Archive for the ‘Cuba Sanctions’ Category


Dec

17

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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Oct

30

Designation by OFAC Can Be Dangerous to Your Health


Posted by at 8:18 pm on October 30, 2014
Category: Cuba SanctionsOFAC

Bupa booth via http://www.bupa.com/media/704558/bupa-corp-brochure_hires_singles.pdf [Fair Use]Global health care consortium Bupa agreed to cough up (sorry!) $128,704 to the Office of Foreign Assets Control to settle allegations that it provided health insurance to individuals on the SDN List and, in one instance, re-imbursed a policy holder for medical treatment received in Cuba. You might have assumed that there were limits to the injury that OFAC might try to inflict on SDNs or non-SDNs traveling in Cuba but you would, apparently, be wrong.

The SDN involved was designated under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin sanctions. Unlike the Narcotics Trafficking Sanctions Regulations, the Kingpin Sanctions regulations do not provide an exception even for emergency medical services. (Of course, even though emergency medical services can be provided to SDNs under the Narcotics Trafficking Sanctions, the hospital or doctor cannot be paid for those services without an OFAC license authorizing such payment. Good luck getting treated in those circumstances.)

So the penalties for being a Narcotics Kingpen  extend far beyond simply having your bank account blocked and, potentially, can include dying from lack of needed medical care. I have no special sympathy for narcotics kingpens, but this seems a little harsh.

Trying to interfere with the health care of people traveling Cuba seems even harsher. Moreover, penalizing the reimbursement of a non-Cuban outside Cuba for services previously provided in Cuba seems not to further the U.S. policy of depriving Cuba of resources given that the payment in Cuba was already made. It also illustrates the strained reading that OFAC gives to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations in its effort to penalize anything and everything that has any connection with Cuba.

The fundamental prohibition of the Cuba sanctions prohibits U.S. persons from participating in “transactions [that] involve property in which … [a Cuban] national … has at any time … [or] had any interest of any nature whatsoever, direct or indirect.” Of course, no Cuban national has an interest in the insurance policy under which the reimbursement payment was made. The only such property in that case would have been the funds paid by the policy holder to the Cuban health care provider. To say that the reimbursement transaction “involves” that property obviously stretches the meaning of “involves” to the breaking point, but it shows how broadly OFAC reads these regulations to assure that if you blow your nose and someone in Cuba hears the noise, you’ve violated the rules.

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Aug

21

Jay-Z and Beyoncé Didn’t Commit a Real Crime


Posted by at 8:23 pm on August 21, 2014
Category: Cuba SanctionsOFAC

Jay-Z and Beyoncé in Cuba via http://iam.beyonce.com/post/50677935277 [Fair Use]
ABOVE: Jay-Z, Beyoncé in Cuba


Back in April 2013, Jay-Z and Beyoncé took a trip to Cuba, which provoked a round of wailing, teeth gnashing and threats of jail time from the usual suspects on the Hill, namely, certain South Florida members of Congress, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who exhibit a near Pavlovian response anytime they hear the word Cuba. Jay-Z rapped back something to the effect that going to Cuba wasn’t a real crime like buying a kilo for Chief Keef. (If you don’t get the Chief Keef reference, just remember that Wikipedia is your friend in such matters.)

OFAC agreed with Jay-Z and not with Reps. Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart.  The trip was, OFAC said, a properly licensed “people-to-people” educational exchange tour and, therefore, violated no U.S. laws.

Apparently, the two representatives kept making a commotion about the trip, perhaps believing  that Beyoncé and Jay-Z didn’t qualify for the license because they either weren’t people or weren’t educational.  So the Treasury Department’s Inspector General was called in to review OFAC’s determination that the the famous couple were both people and educational.

In making the determination that OFAC properly declined to fine Jay-Z and Beyoncé for the trip, the Inspector General actually reviewed what Beyoncé and Jay-Z did in Cuba (your tax dollars at work!) and concluded:

Our review found these activities were consistent with the activities for which OFAC authorized the people-to-people license. For example, one article reported the trip included a visit to a children’s theater group and several clubs, where the couple heard live music and occasionally took to the dance floor. According to the article, they also toured Cuba’s top art school, where they met with young artists, and ate at some of Havana’s privately run restaurants, known as “paladares.” One of the city’s leading architects led the couple on an architectural tour of the Old City of Havana, during which the article stated the couple was mobbed by Cuban spectators.

Okay, so let’s suppose that Jay-Z and Beyoncé did nothing in Cuba but lounge on the beach and sip mojitos. What would be the problem with that? Does anyone believe that a regime that has withstood fifty years of U.S. sanctions was on the verge of crumbling but managed to hang on because two pop music stars vacationed in Cuba instead of, say, Aruba?

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Aug

12

Chong Chon Gang(nam Style) Sanctions


Posted by at 6:00 pm on August 12, 2014
Category: Cuba SanctionsNorth Korea SanctionsOFACU.N. Sanctions

Weapons found on Chong Chon Gang via http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2014/147 [Fair Use]Avid readers of this blog will be familiar with the saga of the euphoniously named Nork vessel, the Chong Chon Gang, which was seized by the Panamanians in the Panama Canal while the vessel was attempting to carry a boatload, so to speak, of Cuban arms to North Korea. Although the Cubans claimed, ahem, that this was not a “transfer” of the arms to North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions because they retained title to the goods, they were unable to explain why, if that were the case, they buried the missiles and other armaments under enough sugar to keep the chubby Nork dictator in sweets for the next millennium or so. The attempted suicide by the ship’s captain once the Panamanians found the buried missile parts and systems also did not do much to bolster the Cuban argument that this shipment was perfectly legal.

The U.N. Panel of Experts convened to consider the legality of the shipment brushed aside Cuba’s arguments and back in March found the shipment to be a violation of U.N. sanctions on North Korea. At the end of last month, the United States joined the party and announced a variety of additions to the SDN list arising out of the Canal incident. The two North Korean companies involved in the shipment as well as the Chong Chon Gang were designated, as were 17 other Nork ships in which the two shipping companies had an interest.

In the “Some People Are Never Satisfied” category, a blogger at Capitol Hill Cubans called the Nork sanctions “enforcement malpractice” and moaned that there were no sanctions imposed on the Cuban officials involved in the Nork shipments. A Miami Herald article provided a succinct answer to this complaint

A knowledgeable Washington official noted that perhaps Treasury did not feel it was necessary to sanction Cuban government entities and individuals because they already are under strong sanctions from the U.S. trade embargo.

Good point. Given that virtually all dealings by U.S. persons and companies with Cuban officials are prohibited under the current sanctions, what exactly did the blogger contemplate as additional sanctions here? Military intervention?

 

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Jul

2

OFAC Gores Red Bull for Skateboarding in Havana


Posted by and at 6:45 pm on July 2, 2014
Category: Cuba SanctionsEconomic SanctionsOFACSanctions

Ryan Scheckler Skateboards in Havana via http://www.redbull.com/cs/Satellite/en_INT/Gallery/Ryan-Sheckler-shreds-Cuba-and-Panama-021242761792131#/image-12 [Fair Use]

Last Friday, OFAC announced that Red Bull North America, Inc. (“RBNA” or, when we’re feeling informal, “Red Bull”) agreed to pay $89,775 to settle allegations that “seven representatives” of RBNA traveled to Cuba in order to “film a documentary” in 2009 without OFAC authorization but with the approval of RBNA’s “management.”  RBNA is the U.S. subsidiary of Red Bull GmbH, the Austrian elder statesman of excessively caffeinated energy drinks.  Although OFAC provided no details about the film itself, it is likely a 2009 documentary, described by Red Bull here, which the company made about Ryan Sheckler skateboarding in Havana.  Apparently there is no place left in the world that is safe from skateboarders other than, perhaps, some interior stretches of Antarctica.

Of course, there is a general license for journalistic activities in Cuba, which would seem to cover making documentaries, as opposed to, say, filming Transfomers LVIII: The Final (And We Really, Really Mean It This Time) Apocalypse.  But OFAC’s general license is restricted to “persons regularly employed as journalists by a news reporting organization.”  As we’ve noted before OFAC has not applied this limitation in a consistent fashion, suggesting that Michael Moore wasn’t a journalist but Charlize Theron was. Although Red Bull seems quite active in the documentary business, OFAC apparently viewed them as simply a commercial marketing endeavor in a country where Red Bull is undoubtedly sold.  In fact, judging from the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series event held in Havana this May, a good amount of Red Bull is being consumed in Cuba.

In considering the penalty amount, OFAC said it determined and took into account that “RBNA did not voluntarily self-disclose” and that “RBNA had prior knowledge of U.S. sanctions on Cuba and took steps to conceal the transactions.”  Of course, we don’t quite understand how you conceal a documentary, particularly where Red Bull posted extensive information about it on the Internet, which is where OFAC likely discovered this transaction. On the other side of the equation, OFAC cited  RBNA’s institution of an OFAC compliance program, no other sanctions violation from 2004 to 2009 and the “non-egregious” nature of the violation.

We have over the past few years called attention to the confusion and lack of information in OFAC’s enforcement action announcements.  Last April, we highlighted what we thought was one of the more egregious “non-egregious” settlements that OFAC has announced.   The latest settlement with RBNA, furthers the confusion by imposing a fine on the low scale even after OFAC finds, albeit wrongly, that Red Bull concealed the documentary.

While OFAC makes up for its small-ish RBNA fine in its hefty enforcements against banks (à la the almost $1 billion settlement OFAC reached with BNP Paribas this week), most U.S. companies’ dealings with Cuba are going to be more on par with isolated occurrences like the one involving RBNA.  In the end, the RBNA settlement is good news for RBNA, its Red Bull parent and any other U.S. company in a similar situation.  If a U.S. company ever finds itself in the future before OFAC in an isolated situation like RBNA, the first thing to do is to pull out RBNA’s settlement announcement and try negotiating from there.

 

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