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Amendments on Cuba passed in the USA, but...

Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 6:21 am
by Guysanto
Granma Internacional ... ckade.html

The blockade is still in place
Amendments on Cuba passed in the USA

Orlando Oramas León

THE president of the United States, Barack Obama, has passed a $410 billion federal budget law which includes 8% more spending than it did for the last fiscal year and changes to U.S. policies on Cuba.

That was one news agency article, similar to others reporting on the so-called "omnibus" bill Obama signed on March 11 to approve the national budget, which includes three amendments that would supposedly bring "relief," "mitigation" and "changes" to Washington's policies on Cuba.

Those amendments had been presented unsuccessfully in previous sessions of Congress, where they were blocked by anti-Cuban legislators linked to the Miami mafia and in conspiracy with the George W. Bush administration.

However, on the initiative of Democratic Congressman José Serrano, the amendments were included this time in a broad packet of measures financing almost the entire government apparatus, facilitating their approval despite fierce opposition from Cuban-born legislators and others who serve the interests of the counterrevolution.

After being passed in the House of Representatives and in the Senate and signed by President Obama, the March 11 omnibus bill contains a section (621) which stipulates the elimination of funds for administering, implementing or reinforcing restrictions on family visits to Cuba that were put in place June 16, 2004.

It was on that date that the restrictions of the so-called "Bush Plan for Transition in Cuba" went into effect, along with measures adding further obstacles to family visits, even rejecting universally-recognized ties between cousins, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces and other relatives. Bush ruled then that Cuban-Americans could only visit their families once every three years, only after applying for a license to do so and meeting other discriminatory requirements.

In order to comply with what is stipulated in the new budget law, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a new regulation on the same day, March 11, regarding family visits. It eliminates the measures of June 2004, providing for a "general license" with no expiration date, in contrast to the omnibus budget law, which expires on September 30.

At the same time, the Treasury Department issued "guidelines," according to which Cubans resident in the United States may visit their families in Cuba once a year beginning March 11, 2009. "Direct relative" is understood as "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." For example, a great-grandson and his wife are considered "close relatives" of the traveler, while the mother-in-law of a son is not included in that category for the purposes of the general license.

Anyone who visited Cuba between January and February of this year before the general license went into effect will be permitted to travel, given that those trips do not count for calculating the year required for the traveler to be approved to return to the land where he or she was born.

While under the 2004 Bush measures, travelers could only spend $50 daily during their restricted visits to the island, that limit is now $179 daily for those Cuban Americans who, in the midst of the U.S. crisis, have the financial solvency to make the trip. One of the guidelines for the general license stipulates that the visits have no set time limit.

Likewise, would-be travelers may apply for specific licenses if they wish to travel more than once a year, which would be approved or rejected on a "case by case" basis without any specified criteria established.

In addition, under Section 620 of the omnibus law, the secretary of the Treasury must enact a general license for authorizing travel to, from or within Cuba for the promotion and sale of agricultural and medical products. According to the department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), charged with enforcing compliance with the blockade's regulations, that general license will be issued in the coming weeks.

This section, however, has been the focus of the counteroffensive by anti-Cuban members of the U.S. Congress to prevent the implementation of the law's provisions on Cuba. In that respect, Democratic senators Bill Nelson (Florida) and Bob Menéndez (New Jersey), and Republican Mel Martínez (Florida) exchanged letters with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

In his response, Geithner promises that the general license will demand that travelers notify OFAC previously as to the purpose of their visit and subsequently on the outcome; in addition, the category of businesspeople who may use the license will be restricted.

The official's letter, which is a political document, not a legal one, immediately provoked a reaction from supporters of the amendments. In fact, members of the Working Group on Cuba in the House and in the Senate requested a meeting with the treasury secretary to demand explanations on how his commitment to the anti-Cuban legislators will be implemented.

A letter signed by 15 senators from that bipartisan group emphatically states that the Treasury Department is obliged to carry out the "clear intention of Congress," above all, because Section 622 of the law approved by Congress and signed by the U.S. president provides for eliminating the funds allocated for enforcing the February 2005 amendment that imposed upfront cash payment for Cuba's agricultural imports from the United States.

In his letter to the anti-Cuban legislators, Geithner says "U.S. exporters should continue receiving the upfront payments for deliveries and it will not be permitted to export to Cuba on credit, unless it is through a third-country bank."

With respect to the guidelines on that matter issued by OFAC on March 11, the treasury secretary himself has taken it upon himself to confirm that the new administration will continue to follow the restrictions imposed by the Bush government, under which ships transporting food to Cuba may not leave U.S. ports until the U.S. exporter has received payment.

Likewise, the March 11 law includes other financial items referring to other countries, including the approval of funds for radio-electronic warfare against Cuba via radio and TV broadcasts. The legislation also reiterates a ban on the use of funds for providing technical assistance or repairs to a list of countries that continues to include Cuba.

While the amendments approved on Cuba represent an initial setback for the anti-Cuban mafia and its representatives in Congress, in practice they do not change the siege of the Cuban people maintained by successive U.S. administrations.

These measures do not restore the right of Cubans resident in the United States to travel freely to Cuba or the right of U.S. citizens to visit the island.

Translated by Granma International

Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 6:22 am
by Guysanto
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Posted: Thu Mar 26, 2009 9:10 am
by Marilyn
Interesting that in spite of the tweaks in his direction, Menendez still didn't vote for the Omnibus bill.