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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cuba: Issues for the 112th Congress


Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Cuba remains a one-party communist state with a poor record on human rights. The country’s political succession in 2006 from the long-ruling Fidel Castro to his brother Raúl was characterized by a remarkable degree of stability. The government of Raúl Castro has implemented limited economic policy changes, including an expansion of self-employment begun in October 2010. A party congress held in April laid out numerous economic goals that could increase the private sector. Few observers expect the government to ease its tight control over the political system, although it has reduced the number of political prisoners over the past several years, including the release of more than 125 since mid-2010 after talks with the Catholic Church.

Since the early 1960s, U.S. policy has consisted largely of isolating Cuba through economic sanctions. A second policy component has consisted of support measures for the Cuban people, including U.S.-sponsored broadcasting and support for human rights activists. In light of Fidel Castro’s departure as head of government, many observers called for a reexamination of policy. Two broad approaches toward Cuba have been at the center of debate. The first is to maintain the dual-track policy of isolating the Cuban government while providing support to the Cuban people. The second is aimed at changing attitudes in the Cuban government and society through increased engagement. Since taking office, the Obama Administration has lifted restrictions on family travel and remittances, moved to reengage Cuba on migration and other bilateral issues, and, in January 2011, announced further measures to ease restrictions on purposeful travel and non-family remittances. The Administration has criticized the government’s repression of dissidents, but it has welcomed the release of political prisoners as a positive sign. The Administration has continued to call for the release of a U.S. government subcontractor, Alan Gross, detained since late 2009 who was sentenced to 15 years in March 2011.

Strong interest on Cuba is continuing in the 112th Congress, focused on a number of issues, including U.S. sanctions, the human rights situation, Cuba’s imprisonment of a U.S. government subcontractor, the status of Cuba’s economic reforms and its offshore oil development, and U.S. democracy programs. The House Appropriations Committee-approved version of the FY2012 Financial Services Appropriations bill, H.R. 2434, would (in Section 901) roll back President Obama’s actions easing restrictions on remittances and family travel and (in Section 618) continue to clarify the definition of “payment of cash in advance” for U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba during FY2012. (P.L. 112-10, enacted in April 2011, continued the “payment of cash in advance” provision for FY2011.) Several introduced bills would ease sanctions: H.R. 255 and H.R. 1887 (overall sanctions); H.R. 833 and H.R. 1888 (agricultural exports); H.R. 380 and H.R. 1886 (travel). Two initiatives, S. 603 and H.R. 1166, would modify a trademark sanction, while several bills already noted would eliminate that sanction (H.R. 255, H.R. 1887, and H.R. 1888). Three bills would take different approaches toward Cuba’s offshore oil development: H.R. 372, S. 405, and H.R. 2047. Two initiatives would discontinue Radio and TV Martí broadcasts to Cuba: S. 476 and H.R. 1317. One resolution would call for the return of U.S. fugitives in Cuba.

For additional information, see CRS Report RL31139, Cuba: U.S. Restrictions on Travel and Remittances, by Mark P. Sullivan, and CRS Report R41522, Cuba’s Offshore Oil Development: Background and U.S. Policy Considerations, by Neelesh Nerurkar and Mark P. Sullivan.



Date of Report: July 15, 2011
Number of Pages: 65
Order Number: R41617
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Honduran-U.S. Relations


Peter J. Meyer
Analyst in Latin American Affairs

On January 27, 2010, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa was inaugurated President of Honduras, assuming power after seven months of domestic political crisis and international isolation that had resulted from the June 28, 2009 ouster of President Manuel Zelaya. While the strength of Lobo’s National Party in the legislature has enabled the Administration to pass much of its policy agenda, Lobo has made only limited progress in addressing the challenges inherited as a result of the political crisis. Several efforts to foster political reconciliation have helped Honduras secure international recognition but have done little to lesson domestic polarization. Likewise, human rights abuses—which increased significantly in the aftermath of Zelaya’s ouster—have continued, and the citizen security situation has deteriorated. In June 2011, 45% of Hondurans approved of Lobo’s performance in office.

In addition to the political problems inherited as a result of the 2009 ouster, Lobo has had to contend with a weak economy. Honduras suffered an economic contraction of 2.1% in 2009 as the global financial crisis, together with the domestic political crisis, led to significant declines in tourism, remittances, export earnings, and foreign investment. Lobo has pushed a number of reforms through Congress designed to restore macroeconomic stability, strengthen public finances, and encourage sustained economic growth. Although these reforms have generated considerable opposition from some sectors of Honduran society, they have the support of the international financial institutions, which are now providing Honduras with access to much needed development financing. The economy began to recover in 2010, with estimated growth of 2.8%, and is expected to grow by 3.8% in 2011. Nonetheless, significant development challenges remain. Approximately 60% of Honduras’ eight million citizens live below the poverty line and the country performs poorly on a number of social indicators.

Although relations were strained during the political crisis, the United States has traditionally had a close relationship with Honduras. Broad U.S. policy goals in the country include a strengthened democracy with an effective justice system that protects human rights and promotes the rule of law, and the promotion of sustainable economic growth with a more open economy and improved living conditions. In addition to providing Honduras with substantial amounts of foreign assistance ($50.2 million in FY2010) and maintaining significant military and economic ties, the United States cooperates with Honduras on transnational issues such as migration, crime, narcotics trafficking, trafficking in persons, and port security.

The 111
th Congress expressed considerable interest in Honduras as a result of the 2009 political crisis and its aftermath. Several resolutions were introduced and multiple hearings were held. Issues such as human rights abuses, the state of democracy, security challenges, and the treatment of U.S. businesses have continued to be of interest to the 112th Congress. On June 15, 2011, a bill (H.R. 2200) was introduced in the House to limit U.S. assistance to Honduras unless the President certifies that the Government of Honduras has settled all outstanding expropriation claims brought by U.S. companies.

This report examines current political and economic conditions in Honduras as well as issues in Honduran-U.S. relations. For a more detailed examination of the Honduran political crisis, see CRS Report R41064, Honduran Political Crisis, June 2009-January 2010.



Date of Report: July 14, 2011
Number of Pages: 30
Order Number: RL34027
Price: $29.95

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Tuesday, July 19, 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.

In January 2011, the Obama Administration announced policy changes further easing restrictions on travel and remittances. The measures (1) increase purposeful travel to Cuba related to religious, educational, and people-to-people exchanges; (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) permit all U.S. international airports to apply to provide services to licensed charter flights. These new measures, with the exception of the expansion of eligible airports, are similar to policies that were undertaken by the Clinton Administration in 1999, but subsequently curtailed by the Bush Administration in 2003-2004.

Interest on the issue of Cuba travel and remittances is continuing in the 112
th Congress. The House Appropriations Committee version of the FY2012 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, H.R. 2434, would roll back President Obama’s easing of restrictions on remittances and family travel. In contrast, several initiatives have been introduced that would lift travel restrictions. H.R. 1886 would prohibit restrictions on travel to Cuba. H.R. 1888, in addition to removing some restrictions on the export of U.S. agricultural products to Cuba, would also prohibit Cuba travel restrictions. Two initiatives that would lift the overall Cuba embargo, H.R. 255 and H.R. 1887, also would lift restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba. H.R. 380 would prohibit the Treasury Department from making any funds to implement, administer, or enforce regulations requiring specific licenses for travel-related transactions directly related to educational activities in Cuba. (For further information, see CRS Report R41617, Cuba: Issues for the 112th Congress.)


Date of Report: July 15, 2011
Number of Pages: 40
Order Number: RL31139
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Venezuela: Issues for Congress


Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

The United States traditionally has had close relations with Venezuela, a major supplier of foreign oil, but there has been friction in relations under the government of populist President Hugo Chávez. U.S. officials have expressed concerns about human rights, Venezuela’s military arms purchases, its relations with Cuba and Iran, and its efforts to export its brand of populism to other Latin American countries. Declining cooperation on anti-drug and anti-terrorism efforts has also been a concern. In September 2008, bilateral relations worsened when President Chávez expelled the U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, and the United States responded in kind. Under the Obama Administration, Venezuela and the United States reached an agreement for the return of respective ambassadors in July 2009. While some observers were hopeful that the return of ambassadors would mark an improvement in relations, this has not been the case. In December 2010, Venezuela revoked its agreement for the appointment of Larry Palmer, nominated to be U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela. The United States responded by revoking the diplomatic visa of Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alavrez.

Under the rule of President Chávez, first elected in 1998 and reelected to a six-year term in December 2006, Venezuela has undergone enormous political changes, with a new constitution and unicameral legislature, and a new name for the country, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Human rights organizations have expressed concerns about the deterioration of democratic institutions and threats to freedom of expression under President Chávez. The government benefitted from the rise in world oil prices, which sparked an economic boom and allowed Chávez to increase expenditures on social programs associated with his populist agenda. These programs have helped reduce poverty levels significantly, but the Venezuelan economy was hit hard by the global financial crisis and economic downturn.

Venezuelans approved a constitutional referendum in February 2009 that abolished term limits, allowing Chávez to run for reelection in 2012. Since 2009, the government has increased efforts to suppress the political opposition, including elected municipal and state officials. In January 2010, the government shut down the cable station RCTV-Internacional, prompting domestic protests and international concern about freedom of expression. In legislative elections held in September 2010, opposition parties won 67 out of 165 seats in the National Assembly, denying President Chávez’s ruling party a supermajority and providing the opposition with a voice in government. In December 2010, however, Venezuela’s outgoing National Assembly approved a law granting President Chávez far-reaching decree powers for 18 months that undermined the authority of the new Assembly that was inaugurated in January 2011.

As in past years, there are concerns in the 112
th Congress regarding the state of Venezuela’s democracy and human rights situation and its deepening relations with Iran. In May 2011, the State Department sanctioned the Venezuelan oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PdVSA), under the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Disinvestment Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-195), for providing for providing refined petroleum products to Iran. The sanctions do not prohibit the export of oil to the United States and exclude PdVSA subsidiaries. To date in the 112th Congress, just one initiative has been introduced on Venezuela: H.Res. 247 calls on the Secretary of State to designate Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism.


Date of Report: June 27, 2011
Number of Pages: 55
Order Number: R40938
Price: $29.95

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Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail Penny Hill Press or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.

Wednesday, July 13, 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.

In January 2011, the Obama Administration announced policy changes further easing restrictions on travel and remittances. The measures (1) increase purposeful travel to Cuba related to religious, educational, and people-to-people exchanges; (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) permit all U.S. international airports to apply to provide services to licensed charter flights. These new measures, with the exception of the expansion of eligible airports, are similar to policies that were undertaken by the Clinton Administration in 1999, but subsequently curtailed by the Bush Administration in 2003-2004.

Interest on the issue of Cuba travel and remittances is continuing in the 112
th Congress. The House Appropriations Committee version of the FY2012 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, H.R. 2434,would roll back President Obama’s easing of restrictions on remittances and family travel. In contrast, several initiatives have been introduced that would lift travel restrictions. H.R. 1886 would prohibit restrictions on travel to Cuba. H.R. 1888, in addition to removing some restrictions on the export of U.S. agricultural products to Cuba, would also prohibit Cuba travel restrictions. Two initiatives that would lift the overall Cuba embargo, H.R. 255 and H.R. 1887, also would lift restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba. H.R. 380 would prohibit the Treasury Department from making any funds to implement, administer, or enforce regulations requiring specific licenses for travel-related transactions directly related to educational activities in Cuba. (For further information, see CRS Report R41617, Cuba: Issues for the 112th Congress.)


Date of Report: July 7, 2011
Number of Pages: 40
Order Number: RL31139
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at
http://www.twitter.com/alertsPHP or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail Penny Hill Press or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.