President Barack Obama announced this week a reset in the United States’ relations with Cuba, including establishing full diplomatic relations and easing travel restrictions, among other things. None of the new rules about Cuba take effect until they are published in the federal register in the coming weeks. But based on information released so far by the White House, the State Department and Treasury Department, here are some initial answers to questions:
Does this mean anyone can travel to Cuba now?
Technically no — tourism is still banned according to federal law. The 12 categories of allowed reasons for travel — which existed before Obama’s announcement — are still in effect. Some of those reasons include to visit family or for educational, religious or humanitarian activities. It will be easier to travel to Cuba because none of those categories will now require a general license, which means people won’t have to seek prior approval from the U.S. government (previously some of them did). The Treasury Department will release more details in the coming weeks.
How many cigars and bottles of rum can I bring back if I travel to Cuba?
Visitors can bring back $400 worth of goods from Cuba, including up to $100 of cigars and alcohol combined.
Can I use my American Express or Mastercard when I go to Cuba?
Yes. The federal government will release rules about this in the next few weeks, but Obama’s announcement will allow U.S. travelers in Cuba to use American credit cards. None of the announced changes takes effect until the new regulations are issued.
Is there a limit on how much money I can send to Cuba?
Obama raised the limit from $500 to $2,000 for nonfamily remittances per quarter to any Cuban national, with the exception of Cuba government officials or communist party officials.
Why can’t President Obama lift the trade embargo on Cuba?
Under the federal law known as Helms-Burton, it would require a vote by Congress to lift the embargo. The law says embargo stays in place until Cuba holds free and fair elections, releases political prisoners and guarantees free speech and workers’ rights. The embargo has existed in some form since 1960 but it was under the president’s purview until Congress, with the advocacy of Miami U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz Balart, passed Helms-Burton in 1996.
However, while the embargo will remain, the U.S. will allow many items to be exported, including certain building materials for private residential construction, goods for use by private-sector Cuban entrepreneurs, and agricultural equipment for small farmers.
“The embargo the last 50 years as a concept is an eggshell. It’s just becoming more and more empty, but it’s still a shell,” said John Kavulich, senior policy advisor for the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
Can Americans open businesses in Cuba?
No, that is not allowed under U.S. law. (Though in reality some Americans are de facto business owners in Cuba because they fund businesses that are run by relatives there.)
However, Florida businesses in banking, shipping, trade, telecommunications and travel are positioned to reap benefits — over time — depending on how our government writes the rules.
American exports for cuentapropistas — the self-employed — will be allowed, along with farming supplies and building materials intended for the Cuban populace.
However, the details about exactly how exporting will work remains to be seen.
Can a U.S. citizen buy a home in Cuba? Can Cubans buy homes in Cuba?
Americans are not allowed to buy homes in Cuba under Cuban or American law, and nothing in Obama’s announcement changed that. Again, in reality, some Americans are de facto owners by providing the money to relatives in Cuba.
A 2011 law permits Cubans to buy and sell residential real estate, according to a February 2014 paper written by Philip Peters, president of the Cuba Research Center. But that law only allows the purchase and sale of residential property by Cuban nationals who reside in Cuba and foreigners who are legal residents of Cuba.
Will Cuba have a consulate in Miami?
Miami boasts the country's largest Cuban population, so Miami would be a logical choice for Havana to have a consulate. Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado has said he would be concerned that it would create a safety problem, but he added Miami would have no say on where Cuba might want to establish consulates, “but we certainly would not support it.”
Will we build an embassy in Havana?
A few things have to happen before they can change the sign from U.S. Interests Section to embassy on the door. First, the two countries need to establish full diplomatic relations through a series of letters or notes (no formal treaty or agreement is required). Then the U.S. would transition to having an embassy. Appointing an ambassador would be a longer process subject to Senate approval.
The workers, about 350 of them, will stay in the same building — which is the former U.S. embassy, built in 1953. (The six-story building was reopened in 1977.)
The biggest distinction between an interests section and an embassy is that the relationship will be directly with the Cuban government and not under the protection of the Swiss.
Information was taken from Miami Herald articles, a factsheet from the White House, a transcript from a State Department press conference, information from the Treasury Department, a paper by the president of the Cuba Research Center commissioned by Brookings Institute and interviews with Philip Peters, president of the Cuba Research Center; Kirby Jones, president of Alamar Associates which consults with businesses that want to do business with Cuba, and John Kavulich, senior policy advisor for the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council and administration officials.