This post includes the Remarks by the President on the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba (delivered in Miami June 16th); White House Background Briefing of June 15, 2017; Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Frequently Asked Questions on President Trump’s Cuba Announcement; and my own brief comments
--strict compliance with US LawOne might ask, who benefits from this change--beside those it is rumored who have been rewarded for their perceived prior service? That is also too early to tell--but clearly there will be internal winners and losers (beyond those engaged in the endlessly tedious ideological wars of which this is yet another chapter). Who gets the benefit of the better deal? In a word, the ideologies seeking regime change in Cuba. There is nothing wrong with that, if course. States have been willing to pay for all kinds of things--including regime change grounded in ideological internationalism. The Left in the United States is as happy to spend American economic power they do not directly control as is the Right in the pursuit of ideological goals (of course those goals are quite distinct sometimes--Israel for the Left, Cuba for the Right etc.). In this case, of course, it is just curious that an administration committed to advancing American economic power at home and abroad would be willing to pay for regime change with forgone economic development. That is a judgment that this administration is free to make, no doubt. And, indeed, there is much to laud in the ideology expressed by the President as it has been applied to the development of the political development of the people of this Republic. Yet one might wonder about policy coherence: should the President make the same point about China (or Russia) the repercussions would be quite distinct and yet there is little that suggests the need to differentiate (In this respect, at least, Senator Rubio has been consistent (see, e.g., here)). That perhaps is the meaning of the reference to the "better deal"; the cost of ideology is cheap when it comes to Cuba because the price to the U.S. in foregone economic advancement may be much lower than the price exacted elsewhere (in lives and treasure). If the price is indeed so low--an ideological bargain basement of sorts--Cuba may indeed be one of those "ideological bargains" that American business might well be asked to "purchase" through foregone investment and American workers might be asked to pay in terms of reductions in rates of job creation.
--ban on tourism
--no sanctions lifted; enforce the embargo
--legalization of political political parties; freeing political prisoners
--free and supervised elections
--restrict U.S. dollars flowing to Cuban military, security and intelligence regimes
--take concrete steps that US investment flow directly to the people and the private sector
Thus, when one considers the "price" of this "deal" it might appear that, in the first instance, the current administration appears willing to pay for ideology and internationalism with forgone economic gain. Someone should be able to make the calculation (what price is the U.S. willing to make for regime change in Cuba, and who is being asked to pay the price). Indeed, one might be moved to ask: who gets to pay the price for ideology (or better put how does will ideology cost us)? Clearly some sectors of American business will have to face a period of "readjustment of expectations" with a corresponding loss of profitable business opportunities (and employment opportunities as well--sacrificed on the alter of a peculiar application of ideological purity hardly consistent (but then political decision making has hardly ever been noted either for logic or consistency, much less coherence). The scope of that economic loss depends on revelations of the extent to which the Cuban military, security and intelligence services will be deemed (no doubt by administrative regulation that itself will be likely contested in U.S. courts) are involved in the economic life of the nation. But that appears to have been anticipated. Because the only winners are those investing in the small private sector, mostly those with relations in Cuba and interest in investing in a retail sector that is itself dependent on tourism (which may also suffer a decline in the face of policy instability and uncertainty). In effect the U.S. has sacrifice the soft power of large scale private economic interventions in Cuba on an alter of ideological purity the consequence of which will be increased investment in those couple of hundred permitted professions currently making up the Cuban private sector.
Beyond that, there is only speculation; entertaining perhaps but largely irrelevant. One sure bottom line:
The announced changes do not take effect until OFAC issues new regulation s. Consistent with the Administration’s interest in not negatively impacting American businesses for engaging in lawful commercial opportunities, any Cuba-related commercial engagement that includes direct transactions with entities related to the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services that may be implicated by the new Cuba policy will be permitted provided that those commercial engagements were in place prior to the issuance of the forthcoming regulations. (Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Frequently Asked Questions on President Trump’s Cuba Announcement).
What might have been an alternative response that would nod in the direction of the ideological principles underlying the shift in policy? Let me suggest some based on the principal points of policy shift announced in the speech:
--strict compliance with US Law
Lifting sanctions could be tied to negotiated steps that ease conditions; the stumbling block, of course, is that the essence of sanctions is directed toward overthrowing the current system. Still, a program of modulated easing--built around Presidential or administrative waivers rewarding internal changes might produce a better result (though still likely subject to some strong resistance by the Cubans).
--ban on tourism
A ban on tourism works against U.S. interests in regime change; it has always been of more symbolic value--but an administration focused on the deal rather than symbols might have approached this differently: alternatives (1) tax tourism to Cuba and earmark the funds toward administratively selected NGOs that ameliorate the living conditions of Cubans; (2)
--no sanctions lifted; enforce the embargo
Tied to the strict compliance policy; it sets a rigid approach to the use of U.S: power. Deal making requires more creative¡ity and a focus on the deal. The deal here seeks substantial long term changes--that permits substantial flexibility in short term methods. None of that is possible with this "anti-deal" stance except as an initial bargaining position. A better approach, in addition to the modulation described above, might include better targeted sanctions in the way that the Untied States sought to apply to Russians. That appears to be the thrust of the focus on avoiding partnerships with the Cuban military but that focused approach gets lost in the rhetoric and policies of no sanctions lifting and strict compliance with law.
--legalization of political political parties; free political prisoners
This of course provides the basis on which U.S: economic policies will be based. As long as the United States is is what the U.S. wishes to buy--that is, as long as this is the deal with the administration wishes to make, then it appears that no effort was expended on calculating the price the U.S. is willing to pay. Plus there will be substantial negotiations involved here even if the Cuban state were willing to concede the point (it is not). Indeed, it is not clear what the administration wants here: will a Chinese style system with a United Front constellation of parties under the leadership of the Communist Party suffice--it appears enough for China; will a Vietnamese model be sufficient (it appears sufficient enough to avoid much sanctions mongering from the U.S. side). Political prisoners, on the other hand, provide a doorway with more plausible possibilities, especially if the United States works through the Vatican (but the U.S. (and the Cubans) must be willing to deal to make that happen).
--free and supervised elections
It is not clear how the United States will purchase this commodity. And it is not clear what that means in the context of Cuba. It is clear that the United States (or at least certain of its officials) have some sort of vision in mind--the fear is that this vision, as pretty as it is, may be as unrealistic in fact as that which drove U.S. policy toward disaster in Iraq. In part this raises the bigger question--what exactly is it that the United States wants to spend its deal making power on--politics or economics, or perhaps use economics to pay for political gains of little direct use to the U.S. but perhaps of some use to some sectors of the Cuban political spectrum. Yet all of that remains somewhat opaque (an irony for U.S. political intervention) and in any case quite fluid (no matter what the elite in certain parts of the United States might think). Yet the cynic in me thinks that Colin Powell's famous statement about Iraq ("You break it you own it") may be precisely at the core of U.S. policy (and certainly that might be the way some sectors of the Cuban political spectrum may see it): if the United States helps break the current system and chaos follows, the United States may wind up owning Cuba. And that may be the core of the better part of the deal the administration seeks. This is not unheard of (other states have used this technique to manage client states).
--restrict U.S. dollars flowing to Cuban military, security and intelligence regimes
Here, finally a tactic and a mechanics. Yet it is one that may prove challenging. The Cuban FAR controls a substantial amount of the state sector, directly or indirectly. But as business people understand, including those members of the diaspora elite who have ordered their affairs around regulations to their own advantage (with the tacit approval of the authorities), it may be difficult to draft up a set of regulations that can effectively enforce this principle. Just as MNEs have become adept at shuffling lines of ownership and control, the Cuban military, intelligence and security establishment might (if they have to) do the same. That is just business, to be sure, but it presents certain challenges to regulation drafters on the U.S. side. At one extreme, intimated in the speech, this suggests an effective ban on any deals with the Cuban public sector (because of the difficulty of segregating "ownership" in the way described by the President. At the other extreme it requires the development of a baroque system of administrative regulation founded on a shift of power to bureaucrats to make individual determinations about compliance. This is a system that builds on that already in place but promises a larger and more powerful bureaucracy with a greater likelihood of being able to act with impunity. This is an ironic result for an administration dedicated to reducing bureaucracy. Yet the irony is also perverse because it will tend to mirror the administrative structures of the Cuban state that have been criticized by the U.S. It is not clear how expensive policing either system will be; but it will drain resources from other projects.
There are viable alternatives: (1) Tax all ventures with the Cuba state sector and earmark the funds to whatever political program appeals to the administration (this one and future ones as they like); (2) impose on UI.S. enterprises a mandatory compliance with international human rights instruments, starting with the U.N. Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises in all activities involving the Cuban public sector. Mandatory compliance would put exactly the right sort of pressure on the Cuban state sector that might actually realize the changes the U.S. Administration has stated it seeks. I have written about this before (see, e.g., here).
--take concrete steps that US investment flow directly to the people and the private sector
This is laudable, to be sure, but requires cooperation from the Cuban side. And it misses an important opportunity. The initial problem is that the policy fails to target the most important element of economic reform in Cuba--the opening up of the private sector beyond the rigid and over supervised system currently in place. From the Cuban perspective this position is a gift with no bargaining cost. It focuses on funneling more money into a system that is essentially overseen and constrained by the state in ways that make it impossible for a robust private sector to appear. (See, e.g., here, here, and here). It might have been more useful to seek to negotiate the opening up of the Cuban private sector than to feed the small time operations that already exist (though that too is important, but hardly a centerpiece of national economic policy).
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
June 16, 2017
Remarks by President Trump on the Policy of the United States Towards Cuba
Manuel Artime Theater
1:31 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody. Thank you very much. Great honor. And thank you to my truly great friend, Vice President Mike Pence -- he’s terrific. (Applause.) And thank you to Miami. We love Miami.
Let me start by saying that I’m glad Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and I, along with a very talented team, were able to get Otto Warmbier back with his parents. (Applause.) What’s happened to him is a truly terrible thing, but at least the ones who love him so much can now take care of him and be with him.
Also, my dear friend, Steve Scalise, took a bullet for all of us. And because of him, and the tremendous pain and suffering he’s now enduring -- he’s having a hard time, far worse than anybody thought -- our country will perhaps become closer, more unified. So important.
So we all owe Steve a big, big thank you. And let’s keep the Warmbier family, and the Scalise family, and all of the victims of the congressional shooting, in our hearts and prayers. And it was quite a day and our police officers were incredible, weren’t they? They did a great job. (Applause.)
And let us all pray for a future of peace, unity and safety for all of our people. (Applause.) Thank you. And for Cuba.
I am so thrilled to be back here with all of my friends in Little Havana. (Applause.) I love it. I love this city.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you?
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you.
This is an amazing community, the Cuban-American community -- so much love. I saw that immediately.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you!
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, darling. Oh do I love you, too. (Applause.)
What you have built here -- a vibrant culture, a thriving neighborhood, the spirit of adventure -- is a testament to what a free Cuba could be. And with God’s help, a free Cuba is what we will soon achieve. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: USA! USA! USA!
THE PRESIDENT: And I don’t even mind that it is 110 degrees up here. (Laughter.) This room is packed. You know, it wasn’t designed for this. I would like to thank the fire department. (Laughter.)
We are delighted to be joined by so many friends and leaders of our great community. I want to express our deep gratitude to a man who has really become a friend of mine -- and I want to tell you, he is one tough competitor -- Senator Marco Rubio. (Applause.) Great guy. (Applause.) He is tough, man. He is tough and he’s good, and he loves you. He loves you.
And I listened to another friend of mine, Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart -- (applause) -- and I’ll tell you, I loved what he said, and I appreciate it. Mario, I appreciated what you said so much. In fact I was looking for Mario. I wanted to find him -- they said he was onstage. I almost dragged him off the stage to thank him, but now I’m thanking you anyway. Thank you, Mario. That was great. Really appreciate it.
And I also want to thank my good friend, and just a man who was of tremendous support in the state of Florida, for being with us -- Governor Rick Scott. (Applause.) Great job. He’s doing a great job. I hope he runs for the Senate. I know I’m not supposed to say that. I hope he runs for the Senate. Rick, are you running? (Applause.) I don’t know. Marco, let’s go, come on. We got to get him to -- I hope he runs for the Senate.
We are deeply honored to be joined by amazing Veterans of the Bay of Pigs. (Applause.) These are great people, amazing people. (Applause.)
I have wonderful memories from our visit during the campaign. That was some visit. That was right before the election. I guess it worked, right? Boy, Florida, as a whole, and this community supported us by tremendous margins. We appreciate it.
But including one of the big honors, and that was the honor of getting the Bay of Pigs award just before the election, and it’s great to be gathered in a place named for a true hero of the Cuban people. And you know what that means. (Applause.)
I was also looking forward to welcoming today two people who are not present -- José Daniel Ferrer and Berta Soler -- (applause) -- were both prevented from leaving Cuba for this event. So we acknowledge them. They’re great friends -- great help. And although they could not be with us, we are with them 100 percent. (Applause.) We are with them. Right?
Finally, I want to recognize everyone in the audience who has their own painful but important story to tell about the true and brutal nature of the Castro regime. Brutal. We thank the dissidents, the exiles, and the children of Operation Peter Pan -- you know what that means -- (applause) -- and all who gather in the cafes, churches, and the streets in this incredible area and city to speak the truth and to stand for justice. (Applause.)
And we want to thank you all for being a voice for the voiceless. There are people –- it’s voiceless, but you are making up the difference, and we all want to thank you. This group is amazing. Just an incredible –- you are an incredible group of talented, passionate people. Thank you. Incredible group of people.
Many of you witnessed terrible crimes committed in service of a depraved ideology. You saw the dreams of generations held by captive, and just, literally, you look at what happened and what communism has done. You knew faces that disappeared, innocents locked in prisons, and believers persecuted for preaching the word of God. You watched the Women in White bruised, bloodied, and captured on their way from Mass. You have heard the chilling cries of loved ones, or the cracks of firing squads piercing through the ocean breeze. Not a good sound.
Among the courageous Cuban dissidents with us onstage here today are Cary Roque, who was imprisoned by the Castro regime 15 years ago. (Applause.) She looks awfully good.
MS. ROQUE: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Thank you, Marco Rubio, Mario Diaz-Balart. Thank you to all the men and the Cubans who fight no matter what -- for the Cuban liberty. Mr. President, on behalf of the Cuban people, the people inside my eyes, my homeland, thank you. Thank you, and we appreciate your love. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Wow. That's pretty good. She didn't know she was going to do that either, I will tell you. Thank you very much.
Antunez, imprisoned for 17 years. Where is he? (Applause.) I love that name. Antunez -- I love that name --and Angel De Fana, imprisoned for over 20 years. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you. Very brave people.
The exiles and dissidents here today have witnessed communism destroy a nation, just as communism has destroyed every single nation where it has ever been tried. (Applause.) But we will not be silent in the face of communist oppression any longer. You have seen the truth, you have spoken the truth, and the truth has now called us -- this group -- called us to action. Thank you.
Last year, I promised to be a voice against repression in our region -- remember, tremendous oppression -- and a voice for the freedom of the Cuban people. You heard that pledge. You exercised the right you have to vote. You went out and you voted. And here I am like I promised -- like I promised. (Applause.)
I promised you -- I keep my promises. Sometimes in politics, they take a little bit longer, but we get there. We get there. Don't we get there? You better believe it, Mike. We get there. (Laughter.) Thank you. Thank you. No, we keep our promise.
And now that I am your President, America will expose the crimes of the Castro regime and stand with the Cuban people in their struggle for freedom. Because we know it is best for America to have freedom in our hemisphere, whether in Cuba or Venezuela, and to have a future where the people of each country can live out their own dreams. (Applause.)
For nearly six decades, the Cuban people have suffered under communist domination. To this day, Cuba is ruled by the same people who killed tens of thousands of their own citizens, who sought to spread their repressive and failed ideology throughout our hemisphere, and who once tried to host enemy nuclear weapons 90 miles from our shores.
The Castro regime has shipped arms to North Korea and fueled chaos in Venezuela. While imprisoning innocents, it has harbored cop killers, hijackers, and terrorists. It has supported human trafficking, forced labor, and exploitation all around the globe. This is the simple truth of the Castro regime. (Applause.)
My administration will not hide from it, excuse it, or glamorize it. And we will never, ever be blind to it. We know what's going on and we remember what happened. (Applause.)
On my recent trip overseas, I said the United States is adopting a principled realism, rooted in our values, shared interests, and common sense. I also said countries should take greater responsibility for creating stability in their own regions. It's hard to think of a policy that makes less sense than the prior administration’s terrible and misguided deal with the Castro regime. (Applause.) Well, you have to say, the Iran deal was pretty bad also. Let's not forget that beauty.
They made a deal with a government that spreads violence and instability in the region and nothing they got -- think of it -- nothing they got -- they fought for everything and we just didn’t fight hard enough. But now those days are over. Now we hold the cards. We now hold the cards. (Applause.)
The previous administration’s easing of restrictions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people -- they only enrich the Cuban regime. (Applause.) The profits from investment and tourism flow directly to the military. The regime takes the money and owns the industry. The outcome of the last administration’s executive action has been only more repression and a move to crush the peaceful, democratic movement.
Therefore, effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: Trump! Trump! Trump!
THE PRESIDENT: I am announcing today a new policy, just as I promised during the campaign, and I will be signing that contract right at that table in just a moment. (Applause.)
Our policy will seek a much better deal for the Cuban people and for the United States of America. We do not want U.S. dollars to prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the citizens of Cuba.
Our new policy begins with strictly enforcing U.S. law. (Applause.) We will not lift sanctions on the Cuban regime until all political prisoners are freed, freedoms of assembly and expression are respected, all political parties are legalized, and free and internationally supervised elections are scheduled. Elections. (Applause.)
We will very strongly restrict American dollars flowing to the military, security and intelligence services that are the core of Castro regime. They will be restricted. We will enforce the ban on tourism. We will enforce the embargo. We will take concrete steps to ensure that investments flow directly to the people, so they can open private businesses and begin to build their country’s great, great future -- a country of great potential. (Applause.)
My action today bypasses the military and the government, to help the Cuban people themselves form businesses and pursue much better lives. We will keep in place the safeguards to prevent Cubans from risking their lives to unlawful travel to the United States. They are in such danger the way they have to come to this country, and we are going to be safeguarding those people. We have to. We have no choice. We have to. (Applause.)
And we will work for the day when a new generation of leaders brings this long reign of suffering to an end. And I do believe that end is in the very near future. (Applause.)
We challenge Cuba to come to the table with a new agreement that is in the best interests of both their people and our people and also of Cuban Americans.
To the Cuban government, I say: Put an end to the abuse of dissidents. Release the political prisoners. Stop jailing innocent people. Open yourselves to political and economic freedoms. Return the fugitives from American justice -- including the return of the cop-killer Joanne Chesimard. (Applause.)
And finally, hand over the Cuban military criminals who shot down and killed four brave members of Brothers to the Rescue who were in unarmed, small, slow civilian planes. (Applause.)
Those victims included Mario de la Pena, Jr., and Carlos Costa. We are honored to be joined by Mario’s parents, Miriam and Mario, and Carlos’s sister, Mirta. Where are you? (Applause.) Those are great, great parents who love their children so much. What they've done is just an incredible, incredible thing -- what they represent -- they did not die in vain -- what they represent to everybody, and especially to the Cuban people. So your children did not die in vain, believe me. (Applause.)
So to the Castro regime, I repeat: The harboring of criminals and fugitives will end. You have no choice. It will end. (Applause.)
Any changes to the relationship between the United States and Cuba will depend on real progress toward these and the other goals, many of which I’ve described. When Cuba is ready to take concrete steps to these ends, we will be ready, willing, and able to come to the table to negotiate that much better deal for Cubans, for Americans. Much better deal and a deal that's fair. A deal that's fair and a deal that makes sense.
Our embassy remains open in the hope that our countries can forge a much stronger and better path. America believes that free, independent, and sovereign nations are the best vehicle for human happiness, for health, for education, for safety, for everything. We all accept that all nations have the right to chart their own paths -- and I’m certainly a very big believer in that -- so we will respect Cuban sovereignty. But we will never turn our backs on the Cuban people. That will not happen. (Applause.)
Over the years, a special sympathy has grown between this land of the free, and the beautiful people of that island, so close to our shores and so deeply woven into the history of our region. America has rejected the Cuban people’s oppressors. They are rejected. Officially today, they are rejected. (Applause.) And to those people, America has become a source of strength, and our flag a symbol of hope.
I know that is exactly what America is to you and what it represents to you. It represents the same to me. It represents the same to all of us. And that is what it was to a little boy, Luis Haza. You ever hear of Luis? He became very famous, great talent -- just eight years old when Fidel Castro seized power. At the time, Luis’s father was the police chief in Santiago de Cuba. You know Santiago? Yeah? Oh, they know Santiago. Just days after Fidel took control, his father was one of 71 Cubans executed by firing squad near San Juan Hill at the hands of the Castro regime.
Luis buried his grief in his great love of music. He began playing the violin so brilliantly and so beautifully. Soon the regime saw his incredible gift and wanted to use him for propaganda purposes. When he was 12, they organized a national television special and demanded he play a solo for Raul Castro -- who by the way is leaving now. I wonder why.
They sent an official to fetch Luis from his home. But Luis refused to go. And a few days later, Castro’s soldiers barged into his orchestra practice area, guns blazing. They told him to play for them. Terrified, Luis began to play. And the entire room was stunned by what they heard. Ringing out from the trembling boy’s violin was a tune they all recognized. This young Cuban boy was playing “The Star Spangled Banner.” (Applause.) Luis played the American National Anthem all the way through, and when he finished, the room was dead silent.
When we say that America stands as a symbol to the world -- a symbol of freedom, and a symbol of hope -- that is what Luis meant, and that is what Luis displayed that day. It was a big day. It was a great day. And that is what we will all remain. That was a very important moment, just like this is now, for Cuba. A very important moment. (Applause.) America will always stand for liberty, and America will always pray and cheer for the freedom of the Cuban people.
Now, that little boy, whose story I just told you, the one who played that violin so beautifully so many years ago, is here with us today in our very, very packed and extremely warm auditorium. (Laughter.) Of course, he is no longer a little boy, but a world-renowned violinist and conductor -- one of the greats. And today he will once again play his violin and fill the hearts of all who love and cherish Cuba, the United States, and freedom. (Applause.)
I would like to now invite Luis to the stage.
(Luis Haza plays The Star-Spangled Banner on the violin.)
AUDIENCE: USA! USA! USA! (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Luis. I just said, so where were you more nervous? Today or then? He said, honestly, I think today. That's pretty -- (laughter.) Thank you, Luis, that was beautiful.
So I want to thank Miami. I want to thank Little Havana. Havana, we love. Do we love it? Would you move anywhere else? You wouldn't move to Palm Beach, would you? No. No way. Little Havana.
And I want to thank all of our great friends here today. You've been amazing, loyal, beautiful people. And thank you. Don't remind me. Actually, I was telling Mike, so it was two days -- on my birthday -- until a big day, which turned out to be tomorrow -- the 16th. That was the day I came down with Melania on the escalator at Trump Tower. That's tomorrow. (Applause.) So it's exactly tomorrow -- two years since we announced. And it worked out okay. Worked out okay. (Applause.) It's a great honor. Believe me, it's a great honor. Right?
AUDIENCE: (Sings Happy Birthday.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much.
I just want to end by saying may God bless everyone searching for freedom. May God bless Cuba. May God bless the United States of America. And God bless you all. Thank you. Now I'm going to sign. Thank you.
(The President participates in a signing.)
So this says, "strengthening the policy of the United States toward Cuba." And I can add, "strengthening a lot." (Laughter.) So this is very important, and you watch what's going to happen. Going to be a great day for Cuba.
Thank you. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
2:09 P.M. EDT
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
June 15, 2017
Background Briefing on the President's Cuba Policy James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
4:36 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us this afternoon. This is an off-camera, not-for-audio broadcast, background briefing on President Trump's Cuba policy with senior White House officials here in the briefing room. Some of you are joining us via conference call. Just as a reminder, this background briefing information is embargoed until 9:00 p.m. tonight.
Q A lot of this stuff is out already. Can you guys move that embargo? Is that negotiable?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's not negotiable right now. It's 9:00 p.m. tonight. It's embargoed until 9:00 p.m. tonight.
During the campaign last year, President Trump received an endorsement from the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association, the first presidential endorsement this group has ever made, at their museum in Little Havana, Miami. The President has repeatedly said he was "honored and humbled" to have received that endorsement from these veterans, recognizing that they were fighting to restore liberty and justice for the people of Cuba.
The President vowed to reverse the Obama administration policies toward Cuba that have enriched the Cuban military regime and increased the repression on the island. It is a promise that President Trump made, and it's a promise that President Trump is keeping.
With this is a readjustment of the United States policy towards Cuba. And you will see that, going forward, the new policy under the Trump administration, will empower the Cuban people. To reiterate, the new policy going forward does not target the Cuban people, but it does target the repressive members of the Cuban military government.
To discuss this further, I'm going to introduce [senior administration officials]. We will take a few questions after their presentations. As background, you know they are going to be identified as senior White House officials.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. And I'm going to be really quick and pretty bland here so we can get to your questions. But as my colleague mentioned, the President made a promise September 16, 2016, when he was speaking in Miami, about his commitment to overturn the Obama policy of appeasement toward Cuba. And, in doing so, he promised to restore some of the restrictions on Cuba until they provide religious and political freedom to their people.
In order to follow through on the promises the President made, he ordered a full review of U.S. policy toward Cuba in February, and of his team here internally. The National Security Council, led by General McMaster, engaged in a thorough interagency review process, including more than a dozen working-level meetings, multiple deputies meetings, and principal meetings. This interagency process included, among others -- there are additional agencies -- but those I think that are most impacted by the policy included the Treasury Department, the State Department, Commerce Department, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Transportation. So each of those agencies and secretaries were actively engaged in this policy formation.
Additionally, during this process, the President met with members of Congress who are experts on Cuba policy and have been leaders in formulating Cuba policy, from a legislative perspective, for years. These members also worked with us hand-in-glove in providing technical guidance and policy suggestions as we continued to formulate the policy and went through multiple drafts.
The President and other principals also met with members on both sides of the aisle in this process, and even, additionally, were sharing thoughts with those who have, I think, been advocates -- in particular, agricultural trade with Cuba.
The President has tasked his Cabinet to work together to find ways to improve what we consider President Obama's bad deal. And we're very excited about the result that the President will unveil tomorrow. And I think more details of that will be forthcoming.
I'll turn it over to my colleagues, and we'll take questions when finished.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. Breaking habit of a lifetime, I'm going to be even briefer, because this is really the President's policy to announce. But I want to reiterate that this is very much a promise that he made, that he took seriously, that he kept. And the basic policy driver was his concern that the previous policy was enriching the Cuban military and the intelligence services that contribute so much to oppression on the island. And that's the opposite of what he wanted to achieve, which is to have the benefits of any economic commerce with the United States go to the Cuban people. So that would be our guiding principle.
I did want to note that there will not be a change to wet foot, dry foot current policy, and that very much the hope of the administration is that the Cuban regime will see this as an opportunity for them to implement the reforms that they paid lip service to a couple of years ago, but that have not in any way been implemented to the benefit of the Cuban people.
So that's pretty much my part, and so we can open it up to questions.
Q Any details on the actual -- the action he's going to take tomorrow?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sorry, I'm the lawyer, so I don’t get the (inaudible) parts, I just get the nitty-gritty details.
Q What is the President actually going to implement?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's a few components of it. One part is, like my colleague was talking about, measures designed to restrict the flow of money to the oppressive elements of the Cuban regime -- the military, intelligence, and security services.
There are also measures to ensure that the statutory ban on tourism is strictly enforced, which will include ending the individual people-to-people travel. There are 12 categories of travel that are permitted still, but the one of the individual people-to-people travel was one that was at the highest risk of potential abuse of the statutory ban on tourism. And then there are several other components of the policy that you'll see tomorrow that relate to the supporting requirements ensuring that these regulations are enforced.
One key thing to note about the policy is that it directs the Secretaries of Treasury and Commerce to change their regulations on the topic. No changes go into effect until those regulations are promulgated.
Q So when will this go into effect?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The policy goes into effect tomorrow, but the policy directs the creation of new regulations, so the actual impact occurs when those regulations go into effect.
Q Things on travel and that sort of stuff doesn't change immediately?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's right. Not until the regulations go into effect.
Q Can you explain just -- let's start with the tourism, the ban on tourism which you guys will now be enforcing. What immediate impact will American travelers see on visits to Cuba from a tourism perspective? Sort of x, y, and z -- what really changes for somebody who wants to go to Havana, let's say?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Tourism is banned under the statute, was banned before. Tourism has never been allowed.
Q Obviously, commercial flights are still going to be in effect, still allowed, so -- I'm just trying to get at for like the average person who's trying to understand what this means for them.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It means that they'll have to follow the statutory requirements and the regulations about what kind of travel to Cuba is and is not allowed.
Q Is there still going to be self-certification?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. It would still allow the Treasury to issue the general licenses that it has issued. And individuals obviously still have to keep records of their financial transactions and their travel, which can be subject to audit by the Treasury Department, but that does not change.
Q To clarify, you're getting rid of the people-to-people category, though? That will no longer be --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Individual people-to-people. So individuals can still go as parts of groups --
Q But you now have to do it as part of a group? You can't self-initiate?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's right.
Q Quickly, are you going to issue a replacement directive for the presidential directive that went into effect at the end of last year?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's what this is.
Q So we'll see that tomorrow.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right.
Q What about cruise ships?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think there's anything that specifically touches on cruise ships.
Q No changes to the commercial flights?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, there is a statutory ban on tourism. But if an individual follows the regulations to travel to Cuba, then they can travel, and -- whether they get there by air, boat, or any other means.
Q Does the Trump administration plan to have official diplomatic relations with the Castro regime?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think that's changed by the policy.
Q Doesn't eliminating -- or changing the people-to-people requirement -- doesn't that somehow undermine supporting the private sector in Cuba? I mean, isn't that how a lot of Cuban people make their money, off the people-to-people exchanges and that sort of thing?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The other statutorily permitted categories of travel, including support for the Cuban people, are unchanged by the policy. But the requirement is that individuals who are going to Cuba actually engage in a full-time schedule of activities designed to enhance their interaction with the Cuban people and designed to get -- and consistent with the policy objectives of ensuring that the money goes to the Cuban people and not to the military intelligence services.
Q How is this going to restrict the flow of money to military intelligence and security services? And if you’re not touching anything to do with airlines and cruise ships, does that mean that airlines and cruise companies are still transferring money to military-controlled entities, since they have to pay docking fees and landing fees?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the way a policy is structured -- and you'll see tomorrow -- is that it directs Treasury and Commerce too provide the regulations to prohibit direct financial transactions with the military intelligence and security services.
There are several exceptions to that ban on direct financial transactions, one of which is for air and sea operations. Again, it restricts the flow of money to the military and intelligence and security services, but it does not completely -- there are several exceptions that you’ll see on the policy for the kinds of travel that will still be allowed.
Q Say I met an Ohio electrical company owner who is looking to sell transformers to Cuba. Their electrical infrastructure is in shambles. Would that person’s business with Cuba now be curtailed in any way?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Only if they want to sell to the military, intelligence or security services.
Q Can I follow up on that -- just a question about business more broadly? What’s the President’s message to businesses that have hoped to see Cuba as an expanding potential market? Is there a message here to American business?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Say that again, please.
Q What’s the President’s message more broadly to American business, particularly those businesses that had hoped to see an opening of the Cuban market? What do you tell those folks?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We tell them that we also very much want to see that kind of expansion of commercial interaction with Cuba, and that's entirely up to Raul Castro and his regime. It’s entirely up to Raul Castro to make that happen.
Q What would the Cuban regime need to do in order to make that happen?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're going to have a series of reforms that would make it considerably less difficult for whoever Raul’s successor may be to continue to implement this kind of very repressive police state, which is being fueled by the companies owned by the military and the intelligence.
Q Are you going to roll out what those specific reforms you want to see, what boxes the Cuban regime would have to check in order to roll out more business --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Absolutely.
Q When? We’ll see that tonight, tomorrow?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Tomorrow.
Q On the individual travel restrictions, when will those go into effect? Say somebody has a flight scheduled next week. They were planning to do individual people-to-people travel. It’s too late to get a group. Do they cancel their flight? How does that affect those people?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, none of the changes will go into effect until the regulations are issued. One of the things that the Treasury Department will cover in its regulations is how individuals who have started planning travel to Cuba but have not actually completed that travel, how they will be affected. That's something we're going to be working with them on. But that is something that will be spelled out by the Treasury Department.
Q Is there a timeline for making progress?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It requires within 30 days for them to initiate the process, but then the process takes as long as it takes.
Q Can you explain the administration’s thinking on the big picture? Why this is sort of done in like almost a half-measure? Why not -- if you're so concerned about the human rights situation there, why not cut off formal diplomatic relations, revert the embassy back to an interest section, and reinstate wet foot, dry foot? Why not do that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that's very much what we've been talking about, that we want this relationship to be one in which we can encourage the Cuban people through economic interaction, and that that process is -- hopefully has been started. You can't put the genie back in the bottle 100 percent. And so I think this is an effort to move what the President has called a very, very bad deal.
It’s not that he’s opposed to any deal with Cuba; he’s opposed to a bad deal with Cuba. And to start the process of making it clear to the regime that there are very specific benchmarks that they're going to need to meet if they want to continue this kind of relationship.
Q Thank you. So just to be clear, the embassy will remain in the place that it is?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are not changes to that status.
Q Sorry, one other --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We don't have an ambassador.
Q And one other, will you re-designate Cuba the sponsor of terrorism?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's not in this memorandum.
Q Will the new policy address U.S. fugitives living in Cuba?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The new policy reiterates the importance of extraditing those fugitives and returning them to justice, and directs the Attorney General to submit a report on those efforts.
Q What about political prisoners? Is there anything that affects -- is the President going to call for that tomorrow, for releasing political prisoners from Cuban prisons, or anything within this that speaks to that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All I’dsay is that absolutely, I think to my colleague’s comment about -- someone asked the question how does it change. As soon as there are free and fair elections, and the political prisoners are freed, then they’ll have direct change to the policy.
And regarding the question earlier on the private sector and wanting to continue to encourage engagement in the private sector, by all means, that's what this President’s directive will do.
Our concern is that the loopholes the Obama administration have left and was not enforcing is that many of the transactions were benefiting the Cuban military, which is continuing to repress the people. So the directive that this will enforce will allow business-to-business engagement, but it will make sure that those profits and flow of money are not going to benefit the Cuban military.
Q I want to follow up on that. Because GAESA, the Cuban-military-owned intelligence company -- what percent -- like, how big are they when it comes to the Cuban economy? Like how large are they?
Q Is this restricted to GAESA or it this broader?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The prohibition on direct financial transactions is on Cuban military, intelligence and security service, and entities that they control, which, as I understand the situation, does include GAESA.
And in terms of what share they are of the Cuban economy -- I know they have a monopoly on various sectors of the economy.
Q So you're talking about -- you want to engage with the Cuban government if the regime becomes less repressive, but why is there a particular concern on human rights abuses in Cuba when this administration has been engaging with Saudi Arabia and lots of other regimes that don't have great human rights records? Why Cuba, in particular?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the President has made clear that he will look toward repressive regimes in this hemisphere and believes that his comments stand from September 2016 when he said that the Cuba policy needs to change.
Q So we can expect this administration to be taking an aggressive stance based on human rights with other regimes?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that this administration will continue to take aggressive stands. But I’m not commenting here on what his foreign policy will be toward other countries right now.
Q Just a final follow-up -- for people who, let's say, have a family member in Cuba -- you need to travel, you've got a family member dying -- what happens to those people? What kind of penalties go along with going outside of --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Family travel is one of the other categories of travel that is already authorized under the regulations and will continue to be authorized.
Q How much help did Marco Rubio provide in shaping this policy? And who else did you consult in shaping it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As I mentioned before, we consulted many members of Congress. Certainly Senator Rubio has been very helpful to us in this process. But we've consulted those who are part of coalitions that, again, support agricultural exports to Cuba. We've also consulted some on a bipartisan basis. And I'll kind of leave it to them to offer what their level of assistance has been. I think you'll being seeing more of that come forward in the next day or two as those who have been helping us come forward to talk about their engagement. But Senator Rubio was certainly central to helping us with this policy.
Q I just had two questions. The first is if this is all going to impact -- the Obama administration lifted or enabled people to bring more souvenirs, rum, cigars, that kind of thing back. Is there's any impact on that policy specifically? And then secondly, if you could at all lay out some of the other exemptions in addition to cruise ports and airports because obviously the military controls huge swaths of the economy.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There aren't any changes to the regulations on what items Americans can bring back from Cuba. The other exemptions -- you'll see the full list tomorrow, but they include transactions related to the operation of the U.S. embassy or the naval station at Guantanamo Bay, transactions related to promotion of Cuban democracy, of expanding access to telecommunications access, Internet access to the Cuban people. Again, you'll -- I don't have the full list in front of me, but you'll see that tomorrow.
Q How much money has flown from Cuban military and intelligence services through the channels that you're now going to block in recent years?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we'd have to refer that to the Department of the Treasury.
Q Can you give (inaudible) intelligence cooperation that some say flourished under the Obama policy? And then on the Defense Ministry owning Old Havana -- are payments to those banned as well?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not going to comment on intelligence operations in this context. I think that, again, if the Cuban government would like this kind of relationship to continue, the means to achieve that is firmly in their court.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And on the question about hotels owned by the armed forces of Cuba -- yes, the prohibition on direct transactions with the Cuban military would encompass that. One of the pieces of the policy is that the State Department would create a list of entities owned by the Cuban military, intelligence and security services so individuals can adjust their plans accordingly.
Again, the policy intent is to steer money away from the Cuban military and towards the Cuban people. So your individual who travels to Cuba and does not stay in one of those hotels would not be affected. But the individuals seeking to stay in military hotels -- that would not be allowed.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Some members of Congress pointed out that if Cubans continue to ship arms to North Korea and continue to fuel chaos in Venezuela, it’s hard to see what the dividends are of that cooperation.
Q I was wondering, just to follow up on that, do you envisage any carve-outs for existing investments in Cuba? Say if I’m the CEO of Starwood, should I be worried about losing millions that I’ve already invested?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That will be handled in the specifics of the regulations that the Treasury and the Commerce Department craft pursuant to the policy. However, one of the administration’s intent has been to not disrupt the existing business that has occurred or, again, to the question about travelers, who have already booked their plans.
Q There may be exceptions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The specifics will be handled in the regulations that Treasury and Commerce issue.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And actually, can I quick add something on that? On Whitehouse.gov we’ll have sort of a landing page where it will link to all of the relevant agencies that have their individual reports on how this is going to affect their operations tomorrow -- because it’s more than you would imagine.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: One last question right here.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It should be right with the speech.
Q Two quick questions. (Inaudible) -- what does that look like? And second, can you give us some examples of the benchmarks you are talking about that you want the government to meet?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: My colleague laid those out. It’s free elections, releasing prisoners. You could get into things such as direct pay for Cuban workers.
Q Are they going to be really specific?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think they will be more general tomorrow, and then if this is a dialogue the Cuban Government wants to have, we can get into the specifics of what it would look like.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I was going to say I think releasing political prisoners and free and fair elections are pretty specific.
Q Can you answer the question on enforcement, please?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On how it is more strictly adhering to the statutory ban on tourism? Again, the ending people-to-people, individual people-to-people travel is one way that is done. That is a category of travel that is particularly ripe for abuse. So directing the Treasury to change its regulations to ensure that anyone who goes to people-to-people travel does so as part of a group, is one way to ensure that the individuals who travel to Cuba to engage in a schedule of activities actually do so and aren’t sitting on the beach.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just a reminder. This background briefing is embargoed until 9:00 p.m. tonight. Thank you all very much for joining us.
5:02 P.M. EDT
June 16, 2017
Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)
Frequently Asked Questions on President Trump’s Cuba Announcement
1. How will OFAC implement the changes to the Cuba sanctions program announced by the President on June 16, 2017? Are the changes effective immediately?
OFAC will implement the Treasury-specific changes via amendments to its Cuban Assets Control Regulations. The Department of Commerce will implement any necessary changes via amendments to its Export Administration Regulations. OFAC expects to issue its regulatory amendments in the coming months. The announced changes do not take effect until the new regulations are issued.
2. What is individual people-to-people travel, and how does the President’s announcement impact this travel authorization?
Individual people-to-people travel is educational travel that: (i) does not involve academic study pursuant to a degree program; and (ii) does not take place under the auspices of an organization that is subject to U.S. jurisdiction that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact. The President instructed Treasury to issue regulations that will end individual people-to-people travel. The announced changes do not take effect until the new regulations are issued.
3. Will group people-to-people travel still be authorized?
Yes. Group people-to-people travel is educational travel not involving academic study pursuant to a degree program that takes place under the auspices of an organization that is subject to U.S. jurisdiction that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact. Travelers utilizing this travel authorization must maintain a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that are intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba. An employee, consultant, or agent of the group must accompany each group to ensure that each traveler maintains a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities.
4. How do the changes announced by the President on June 16, 2017 affect individual people-to-people travelers who have already begun making their travel arrangements (such as purchasing flights, hotels, or rental cars)?
The announced changes do not take effect until OFAC issues new regulations. Provided that the traveler has already completed at least one travel-related transaction (such as purchasing a flight or reserving accommodation) prior to the President’s announcement on June 16, 2017, all additional travel-related transactions for that trip, whether the trip occurs before or after OFAC’s new regulations are issued, would also be authorized, provided the travel-related transactions are consistent with OFAC’s regulations as of June 16, 2017.
5. How do the changes announced by the President on June 16, 2017 affect other authorized travelers to Cuba whose travel arrangements may include direct transactions with entities related to the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services that may be implicated by the new Cuba policy?
The announced changes do not take effect until OFAC issues new regulations. Consistent with the Administration’s interest in not negatively impacting Americans for arranging lawful travel to Cuba, any travel-related arrangements that include direct transactions with entities related to the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services that may be implicated by the new Cuba policy will be permitted provided that those travel arrangements were initiated prior to the issuance of the forthcoming regulations.
6. How do the changes announced by the President on June 16, 2017 affect companies subject to U.S. jurisdiction that are already engaged in the Cuban market and that may undertake direct transactions with entities related to the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services that may be implicated by the new Cuba policy?
The announced changes do not take effect until OFAC issues new regulations. Consistent with the Administration’s interest in not negatively impacting American businesses for engaging in lawful commercial opportunities, any Cuba-related commercial engagement that includes direct transactions with entities related to the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services that may be implicated by the new Cuba policy will be permitted provided that those commercial engagements were in place prior to the issuance of the forthcoming regulations.
7. Does the new policy affect how persons subject to U.S jurisdiction may purchase airline tickets for authorized travel to Cuba?
No. The new policy will not change how persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction traveling to Cuba pursuant to the 12 categories of authorized travel may purchase their airline tickets.
8. Can I continue to send authorized remittances to Cuba?
Yes. The announced policy changes will not change the authorizations for sending remittances to Cuba. Additionally, the announced changes include an exception that will allow for transactions incidental to the sending, processing, and receipt of authorized remittances to the extent they would otherwise be restricted by the new policy limiting transactions with certain identified Cuban military, intelligence, or security services. As a result, the restrictions on certain transactions in the new Cuba policy will not limit the ability to send or receive authorized remittances.
9. How does the new policy impact other authorized travel to Cuba by persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction?
The new policy will not result in changes to the other (non-individual people-to-people) authorizations for travel.
Following the issuance of OFAC’s regulatory changes, travel-related transactions with prohibited entities identified by the State Department generally will not be permitted. Guidance will accompany the issuance of the new regulations.
10. How will the new policy impact existing OFAC specific licenses?
The forthcoming regulations will be prospective and thus will not affect existing contracts and licenses.
11. How will U.S. companies know if their Cuban counterpart is affiliated with a prohibited entity or sub-entity in Cuba?
The State Department will be publishing a list of entities with which direct transactions generally will not be permitted. Guidance will accompany the issuance of the new regulations. The announced changes do not take effect until the new regulations are issued.
12. Is authorized travel by cruise ship or passenger vessel to Cuba impacted by the new Cuba policy?
Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction will still be able to engage in authorized travel to Cuba by cruise ship or passenger vessel.
Following the issuance of OFAC’s regulatory changes, travel-related transactions with prohibited entities identified by the State Department generally will not be permitted. Guidance will accompany the issuance of the new regulations.
For more information on the National Security Presidential Memorandum visit: