Shifting Attitudes: The United States and its Budding Economic Relationship with Cuba

GINA LOREDO – On Monday, March 21, 2016, the entire world witnessed an unprecedented historic event, as United State’s President Barack Obama gathered with Cuban President Raul Castro at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana, Cuba.[1] This makes Obama the first sitting President to visit Cuba in 88 years, since President Calvin Coolidge’s visit in 1928.[2] The broadcast of this news conference opened up with a powerful image, symbolic of changing times in both countries; as both Presidents stood side by side with the American and Cuban flags cushioned between them.

Throughout his seven years in office President Obama has strived to create a legacy based on his accomplishments in the our country’s economic recovery, health care reform, and foreign policy. In pursuit of this legacy, he has not been afraid to push boundaries and spur controversy. His polemic efforts in re-establishing working diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba began in 2014 when significant amendments were made to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) and Export Administration Regulations (EAR).[3]

Although the deeply rooted disagreements between both countries’ views on Human Rights became the main focus of Monday’s news conference, issues regarding trade and economic opportunities for American and Cuban citizens were addressed. President Obama addressed the mutual benefit that can be derived through increased economic relations between the United States and Cuba, and in a bold move, he declared that “the embargo will be lifted”, without delving deeper into when this event would most likely take place.[4] President Obama said that amidst all of the changes that have been implemented, without Congress approval in lifting the embargo, the list of administrative measures that can be taken to further economic relations between the countries is dwindling.[5]

The administrative measures that have been taken in order to facilitate and legalize certain forms of trade, and create business opportunities for both American and Cuban citizens are set forth in amendments to the Cuba Assets Control Regulations that are codified in the Code of Federal Regulations.[6]

The most recent amendment to this regulation was effectuated on March 16, 2016. This amendment allows Americans to travel to Cuba for educational purposes that enhance contact with the Cuban people and support the civil society in Cuba.[7] The statutory prohibition on travel for mere tourist activities remains in place. [8] Additionally, Cuban nationals of the United States in a non-immigrant status will be authorized to earn a salary in the United States.[9] American companies will also be authorized to engage in business transactions that sponsor or hire Cuban nationals to work or perform in the United States.[10] In both of these cases, the regulations specifically provide that no additional payment are made to the Cuban government in connection to such opportunities. [11]

Another important aspect of this new amendment is that the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), will expand the authorization of entities that can be physically present in Cuba, such as offices, retail outlets, or warehouses, “to include entities that engage in authorized humanitarian projects, entities that engage in authorized noncommercial activities intended to provide support for the Cuban people, and private foundations or research or educational institutes engaging in certain authorized activities”.[12] OFAC will also expand the current “authorization for ‘business presence’ (such as a joint venture) to include exporters of goods that are authorized for export or re-export to Cuba or that are exempt, entities providing mail or parcel transmission services or cargo transportation services, and providers of carrier and travel services to facilitate authorized transactions.”[13]

The various amendments made to the current regulations signal the emergence of a variety of new business ventures that can be established in Cuba by American business entities. It also allows for a greater influx of resources to the Cuban community and, in turn, promotes travel from the United States into Cuba. As stated by U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, these “amendments build upon President Obama’s historic actions to improve our country’s relationship with Cuba and its people. These steps not only expand opportunities for economic engagement between the Cuban people and the American business community, but will also improve the lives of millions of Cuba’s citizens”.

With this in mind, despite the many differences between our two countries’ ideologies, if a restriction that was enacted over half of a century ago has not served the interest of our country nor has the intended positive change in the Cuban government; it seems illogical to continue doing things the same way. Just as the United States has found diplomatic methods of engaging in international trade and economic activity with other countries, despite their deeply engrained disagreements on a variety of political and social issues, the same is possible with Cuba, and President Obama’s visit to Havana marked the beginning of a shifting American attitude on the subject.


[1] Matt Spetalnick and Frank Jack Daniel, Obama spars with Cuba’s Castro over human rights in historic visit, Reuters (Mar. 21,2016),

[2] Emily Saul, Looking back on 88 years since the last president visited Cuba, New York Post (Mar. 21, 2016),

[3] Treasury and Commerce Announce Significant Amendments to The Cuba Sanctions Regulations Ahead of President Obama’s Historic Trip to Cuba, U.S. Treasury Department Office of Public Affairs, 1 (2016),

[4] Kevin Liptak, Obama tells Raul Castro: Cuban embargo is going to end, CNN Politics (Mar. 21, 2016) ttp://

[5] David Francis, Obama’s Cuba reset is now in the hands of congress. Too bad it won’t budge, The Cable (Mar. 21, 2016),

[6] Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. § 515

[7] Treasury and Commerce Announce Significant Amendments to The Cuba Sanctions Regulations Ahead of President Obama’s Historic Trip to Cuba, U.S. Treasury Department Office of Public Affairs, 1 (2016),

[8] Id. at 2

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id. at 3

[13] Id.

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