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Thursday, February 3, 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.

On January 14, 2011, the Obama Administration announced a series of policy changes further easing restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba. According to the announcement, the policy changes are to be enacted through modifications to existing regulations and will take effect within 2 weeks. The measures will 1) increase purposeful travel to Cuba related to religious, educational, and journalistic activities; 2) allow any U.S. person to send remittances to non-family members in Cuba and make it easier for religious institutions to send remittances for religious activities; and 3) allow all U.S. international airports to provide services to licensed charter flights to and from Cuba. In most respects, these new measures appear to be similar to policies that were undertaken by the Clinton Administration in 1999, but were subsequently curtailed by the Bush Administration in 2003 and 2004. An exception is the expansion of airports to service licensed flights to and from Cuba.

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. Interest on the issue of Cuba travel restrictions may continue in the 112th Congress, potentially with various legislative initiatives introduced, but in a significantly changed U.S. political environment. (For further information, see CRS Report R40193, Cuba: Issues for the 111th Congress.)

Date of Report: January 18, 2011
Number of Pages: 39
Order Number: RL31139
Price: $29.95

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