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Updated April 15, 2020


Cuba: U.S. Policy Overview

Since the early 1960s, when the United States imposed a
trade embargo on Cuba, the centerpiece of U.S. policy
toward Cuba has consisted of economic sanctions aimed at
isolating the government.
In 2014, the Obama Administration initiated a major policy
shift moving away from sanctions toward engagement and
the normalization of relations. The policy change included
the rescission of Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of
international terrorism (May 2015); the restoration of
diplomatic relations (July 2015); and efforts to increase
travel, commerce, and the flow of information to Cuba by
easing restrictions on travel, remittances, trade,
telecommunications, and banking and financial services
(2015 and 2016, accomplished through amendments to the
Cuban Assets Control Regulations, administered by the
Treasury Department, and the Export Administration
Regulations, administered by the Commerce Department).
The restoration of relations led to increased government-to-
government engagement, with over 20 bilateral agreements
negotiated and numerous bilateral dialogues.
President Trump unveiled a new policy toward Cuba in
2017, introducing new sanctions and rolling back some of
the Obama Administration's efforts to normalize relations.
By 2019, the Trump Administration had largely abandoned
engagement by increasing economic sanctions significantly
to pressure the Cuban government on its human rights
record and its support for the regime of Nicol6s Maduro in
Venezuela. It took actions to allow lawsuits against those
trafficking in property confiscated by the Cuban
government and tightened restrictions on travel to Cuba,
including terminating cruise ship travel from the United
States and U.S. flights to Cuban cities other than Havana.
Cuban Political and Economic Developments. In April
2018, Miguel Dfaz-Canel, who was serving as first vice
president, succeeded Rafil Castro as president, but Castro
continues to head the Cuban Communist Party until 2021.
The selection of Dfaz-Canel, now 59 years old, reflects the
generational change in Cuban leadership that began several
years ago and marks the first time since the 1959 Cuban
revolution that a Castro is not in charge of the government.
While in power from 2006 to 2018, Rafil Castro began to
implement significant economic policy changes, moving
toward a more mixed economy with a stronger private
sector, but his government's slow, gradualist approach did
not produce major improvements to the economy, which
has experienced minimal growth in recent years.
In February 2019, almost 87% of Cubans approved a new
constitution in a national referendum. The changes include
the addition of an appointed prime minister to oversee
government operations; limits on the president's tenure
(two five-year terms) and age (60, beginning first term);
and market-oriented economic reforms, including the right
to private property and the promotion of foreign


investment. However, the new constitution ensures the state
sector's dominance over the economy and the predominant
role of the Communist Party. In October 2019, Cuba's
National Assembly appointed Dfaz-Canel as president
under the new constitution. In December 2019, Dfaz-Canel
appointed tourism minister Manuel Marrero Cruz as prime
minister, who reportedly will serve as the president's
administrative right-hand man in implementing policy.
The Cuban economy has been hard-hit by the reimposition
of, and increase in, U.S. sanctions that impede international
financial transactions with Cuba and by Venezuela's
economic crisis, which has limited Venezuela's support to
Cuba. Cuban officials reported that 4.3 million tourists
visited Cuba in 2019, down from 4.7 million in 2018; the
decline in tourism has hurt private sector businesses.
Cuba's economy also is being severely affected by the
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. As of
April 15, 2020, Cuba had 21 deaths and over 700 confirmed
cases. Before the pandemic, the Economist Intelligence
Unit estimated the Cuban economy would contract 0.7% in
2020; now, it is projecting a 4.7% decline. Cuba is
providing international assistance to respond to the
pandemic by sending more than 1,200 medical
professionals to assist 18 countries including, for the first
time, Italy and Andorra.
The COVID- 19 pandemic has led to increased worldwide
calls, including by United Nations, European, and other
officials, for the United States to ease sanctions to make it
less difficult for Cuba to acquire needed equipment,
supplies, and medicines to confront the pandemic.
Trump Administration Sanctions. President Trump
issued a national security presidential memorandum in June
2017 that introduced new sanctions. These included the
elimination of people-to-people travel for individuals and
restrictions on transactions with companies controlled by
the Cuban military. The State Department issued a list of
restricted entities in 2017, which has been updated
several times, most recently in November 2019. The list
includes 223 entities and subentities, including 2 ministries,
5 holding companies and 49 of their subentities, 109 hotels,
2 tourist agencies, 5 marinas, 10 stores in Old Havana, and
41 entities serving defense and security sectors.
In 2019, the Trump Administration imposed a series of
sanctions against Cuba for its poor human rights record and
its support for the Maduro government. These include
   Efforts to Stop Venezuelan Oil Exports to Cuba.
   Since April 2019, the Treasury Department has imposed
   sanctions on several shipping companies and vessels
   that transported Venezuelan oil to Cuba. In July 2019, it
   imposed sanctions on Cuba's state-run oil import and
   export company.


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