Sunday, December 21st, 2014

The Obameter

Grant Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send money to Cuba

"Cuban American connections to family in Cuba are not only a basic right in humanitarian terms, but also our best tool for helping to foster the beginnings of grassroots democracy on the island. Accordingly, as president, Obama will grant Cuban Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island."

Updates

Historic agreement expands visiting rights and more

In a historic move, President Barack Obama announced on Dec. 17 that the United States will begin talks with Cuba on normalizing relations after five decades and re-open an embassy in Havana.

The announcement included Cuba releasing USAID worker Alan Gross and a CIA agent who had been jailed in Cuba for nearly 20 years. Meanwhile, the U.S. released three Cuban spies imprisoned in Florida.

During his 2008 campaign, Obama promised to grant Americans unrestricted rights to visit family in Cuba and send money. It is one of hundreds of promises PolitiFact has tracked on our Obamameter.

In April 2009, Obama announced that he had taken steps to increase remittances and make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba to see relatives. We gave Obama a Promise Kept for those key developments at the time, but his latest announcement takes that a step further.

Obama's recent announcement increases the allowable amount of nonfamily remittances from $500 to $2,000 per quarter to any Cuban national, with the exception of Cuba government officials or communist party officials. Also, remittances for humanitarian projects and development of private businesses in Cuba will no longer require a specific license. Remittance forwarders will also no longer be required to hold a specific license.

In 2009, Obama made it easier for family members to travel; in 2011 he expanded travel in several other categories, including for educational, cultural or religious reasons and for journalists.

With the more recent announcement, the White House said it will expand travel under the licenses for the 12 existing categories. (However, it will remain illegal for tourists to travel to Cuba because it is banned in federal law.) The change also means that Americans can use their credit cards in Cuba and bring back $400 worth of goods from Cuba, including up to $100 of cigars and alcohol combined.

"We are taking steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba," Obama said. "This is fundamentally about freedom and openness, and also expresses my belief in the power of people-to-people engagement. With the changes I'm announcing today, it will be easier for Americans to travel to Cuba."

Under the new policy, all categories will have general licenses which means people won't have to seek prior approval from the U.S. government. The .U.S. Treasury will release more details in the coming weeks.

"The administration is signaling that it wants more of these visits approved," Boston University Professor Paul Hare told PolitiFact. "But, that said, the prices of these visits are still high, and the control of where people stay and what they see will still be in place. … But permission for the use of U.S. credit cards and U.S. bank arrangements in Cuba will make it much easier for NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), universities, etc. to run fuller programs in Cuba and for visitors to spend more beyond the cost of their formal visit arrangements."

Obama's actions -- increasing the amount of remittances and making it easier to travel to Cuba -- mean that this remains Promise Kept.

Sources:

White House fact sheet, "Charting a new course on Cuba," Dec. 18, 2014

U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control, "Cuba: what you need to know about U.S.sanctions against Cuba," Jan. 24, 2012

Wall Street Journal Washington Wire, "Cigars, rum and credit cards what is in U.S.-Cuba agreement," Dec. 18, 2014

Miami Herald, "After a half century, a thaw in U.S.-Cuba ties," Dec. 18, 2014

Interview, Hagar Chemali, U.S. Treasury spokeswoman, Dec. 18, 2014

 

Obama lifts restrictions on travel and remittances to family in Cuba

President Barack Obama made good on a significant campaign promise to Cuban-Americans with an announcement on April 13, 2009, that he had taken steps to allow Americans to make unlimited trips to family members in Cuba, and to lift restrictions on money sent to them.

The formal announcement of this major shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba came from White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

"Today, President Obama has directed that a series of steps be taken to reach out to the Cuban people to support their desire to enjoy basic human rights and to freely determine their country's future," Gibbs said at the beginning of the daily news briefing. "The president has directed the secretaries of state, treasury and commerce to carry out the actions necessary to lift all restrictions on the ability of individuals to visit family members in Cuba and to send them remittances.

"He's further directed that steps be taken to enable the freer flow of information among the Cuban people and between those in Cuba and the rest of the world, as well as to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian items directly to the Cuban people. In taking these steps to help bridge the gap among divided Cuban families and ... to promote the increased flow of information and humanitarian items to the Cuban people, President Obama is working to fulfill the goals he identified both during his presidential campaign and since taking office.

"All who embrace core democratic values long for a Cuba that respects the basic human, political and economic rights of all of its citizens. President Obama believes the measure he has taken today will help make that goal a reality. He encourages all who share it to continue their steadfast support for the Cuban people."

The announcement came just days ahead of Obama heading to a Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, and is intended to encourage dialogue and, ultimately, reform.

"It's very important to help open up space so the Cuban people can work on the kind of grass-roots democracy that is necessary to move Cuba to a better future," Daniel Restrepo, special assistant to the president and senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs, said at the news conference. "The president promised us during the campaign, and he is making good on that promise today to extend his hand to the Cuban people to ensure that they have more independence from the regime, and the ability to start working down the path that we all want to see them succeed on. ... This is reaching out to the Cuban people."

The promise Restrepo was referring to came during a speech to the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami on May 23, 2008.

"It's time for a new strategy," Obama said then. "There are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban-Americans. That's why I will immediately allow unlimited family travel and remittances to the island. It's time to let Cuban-Americans see their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers. It's time to let Cuban-American money make their families less dependent upon the Castro regime."

And as he said he would then, Obama has pledged to maintain the embargo as "leverage to present the regime with a clear choice: If you take significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the freeing of all political prisoners, we will take steps to begin normalizing relations."

Specifically, the policy will:

* Lift all restrictions on family travel to Cuba. The policy defines family members as persons within three degrees of family relationship (for example, second cousins) and will remove limits on the frequency and duration of visits. According to the Associated Press, about 1.5 million Americans have relatives on the island nation that turned to communist rule in 1959 when Fidel Castro seized control.

* Remove restrictions on remittances to family members in Cuba. The policy lifts limits on the frequency and amount of remittances to family members in Cuba, provided they are not currently prohibited members of the government of Cuba or Cuban Communist Party.

* Authorize U.S. telecommunications network providers to enter into agreements to establish fiber-optic cable and satellite telecommunications facilities linking the United States and Cuba.

* License U.S. telecommunications service providers to enter into roaming service agreements with Cuba"s telecommunications service providers.

* License U.S. satellite radio and satellite television service providers to pursue services to customers in Cuba.

* License persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to activate and pay U.S. and third-country service providers for telecommunications, satellite radio and satellite television services provided to Cubans.

* Authorize the the export to Cuba of donation of certain consumer telecommunication devices such as mobile phones, computers and software, and satellite receivers through a license exception.

* Add some humanitarian items to the list of donations eligible for export, including clothing, personal hygiene items, seeds, veterinary medicines and supplies, fishing equipment, and soapmaking equipment.

Obama was very clear and specific in his promise. And the policy announced by the White House wholly fulfills his pledge to grant Cuban-Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island. If any of the policy changes that Obama has directed be done get bogged down we reserve the right to revisit this issue. But right now, we rate it a Promise Kept.

Sources:

CQ Transcripts, White House regular News Briefing with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, April 13, 2009

Cuban American National Foundation, Text of Obama's speech at the Cuban Independence Day Luncheon , May 23, 2008

AP, "Obama allowing travel, money transfers to Cuba," by Jennifer Loven, April 13, 2009

Cuba restrictions relaxed as families await Obama's review

Congress finished up the previous year's budget business when it passed an omnibus spending bill that became law on March 11. A small provision of that bill included language that had the effect of relaxing standards for people who would like to visit family in Cuba.

The U.S. Treasury Department issued guidance the same day that said that people could now visit family every year, instead of every three years. The guidance also expanded the definition of family from immediate family members to "any individual related to the traveler by blood, marriage, or adoption who is no more than three generations removed from the traveler or from a common ancestor with the traveler." And it permitted higher spending limits while the person visits, up to $179 per day.

Certainly, this is not the "unrestricted" rights to visit Obama promised. But a White House spokeswoman said that the legislation was drafted before Obama took office, and that he is still conducting his own review of Cuba policy. So we rate this promise In the Works.

Sources:

Thomas, Omnibus spending bill , March 11, 2009

U.S. Treasury Department, Guidance On Implementation Of Cuba Travel And Trade-Related Provisions Of The Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009 , March 11, 2009

E-mail interview with Gannet Tseggai, White House Office of Media Affairs