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WWhether Cuba will soon undergo an economic revolution depends more on politics in Washington than in Havana.

HAVANA,Sept. 7th  STRATFOR  Analysis
After all, the only thing standing in the way of unrestricted trade between the world’s largest economy and the island nation just 145 kilometers (90 miles) south of it is an embargo that rests on Read more

960x0HAVANA, march 18th (FORBES) The warming of relations between the United States and Cuba has spurred an increased interest in traveling to the island, with search traffic for flights up 500% from last year as more online travel agencies begin to list flights. Several airlines have applied to fly additional routes and it seems to be only a matter of time before regular air travel commences.

Recent rule changes have made it much easier for Americans to legally visit Cuba. Travel is still only permitted as long as it fits within 12 fairly broad, legally permissible purposes, but a key update to the rule now permits individuals to embark upon personal trips self-determined to meet the criteria. No advance license required.

So while the travel embargo still technically remains in place, the real obstacle for Americans who visit Cuba are the high flight prices. Currently flights from the United States to Cuba cost an average of $717 round trip, which is significantly more expensive than flights to other Caribbean destinations near Cuba.Screen-Shot-2016-03-17-at-9.27.59-AM

So what’s a would-be traveler to do? For most Americans, the cheapest way to visit Cuba as a tourist is via a lengthy and indirect flight through a third country, with Canada and Mexico being the obvious choices.

havana-live-embargoHAVANA, Feb. 17th The Cuban government has begun a full-court press urging U.S. and American companies to step up economic investment in the island nation.

In one of the first public comments in the U.S. by a top Cuban government official since President Obama normalized diplomatic relations with Cuba in late 2014, Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz, Cuban minister of foreign trade and investment, on Tuesday urged Congress to lift the decades-old economic embargo and promised that U.S. companies eyeing the Caribbean market would not be discriminated against.

“I believe the roads we have started to walk on is the right one,” Malmierca Díaz said at a press conference after a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. “No matter what, we’re going to maintain the disposition to normalize our relations with the U.S.”

The U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, which was imposed in the early 1960s, remains in place, as only an act of Congress can lift it. But the Obama administration’s overtures have triggered loosening of business and investment restrictions on the island and have raised hopes for expansion-minded U.S. companies tempted by an untapped market with a reputation for quality education and advanced medical and engineering training.

The Treasury and Commerce departments have introduced a series of rule changes in recent months to encourage U.S. companies to consider investing in Cuba. And Malmierca Díaz said he plans to hold further talks with government officials for other rule changes that would accelerate economic investment and to meet with American business executives.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx signed an agreement Tuesday in Havana with Cuban Transportation Minister Adel Yzquierdo to resume scheduled airline flights to the island for the first time in 53 years. Airlines will compete to provide up to 110 daily flights to Havana and nine other cities starting this fall, as long as travelers are visiting for one of 12 reasons other than tourism, officials said.

Still, the American re-engagement with Cuba, one of the last remaining communist governments, is a hot-button topic, particularly in the swing state of Florida. Several influential lawmakers, including Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both Cuban Americans, as well as former Florida governor and presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, remain firmly opposed to lifting the embargo.

During his speech in downtown Washington, D.C., Malmierca Díaz rattled off factoids aimed at wooing foreign investors. Cuba’s GDP grew 4% last year, with the sugar, manufacturing, construction and tourism industries leading the way. The island nation maintains trade relations with 75 countries, and some foreign debts have been renegotiated with creditors, he said. “We don’t want to be dependent on one market,” he said, referring to Cuba’s past ties with Russia.

Three cruise terminals are being built as is a new “special development zone” with tax incentives. Foreign companies’ net incomes on the island are generally taxed at 35%. But tax on income from new investment will be waived for eight years and taxed at 15% thereafter, he said.

Cuba needs about $2 billion annually in direct foreign investment to maintain its goal of raising its GDP by 5%, he said. Reflecting Cuba’s eagerness to interconnect further with the global economy, Malmierca Díaz said its view of foreign investment has shifted from a few years ago when it was merely considered a “complement” to domestic spending and “not important.”

Responding to a question about whether Cuba was moving quickly enough to adapt to the rule changes in the U.S., Malmierca Díaz said some delays may occur as American companies negotiate with their Cuban partners, but he affirmed that the Cuban government “was not creating more barriers.”

“It’d be stupid for us to delay,” he said.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2016/02/16/cubas-trade-minister-calls-end-embargo/80463656/

havana-live-united nationU.S. weighs unprecedented abstention on U.N. vote condemning Cuba embargo.

HAVANA, 22 Sept.  (AP)  For the first time, the United States may accept a United Nations condemnation of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba without a fight, The Associated Press has learned.

U.S. officials tell the AP that the Obama administration is weighing abstaining from the annual U.N. General Assembly vote on a Cuban-backed resolution demanding that the embargo be lifted. The vote could come next month.

No decision has yet been made, said four administration officials who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on sensitive internal deliberations and demanded anonymity. But merely considering an abstention is unprecedented. Following through on the idea would send shock waves through both the United Nations and Congress.

It is unheard of for a U.N. member state not to oppose resolutions critical of its own laws.

By not actively opposing the resolution, the administration would be effectively siding with the world body against Congress, which has refused to repeal the embargo despite calls from President Barack Obama to do so.

Presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, who is Cuban-American, said that by abstaining, Obama would be “putting international popularity ahead of the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.” The embargo, he said, denies money to a dictatorship that can be used to further oppression.

General Assembly resolutions are unenforceable. But the annual exercise has given Cuba a stage to demonstrate America’s isolation on the embargo, and it has underscored the sense internationally that the U.S. restrictions are illegitimate.

The United States has lost each vote by increasingly overwhelming and embarrassing margins. Last year’s tally was 188-2 in favor of Cuba with only Israel siding with the U.S. This year’s vote will be the first since the U.S. shift in policy toward Cuba. Israel would be expected to vote whichever way the U.S. decides.

The American officials said that at the moment the U.S. is still more likely to vote against the resolution than abstain. However, they said the U.S. will consider abstaining if the wording of the resolution is significantly different from previous years. The administration is open to discussing revisions with the Cubans and others, they added, something American diplomats have never done before.

Obama has urged Congress to scrap the 54-year-old embargo since December, when he announced that Washington and Havana would normalize diplomatic relations. The two countries re-opened embassies last month, and Obama has chipped away at U.S. restrictions on trade and travel to Cuba, using executive authorities. But the embargo stands.

The latest U.S. easing of sanctions occurred Friday and was followed by a rare phone call between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro. Pope Francis, who has played a key role in the rapprochement between Havana and Washington, arrived in Havana a day later. He travels to the U.S. this week.

The White House said Obama and Castro discussed “steps that the United States and Cuba can take, together and individually, to advance bilateral cooperation.” The Cuban government said Castro “emphasized the need to expand their scope and abrogate, once and for all, the blockade policy for the benefit of both peoples.”

Neither statement mentioned the U.N. vote. Yet, as it has for the last 23 years, Cuba will introduce a resolution at the upcoming General Assembly criticizing the embargo and demanding its end.

Cuba’s government had no immediate reaction to the report of the administration’s new consideration.

An abstention could have political ramifications in the United States, beyond the presidential race.

In Congress, where top GOP lawmakers have refused to entertain legislation to end the embargo, any action perceived as endorsing U.N. criticism of the United States could provoke anger — even among supporters of the administration’s position.

As White House spokesman Josh Earnest noted last week, the embargo remains the law of the land. “We still want Congress to take action to remove the embargo,” he said.

The U.S. officials, however, said the administration believes an abstention could send a powerful signal to Congress and the world of Obama’s commitment to end the embargo. Obama says the policy failed over more than five decades to spur democratic change and left the U.S. isolated among its Latin American neighbors.

It’s unclear what changes would be necessary to prompt a U.S. abstention.

havana-live-us embassyHAVANA, Sept. 18 (Reuters) – The White House is drafting sweeping regulations to further weaken the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba that would ease restrictions on U.S. companies and make it safer for Americans to travel there, U.S. government sources said on Thursday.

The regulations could be announced as soon as Friday.

U.S. companies would be allowed to establish offices in Cuba for the first time in more than half a century, according to a draft of the new rules seen by Reuters.

The regulations make it easier for airlines and cruise ships to import parts and technology to improve safety in Cuba; loosen restrictions on software exports; and allow authorized companies to establish subsidiaries with Cuba, possibly via joint ventures with Cuban firms such as state telecommunications monopoly Etecsa.

However, they do not authorise private financing of trade nor change current rules on who can travel to Cuba, though it is possible regulations could still be modified by other agencies or updated later in the year, according to people familiar with the White House’s thinking on Cuba policy.

There was no immediate comment from President Barack Obama‘s administration.

“These are the most comprehensive expansion in U.S. trade and investment regulations with Cuba in decades,” said John Kavulich, head of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, who is familiar with the new rules.

“The result will be an exponential increase in interest towards Cuba by U.S. companies and pressure upon Cuba by those same companies to permit access to the marketplace,” Kavulich said.

The regulations expand on others that Obama announced in January to ease the 53-year-old embargo of the Communist-ruled island.

Those rules were an initial gesture after Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17 they would move toward normal relations between the former Cold War foes for the first time in more than half a century.

Although legislation seeking to promote commercial ties between the two countries has support from Democrats and some Republicans, efforts to pass bills that would ease trade and travel restrictions have been stymied by opposition from Republican congressional leaders.

Given the resistance from Congress, Obama is using executive powers to ease the trade barriers.

The administration was preparing the new regulations as Jose Cabanas, a veteran diplomat, on Thursday became Cuba’s first ambassador to the United States in 54 years.

Washington has yet to name an ambassador to Cuba.

Cuba is also preparing for a three-night visit from Pope Francis starting on Saturday.

One advocate of U.S. engagement with Cuba who has been briefed on the matter said administration officials first discussed the regulations with supporters of Obama’s Cuba policy in July.

“The focus is on ease of doing business, and (the regulations) have been in hopper to be released for a couple of weeks. Interesting that they’re choosing it to coincide with the pope’s visit,” said Felice Gorordo, co-founder of the Cuban-American group Roots of Hope.

havana-live-hillary-clintonHAVANA,  July 30  Hillary Clinton will declare her support on Friday for lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba, her campaign said, allying herself with President Obama’s open stance toward the long-isolated island nation.

Speaking at Florida International University Friday morning, Clinton will also criticize Republicans’ opposition to normalizing relations with the country, saying that the right’s arguments against increased engagement are part of a legacy of failed strategies for addressing Cuban relations.

“She will highlight that Republican arguments against increased engagement are part of failed policies of the past and contend that we must look to the future in order to advance a core set of values and interests to engage with Cubans and address human rights abuses,” the Clinton campaign said in a statement.

Clinton will hold her speech in the state that Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio call home. Bush, the former governor, has called Obama’s opening relations with Cuba a “policy misstep” and a “dramatic overreach of his executive authority.” Rubio, who is the son of Cuban immigrants, has also strongly criticized Obama, calling the decision “a terrible one, but not surprising unfortunately.”

The United States has maintained various embargoes on Cuba since 1960, and continues to block trade with the country despite having opened up diplomatic relations with the island nation. Republican Rep. Tom Emmer filed a bill on Tuesday to remove the restrictions on American businesses from trading with Cuba.

Clinton has long supported normalizing relations with Cuba, and as secretary of state pushed Obama to normalize relations with the Communist nation. A February Gallup poll showed that 59% of Americans support reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba.

http://time.com/3977216/hillary-clinton-cuba-embargo/

havana-live-cubaembargoHAVANA,  July 29   A Republican U.S. congressman filed a bill Tuesday to eliminate the decades-long U.S. embargo on Cuba.

U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, who won a seat in the House of Representatives in 2014, filed the Cuba Trade Act of 2015, which would remove restrictions on American businesses from trading with Cuba and allow Americans to travel to the island.

According to a USA Today report, Emmer decided to pursue a full repeal of the embargo after he visited Cuba in June, where he met with Cuban government officials and other citizens who live on the island.

“I understand there’s a lot of pain on both sides of this issue that goes back many decades, something that a kid from Minnesota is not going to necessarily be able to understand,” Emmer told a USA Today reporter.

“But I believe this is in the best interests of the Cuban people. This isn’t about the Cuban government — it’s about people on the street looking for more opportunity and to improve their quality of life.”

The U.S. embargo on Cuba has been in effect for 55 years.

havana-live-vote-cubaHAVANA,  July  29 (By Brooke Sartin)  “El bloqueo,” as Cubans call the United States’ 1962 embargo, consists of commercial, economic, and financial sanctions, as well as restrictions on travel and commerce with the island.

 The 54-year policy has failed to achieve its goals, namely that Cuba adopt a representative democracy and shed its communist rule.  Further goals of the embargo include the improvement of human rights and resolving $8 billion worth of financial claims (mostly in confiscated property) by corporations and individual families against the Cuban government.

Cuba does not pose the same threat to the United States that it once might have during the Cold War.  The USSR dissolved in 1991, and the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency released a report in 1998 stating, “Cuba does not pose a significant military threat to the U.S. or to other countries in the region.”

 The embargo can no longer be justified by the fear of Communism spreading throughout the Western Hemisphere, especially given that Americans are free to travel to other communist countries if they obtain a visa, including China, Vietnam, and North Korea.  Further, the embargo unfairly burdens and even harms the Cuban people.

 Cubans are denied access to technology, medicine, affordable food, and other goods.  Because of the embargo, Cuba has access to less than 50% of the drugs on the world market. Bone cancer medical treatments and antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS are not readily available in Cuba because many are commercialized under United States patents.
The embargo has been successful in that it has impacted the Cuban economy, costing the country over $1 trillion in its five-decade history; however, it has not effectively ousted communist rule just 90 miles from Florida’s coast.havana-live

The embargo is not only a pointless punishment on Cuba; it also negatively impacts the United States.  Namely, the United States’ embargo on Cuba is estimated to cost the United States between $1.2 and $4.8 billion annually.
Further, a 2010 study by Texas A&M University calculated that lifting the embargo could create 5,500 American jobs, jobs that are desperately needed in an economy that is still bouncing back from a devastating recession.

Further, the United Nations has denounced the embargo for 22 straight years, and the United States’ stubbornness in maintaining the embargo makes the country look immature and vindictive.
Despite the embargo, the United States is still conducting minimal business with Cuba, making the embargo seem even more senseless.  The United States has become Cuba’s fifth-largest trading partner since 2007.

 In 2001, after a devastating hurricane struck the island, the United States began exporting food to Cuba and is now the island’s second largest food supplier with sales peaking at $710 million in 2008.
The blockade has deprived United States citizens of Cuba’s many medical breakthroughs: the first meningitis B vaccine, treatments for the eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, a preservative for un-refrigerated milk, the cholesterol-reducing drug PPG, and CimaVax EFG—the first therapeutic vaccine for lung cancer.

Now that the United States has reopened its embassy in Havana and Cuba has raised a flag outside its own embassy in Washington, D.C., negotiations for the resumption of full diplomatic relations can continue.
A major issue to be addressed is that of human rights violations of the Cuban people, which the 2014 Human Rights Watch report stated that Cuba “continues to repress individuals and groups who criticize the government or call for basic human rights” through detentions, travel restrictions, beatings, and forced exile.

The Congressional Research Service reported that there are an estimated 65,000 to 70,000 prisoners incarcerated in Cuba as of May 2012, which is the second highest incarceration rate in the world. However, this incarceration rate is less than thirty-six of the states and the District of Columbia in the United States.

The United States’ efforts are aimed at promoting independence of the Cuban people and their rights to speak freely and peacefully assemble.  Cuba, in turn, wants the United States to return the illegally-held Guantanamo Bay, end the transmission of anti-Castro radio and television broadcasts, and compensate the country of Cuba for damages suffered as a result of the embargo.
To begin the long process of restoring diplomatic relations, the United States has already removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism; however, such full resolution will likely require many more discussions with many more compromises.

The question that arises is to what degree will reestablishing ties impact the ordinary lives of Cubans and Americans?  What will the future hold for these two countries?  Regardless of what happens going forward, in the words of one Cuban-American, “You can’t hold the future of Cuba hostage to what happened in the past.”

For now, one can only speculate on how and to what extent establishment of full diplomatic relations will have on both countries.  Likely, the United States will forcefully encourage Cuba to adopt some form of a representative democracy under the guise of maintaining good business practices.  However, such a guise is simply that, given that the United States’ business relationship with China, a communist country, is only growing.