Start of main content

New horizon in US-Cuba relations

| News | Cuban Desk

Ignacio Aparicio analyses the United States-Cuba Trade Act of 2021. The Democratic Senate will be guiding the new Biden Administration to carry out, in this mandate and in a resolute manner, the reconciliation in the business between the US and Cuba, at a time when it is assessing which measures of the Trump Administration should be reversed and in what order.

On 5th February, US Democrat Ron Wyden, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, presented a bill, the "US-Cuba Trade Act of 2021", whose objective is to repeal a whole series of legal provisions that affect trade, investment, and travel with Cuba, in order to make decisive progress in re-establishing trade relations with the island.

In this way, the Democratic Senate would be directing the new Biden administration to carry out, in this mandate and in a resolute manner, reconciliation in business between the two countries, at a time when it is assessing which measures of the Trump administration need to be reversed and in what order.

Among the most important measures included in this bill would be the repeal of the Torricelli Act, which established the regulatory basis for the extraterritorial scope of the embargo on Cuba. This 1992 law prohibited foreign subsidiaries of US companies from trading with Cuba or Cuban nationals and prohibited the entry into US territory for a period of 180 days of any foreign ship that had previously disembarked in a Cuban port.

The Helms-Burton Act would also be repealed. Although the so-called Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 is not the most important of the norms that establish the US blockade of Cuba, the activation of its Title III in 2019 under Trump was one of its most important measures, along with the series of restrictions and systematic measures adopted above all during the last part of his mandate (cuts in remittances from the US, limitations on US travel, the disappearance of US flights and cruises to the island, etc.). The Helms-Burton Act recognises the right to sue in US territory companies and individuals who are "trafficking" in assets confiscated or nationalised after the Cuban revolution, and its Title IV authorises the State Department to restrict entry into the United States or expel from its territory persons related to such trafficking, the directors of these entities and their families.

In particular, the draft bill submitted by Wyden provides that the US President should take all necessary steps to advance negotiations with the government of Cuba for the purpose of resolving claims by US entities or individuals for the confiscation/nationalisation of their former property and to ensure the protection of internationally recognised human rights. Section 211 of the Department of Commerce and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 1999, which prohibits the registration in the United States of trademarks relating to nationalised property and denies recognition by US courts of any rights to such trademarks in favour of Cuban companies, will be repealed too.

Similarly, the express reference to Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism will be eliminated, as will the prohibition on importing into the US goods of Cuban origin or transported from or through Cuba, putting an end to the discriminatory treatment of products of Cuban origin that currently exists.

Nor will travel to and from Cuba by US citizens or residents be limited or prohibited, nor any transaction ordinarily incidental to such travel, including, specifically, lodging and subsistence, normal banking transactions involving drafts in foreign currency, travellers' cheques, or other negotiable instruments.

All current regulations limiting remittances or the sending of funds to Cuba by any person subject to US jurisdiction will also be eliminated, and the Secretary of the Treasury would no longer be able to limit them, as has been the case until now.

Having said this, it is expected that during the month of March, Biden, using his presidential powers, will lift restrictions on remittances and US travel to Cuba.

The above are just some of the regulations to be repealed by the bill. Most analysts agree, however, that the new Biden administration will adopt a gradual and conditional approach to Cuba, and that the bill is not likely to make quick progress given the busy agenda of the US Senate in the coming months, but this initiative, if it does not undergo major adjustments, will represent a very important step forward in relations with Cuba, after the blow that the Trump administration had dealt to the rapprochement that Obama had been cultivating. Let us not forget that Biden was vice-president under Obama.

Meanwhile, this bill is being presented in a year that begins with uncertainties for Cuba despite recent measures to strengthen its battered economy. In addition to the effects of the pandemic and tourism, there is the lack of liquidity in foreign currency, widespread shortages, the problem of late payments and the strangulation by the Trump administration, which just before leaving office put Cuba back on the list of countries sponsoring terrorism.

End of main content