulations from White House Youtube account [Public Domain]President Obama today announced his intention to make some changes in U.S. sanctions on Cuba. Although these changes fall far short of lifting the embargo completely, the usual suspects on the Hill have already started the wailing and gnashing of teeth, vowing to do whatever they can to thwart these changes, convinced that forcing Cubans to drive 60-year-old cars will cause them, sooner or later, to rise up and throw out the current regime.

The changes, as described in this White House fact sheet, however, hardly seem to justify the fit that Marco Rubio is pitching right now.

  • Remittance levels will raised from $500 to $2000 and the remittance forwarders no longer will require a license to forward money to Cuba
  • Exports of “building materials for private residential construction, goods for use by private sector Cuban entrepreneurs, and agricultural equipment” will be permitted
  • General licenses will be issued for travelers in the 12 current categories of authorized travel (which do not include going to Cuba for the fun of it or for the daiquiris)
  • Travelers can come back with $400 in goods, of which only $100 can be alcohol or tobacco products
  • Banks can open correspondent accounts in Cuban financial institutions to facilitate authorized transactions
  • The rules will be revised to make clear that sales of cash against documents of title (e.g., bills of lading) are permitted for authorized exports and to remove the old rule that cash had to be paid prior to the shipment of the goods.

The question posed by all the noise from Congress is, of course, how far can the President go on his own?  For example, the fact sheet states that the U.S. will permit foreign vessels that enter Cuban ports to engage in humanitarian trade may immediately thereafter enter U.S. ports.  However, section 6005(b) of the Cuba Democracy Act states that vessels that enter into Cuban ports to engage in “trade in goods or services” may not enter a U.S. port for 180 days without a license.  Apparently, the change in vessel policy appears to depend on the argument that vessels that enter Cuban ports for humanitarian trade are not involved in the trade of goods or services.

Of course, the 800-pound gorilla here is section 204 of the Helms-Burton Act which purports to prohibit the President from suspending the economic embargo on Cuba unless a “transitional government” is in place in Cuba.  The Act, however, never defines what constitutes suspending the embargo.  So, in theory, the President can remain in compliance with section 204 if he lifts all restrictions on Cuba other than a ban on exporting Chia Pets and Whoopee Cushions to Cuba.

Needless to say, the ink on the fact sheet was scarcely dry before OFAC released a statement that none of these changes will be effective until OFAC revises its regulations to implement these changes.  No indication was given as to how long this would take, other than that it would occur in the “coming weeks.” But given the agency’s often sluggish pace, the “coming weeks” might be quite far off.  Don’t expect any Cohibas under your Christmas tree this year.

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