Sunday, December 28, 2014

Cuba - Getting Closer and Closer

Obama's recent announcement on re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba has generated a huge buzz of excitement amongst Americans eager to visit this unique island nation. In particular, boaters are champing at the bit to throw off their lines and tie them to a dock at Marina Hemingway.
Is this really the beginning of the end?
History was made recently as the United States and Cuba announced a normalization of relations between the two countries, estranged since 1961.
Indicative of these changes, American prisoner Alan Gross, jailed in Cuba for espionage, is now back in America, as is an unnamed espionage agent jailed for 20 years. In its turn, the US returned the three remaining members of the “Miami Five”, who were convicted of espionage related activities in 2001.
Among the changes Obama announced are the establishment of diplomatic relations, an increase in money transfers to Cubans, and easier travel to Cuba by Americans through currently established channels such as the ‘person to person’ program. However, he made it clear that lifting the embargo was an issue that had to be dealt with by Congress, and for we sailors, that’s the rub.
Without a lifting of the Cuba embargo, the travel ban on recreational sailing or indeed, any sort of independent travel by Americans without a general or specific license, continues to exist. What that will translate into in the real world is, however, a totally different subject.
Anecdotal reports of American boaters traveling from Key West to Havana and back over the past two years, without US government interference or censure, have become more and more frequent. It is entirely possible - and please recognize that this is speculation from a Canadian not affected by the US embargo - that the US will develop (continue?) a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy regarding travel to Cuba by boat by Americans. 
I myself on my last visit to Cuba saw a considerable number of American boats in Marina Hemingway, from small sailboats to a 100+ foot megayacht which traveled through the Bahamas to avoid censure. You can rest assured, the US government is aware of these boats being there, as someone from the US Special Interest station in Havana regularly tours these docks. No action is taken.
So in other words, ‘no you can’t go, but if you do, we won’t slap your wrists for doing it’, which would seem to be a continuation of the policy of the past several years. Bear in mind however, that circumstances could change, and a future government could choose a different direction.
The Office of Foreign Asset Controls (OFAC), the branch of government that deals with the Cuban question and the embargo, issued a press release just minutes after the President’s speech. It stated:

OFAC will implement the Treasury-specific changes via amendments to its Cuban Assets Control Regulations. The Department of Commerce will implement the remainder of the changes via amendments to its Export Administration Regulations.  OFAC expects to issue its regulatory amendments in the coming weeks.  None of the announced changes takes effect until the new regulations are issued.

A new FAQ has been issued by the OFAC, and is available at
I myself will be going to Cuba this winter to cruise the south coast, and will report back to you here in the pages of SAIL Magazine on that adventure.

Or who knows, perhaps, by that time, you’ll be joining me. I will be watching developments for SAIL Magazine and will update readers on the situation as the situation warrants.

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