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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cuba: U.S. Restrictions on Travel and Remittances

Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Restrictions on travel to Cuba have been a key and often contentious component in U.S. efforts to isolate Cuba’s communist government since the early 1960s. Under the George W. Bush Administration, restrictions on travel and on private remittances to Cuba were tightened. In March 2003, the Administration eliminated travel for people-to-people educational exchanges unrelated to academic coursework. In June 2004, the Administration further restricted family and educational travel, eliminated the category of fully-hosted travel, and restricted remittances so that they could only be sent to the remitter’s immediate family. Initially there was mixed reaction to the Administration’s June 2004 tightening of Cuba travel and remittance restrictions, but opposition to the policy grew, especially within the Cuban American community regarding the restrictions on family travel and remittances.

Under the Obama Administration, Congress took action in 2009 to ease some restrictions on travel to Cuba by including two provisions in the FY2009 omnibus appropriations measure (P.L. 111-8), which President Obama signed into law on March 11, 2009. The first provision eased restrictions on family travel, which the Treasury Department implemented by issuing a general license for such travel as it existed prior to the Bush Administration’s tightening of family travel restrictions in 2004. The second provision eased travel restrictions related to the marketing and sale of agricultural and medical goods to Cuba, and required the Treasury Department to issue a general license for such travel. Subsequently, in April 2009, President Obama announced that his Administration would go further and allow unlimited family travel and remittances. Regulations implementing these changes were issued in September 2009. The new regulations also included the authorization of general licenses for travel transactions for telecommunications-related sales and for attendance at professional meetings related to commercial telecommunications.

While numerous other legislative initiatives were introduced in the 111
th Congress that would have lifted or eased U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba, no action was completed on these measures. The House Agriculture Committee reported out H.R. 4645 (Peterson) in June 2010, a bill that would have lifted all restrictions on travel to Cuba. The House Committee on Foreign Affairs was scheduled to hold a markup of the bill in September 2010, but postponed consideration and no further action was taken. An identical Senate companion bill, S. 3112 (Klobuchar), had been introduced in March 2010. Several other legislative initiatives were introduced in the 111th Congress that would have lifted or eased Cuba travel restrictions: H.R. 874 (Delahunt)/S. 428 (Dorgan) and H.R. 1528 (Rangel) would have prohibited restrictions on travel to Cuba; H.R. 188 (Serrano), H.R. 1530 (Rangel), and H.R. 2272 (Rush), which would have lifted the overall embargo on Cuba, would also have lifted travel restrictions; H.R. 1531 (Rangel)/S. 1089 (Baucus), which would have facilitated the export of U.S. agricultural products to Cuba, would also have prohibited Cuba travel restrictions; H.R. 332 (Lee) would have eased restrictions on educational travel; and S. 774 (Dorgan), H.R. 1918 (Flake), and S. 1517 (Murkowski) would have allowed for travel related to hydrocarbon exploration and extraction activities. In contrast, H.Con.Res. 132 (Tiahrt) would have call for the fulfillment of certain democratic conditions before the United States increases trade and tourism to Cuba. Interest on the issue of Cuba travel restrictions may continue in the 112th Congress, potentially with legislative initiatives introduced, but in a significantly changed U.S. political environment.

For additional information, see CRS Report R40193, Cuba: Issues for the 111
th Congress.

Date of Report: January 7, 2011
Number of Pages: 34
Order Number: RL31139
Price: $29.95

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