With little fanfare, the U.S. government recently amended regulations to allow Cuban government officials and members of the Communist Party to benefit from the softening of sanctions, including receiving cash remittances and other perks.
The new beneficiaries include members of the Cuban Ministry of the Interior (MININT), the Central Committee of the Communist Party (PCC) and other branches of the Cuban government.
The change is part of the new round of regulations announced last week by the Obama administration. Along with measures that attracted widespread attention — such as the removal of the restrictions on the purchase of rum and tobacco by American travelers — this more discreet provision debunks a long-standing policy of prohibiting U.S. transactions with most members of the Cuban government, its political organizations and defense system.
As the updated Cuban Assets Control Regulations now stand, the prohibitions remain only for the members of the Politburo of the PCC, members of the Council of Ministers and high-ranking officials in the Cuban armed forces (FAR).
The category of “prohibited members” of the Cuban government and the Communist Party previously included members of MININT; the PCC secretaries and members of its Central Committee; members of Parliament; the Supreme Court; state media editors; deputy ministers and mid-level officials within the ministries; directors of companies and other state institutions; secretaries of the Confederation of Cuban Workers; and local chiefs of the Defense Committees of the Revolution (CDR).
These officials can now receive remittances without limits and take advantage of other benefits such as having their mobile phone accounts recharged from the U.S.
MININT has under its jurisdiction the police, the Department of State Security and the Directorate for Immigration and Naturalization, among other agencies. The Central Committee of the Communist Party, on the other hand, controls all state institutions, including the media.
The U.S. government has begun a low-key cooperation with MININT, which has been present in several official dialogues, including one that took place in Miami in February of this year. Members of this ministry also visited U.S. military installations in Key West in March.
As part of the efforts to normalize relations, the U.S. removed Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. Some Cuban companies were also eliminated from the list of entities that are blocked by the Treasury Department.
Critics of the Obama policy toward Cuba immediately questioned the measure.
“The Obama administration has just opened the door for the overwhelming majority of Castro regime officials to take advantage of the sanctions relief that was purportedly aimed to support the Cuban people and, more specifically, for Cuba’s independent entrepreneurs,” Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy political action committee that seeks to maintain the embargo, said in a scathing statement.
Claver-Carone added that “neighborhood repressors,” members of “its puppet legislature, secret police” and intelligence officials can “enjoy unlimited remittances, gift parcels, U-turn banking transactions, communication devices and even employ U.S.-based internet-related services.”
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres