President Obama signed an executive order on January 14 that will ease embargo restrictions on travel to Cuba for academic, religious, journalistic, and cultural purposes. Policies on charter flights from the US to Cuba will also be loosened, as will regulations on remittances. The new policy will allow all US residents (not just those with family on in Cuba) to send remittances to Cubans on the island, provided that they are not senior government officials, or senior members of Cuba’s communist party.
The word “senior” is key here–I know that senior government officials represent a high tier of government workers, and this is an important distinction to make in a country where nearly 85% of the population works for the state. I’m not sure who qualifies as a “senior” member of the communist party, but I believe there’s a difference between members and senior members. Certain major US-based news outlets, including AP, reported that remittances could not be sent to any employee of the Castro administration or member of the communist party. This is not accurate. If this were really the case, it would exclude a decent chunk of Cuba’s population
My post on Global Voices takes a look at reactions from various sides of the Cuba-focused (and Cuba-obsessed) blogosphere. Here they are in brief:
Those (in the US and in Cuba) who want the two countries to move towards establishing legitimate diplomatic relations are happy. Those in the US who think that US-Cuba policy may just need to remain as it is for another decade or two are unhappy. Marco Rubio is furious. Meanwhile, Cuban government officials are skeptical of what this will mean for future relations between the two countries. The Ministry of Exterior Relations (MINREX) issued a statement suggesting that the reforms represent a “new [way] to achieve its objectives of historical domination of our people.” They acknowledged that the reforms were positive but insufficient, and criticized Obama for allowing only “certain categories of citizens” the right to travel to Cuba freely, noting that Cuba is the only country on earth to which US citizens may not visit. Funny coming from a government that denies most of its citizens freedom of movement.
Another piece that’s worth following is the impact that this has on most academics in Florida, which is none. State law prohibits state employees (including faculty and staff at state-funded universities) from traveling to Cuba, and federal law cannot override this. I have long been shocked and puzzled by this policy. I hope that Obama’s move can help build momentum towards changing it, but I’m not sure how likely this is. Read more about this at the Miami Herald.