New Sanctions Against Cuba: an Analysis

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On September 23 the President of the United States announced a new package of measures against Cuba during Hispanic Heritage Month when he met with Bay of Pigs veterans.

The latest sanctions are intended to prevent U.S. travelers from staying in Cuban government hotels and import restrictions on Cuban rum and cigars.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control amended the Cuban Assets Control Regulations to prohibit any U.S. person from staying in, paying for, or reserving accommodations in hotels designated by the Department as owned and controlled by the Cuban government, prohibited members of the Cuban Communist Party or their families. The list included 433 properties.

The U.S. president described the measures as part of his administration’s “continuing struggle against communist oppression.”

Not a week goes by without Washington announcing and implementing new measures against Havana. Many are wondering if there is anything left unrestricted in the already overcrowded package of U.S. bans against Cuba.

But do these measures really have an additional impact on the already turbulent relations between the two neighbors?

The first measure seems surreal given the current number of U.S. visitors to the Isle of the Sun.

Cuba’s borders have been closed indefinitely to foreigners since March because of the pandemic. Commercial flights are prohibited from landing at the main airports. Only a few areas in the Cayos (the keys) are temporarily open to tourism with restrictions including that of nationalities from many countries.

It is also doubtful that in the near future the Cuban government will permit Americans to visit considering the disastrous record number of COVID-19 infections in the U.S.

On the other hand, it is difficult to determine if any facility was already on the State Department’s blacklist list, so this “new ban” does not actually add anything new.

It should be noted that the U.S. government had already established other bans preventing American tourism to Cuba, including cruise ships, limiting flights to other airports besides Havana, and other measures.

These measures not only affect the tourism sector in Cuba, but also greatly impact the private sector which flourishes when there is increase in tourism from the U.S.

Prohibiting Americans from staying in certain hotels when they cannot even travel to Cuba seems like a bad joke. There’s also the impossibility of controlling hotel stays since the U.S. government cannot verify this type of information if it is a cash transaction.

The second measure, the banning of tobacco and rum, seems a travesty. The Americans already had a $100 limit on rum and tobacco purchases per trip. Ironically, it amounts to a ban because many cigar brands and rums in Cuba exceed that figure.

As an example, a summary of some of the prices of a box Cuban cigars sold in the stores listed in CUCs (convertible currency) far exceed the import limitations:

  • Bolivar Giant Crowns SBN 25 ($250)
  • Cohiba Esplendidos Var 25 ($490)
  • Hole des Dieux Cabinet 25 ($155)
  • Series D N’4 SBN 25 ($190)
  • Punch Punch SBN 25 ($170)
  • Hole Double Crown ($154)
  • Punch Churchill ($143)
  • Epicure Hole #1 (SLB) ($109)
  • Cohiba Century III ($167)
  • Montecristo Special No. 2 ($120)
  • Juan López Selectos No. 2 ($118)
  • Montecristo Petit EDMUNDO ($208)

So the American tourist will have to decide between smoking a cigar or drinking a good rum in the comfort of his or her home.

In Cuba, good rums can be purchased at a more modest prices, but the exclusive ones preferred by North Americans with high purchasing power do not fall within the regulatory limit. A fine rum can cost between 150 and 1,300 CUCs.

It is evident that, taking into account the Bay of Pigs audience gathered and the irrelevance of applying these measures, some experts believe that the motive behind “punishing the Cuban government” is actually related to the electoral issue.

In the U.S. there are about 2.3 million people who are of Cuban descent. It is estimated that more than 1.3 million of those were born on the Island and the rest are descendants. Most reside in Florida, New Jersey, New York, California and Texas. It is estimated that 1.2 million, about 70%, live in Florida.

There are about 650,000 Cuban Americans registered in Florida.

It is telling that in 2008 and 2012, Democrat Barack Obama was elected and re-elected, and did not win because of the Cuban American vote. Yet he managed to win the presidency and the state of Florida.

Interesting also is that during the 2012 campaign, Obama distanced himself from the extreme right-wing Cuban Americans by obtaining nearly 50% of the votes of that community. It was the largest obtained by the Democrats to date.

Although it is difficult to quantify, there is growing support from the Cuban American community for Biden both publicly and “quietly.” The main reasons have to do with Cuba and the damage done to family and friends by the Trump government’s tightening of restrictions at the height of a global pandemic.

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In the end, although the Cuban American vote is not decisive in Florida, the candidates are playing all their cards to attract minority voters in these elections.

The cards are already dealt. If Trump wins, Americans will have to forget about Cuban cigars and rum. If Biden wins, the channel of communication will open up again as the Democratic candidate has said. Cubans and Americans will again be able to smoke a Cuban cigar, followed by an authentic Cuban rum.

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