1 LiveBloggin' the ICW: January 2015

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Cuba - What's Really Changed?

The net is just buzzing with talk about Cuba since the release yesterday (Jan 16, 2015) of the new US regulations regarding the embargo. Everyone wants to go to Cuba - nothing new there - but just what do the new regulations actually say? That's the real question, and it's not being properly answered by most of the people discussing it.
For those of a legal bent, I'm going to include links to the new regs at the end of this article, so you can nitpick to your heart's content. For the rest of us, it'll be a bit more ad hoc.
First of all, what has actually changed in regards to taking a boat to Cuba?
The short answer? Everything...and nothing. Recreational boating to Cuba has not been approved. In fact, 'recreational' tourism outside of the person to person tours has not been approved. You still cannot legally go to Cuba and swill mojitos on the beach.
Here's what senior administration officials have said: [the new regulations] "...are not meant to facilitate tourist travel to Cuba, as tourist travel remains prohibited by statute."
Well, isn't that a bummer? But remember, I said "legally". We'll come back to that comment.
The big change and the one that's going to bring more Americans to Cuba are the changes in the 'general license' structure.
Prior to yesterday, certain individuals were permitted to go to Cuba if they fit certain criteria placing them in either a 'general' or 'specific' license category. Those groups included Cuban Americans with family in Cuba, those on official U.S. government business, including some intergovernmental organizations; journalists; professional research; educational and religious activities; cultural including public performances, athletic and other competitions.
The specific license category required that you file an application with the Office of Foreign Asset Controls (OFAC); the general license category was by declaration, subject to proof of qualification if demanded.
Here's how it works: an American journalist can legally go to Cuba for work purposes under a general license. That hasn't changed.
So there you are with your sailing blog. That's journalism, isn't it? Well, yes, but not in this case.
Unless you have a significant and verifiable presence as a journalist, which includes getting paid for your work, you don't qualify. The devil truly is in the details, and there are lots of them.
But let's say that you really are a journalist - and you want to sail to Cuba (are you listening Peter S?) or otherwise qualify legally...can you now sail there?
That's not clear. You couldn't do so previously, and there appears to be nothing in the new regs changing that. The answer to that one will have to wait until someone asks the question, but given that travel by boat is largely seen as recreational, I don't see it changing in the immediate future.
Now, I did say 'legally'...here's what I think is going to happen.
A lot of Americans are going to find some way to travel to Cuba by 'fitting' themselves into the legal categories. That wouldn't be particularly hard to do as a quick read of the new regulations will show you.
It won't be a good fit and in many if not most cases, it won't be legal. But if the US government doesn't care, and doesn't bother with verifying those individuals - accepting in good faith people's declarations that they are a bona fide writer for the Podunk Daily Chronicler, or the Grand Supremo Guru of the Church of the Book of Jib - then it's going to happen.
That means that some people are going to choose to travel to Cuba by boat. I don't doubt that a half dozen set off today from Key West actually.
The real test will be in the reaction of the government to those doing this. I suspect there will be no reaction, that the government has no intention of prosecuting anyone for traveling to Cuba, no matter how they get there, or why. In that way, they can create pressure to totally lift the embargo, which is this administration's apparent goal.
Time will tell. My next blog, I'll discuss what it's like to actually travel in Cuba by boat....in the meantime, for your viewing pleasure, and because I'm such a tease...here's a video about a Saturday night in Cuba - enjoy, and stay tuned, there's more to come!

Oh yes, I did promise some links for the nitpickers and the legally savvy amongst us, if that's not being redundant... - http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Pages/cuba.aspx and also http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba_faqs_new.pdf