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LatinNews Daily - 24 September 2020

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CUBA: US slaps more sanctions on Cuba

On 23 September US President Donald Trump announced more economic sanctions on Cuba, including a prohibition on US travellers staying at properties owned by the Cuban government.

Analysis:

This is latest sign of the hard-line policy pursued by the Trump administration against Cuba, citing human rights violations and its support of Venezuela’s de facto government led by Nicolás Maduro. The measures, which aim to deprive the Cuban government led by President Miguel Díaz-Canel of much-needed revenue, have been slammed by Díaz-Canel and Trump critics as electoral and a bid to win over Cuban-American votes in the swing state of Florida ahead of the 3 November US presidential election. With other US economic sanctions having proved damaging to Cuba even before the onset of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the latest measures, which take effect today (24 September), will deal a further blow to the island’s economy which is forecast to contract by 8% this year on the latest estimate by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Eclac).

  • The US Department of State announced the creation of the Cuba Prohibited Accommodations (CPA) List which includes 433 properties that are “owned or controlled by the Cuban regime or certain well-connected insiders”. It states that authorised travellers should instead “stay in private accommodations, or casas particulares, owned and operated by legitimately independent entrepreneurs”. This builds upon the Cuba restricted list, which includes multiple properties specifically affiliated with the Cuban security, military, or intelligence services, by extending the prohibition to all state-run properties.
  • The changes also introduce further restrictions on importing Cuba-origin alcohol and tobacco products, overturning the policy of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama (2009-2017), which allowed US travellers to bring back as much Cuban rum and cigars that they could carry in their baggage for personal use. The measures also further restrict lawful travel to Cuba by prohibiting travel for professional meetings and conferences as well as for certain competitions, performances, and other events. 
  • Other examples of increased US pressure on Cuba, which has intensified in the past two years, include last month’s announcement suspending private charter flights to all airports in Cuba, including Havana (public charter flights between the US and all Cuban airports bar Havana were suspended in January, while in October 2019, the US banned commercial flights to all Cuban cities other than Havana); a cap on remittances at US$1,000 per quarter; and sanctions on several shipping companies and vessels that transported Venezuelan oil to Cuba, among other things.
  • Indicative of the economic pressures on Cuba’s economy and key tourism sector (which accounted for 10.3% of GDP in 2019 on figures from the World Travel & Tourism Council), as a result of the economic sanctions and pandemic, the Cuban government has been forced to introduce emergency economic measures in recent months. These include the elimination of the 10% tax on US dollars in place since 2004; opening of more shops that accept only foreign currencies and an easing of restrictions regarding business activities permitted in the country’s fledgling private sector.

Looking Ahead: Questions persist as to the immediate impact of the new sacntions given the lack of US visitors to the island due to the pandemic and the suspension of commercial air travel (Havana airport remains shut to all tourists). However, in a telephone briefing yesterday US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Carrie Filipetti said the new policy would continue “even past the pandemic”.