The conventional wisdom in Washington’s legal and policy circles is that the core aspects of the US economic sanctions embargo on Cuba are mandated by statute, and therefore all the President can do is tinker around the edges, that is, in areas where Congress has been silent, or at least has not specifically addressed a particular question. Despite the great fanfare that has accompanied President Obama’s efforts to relax the embargo, since the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, the reality has been quite modest: primarily, the moves have made basic business operations simpler in a narrow group of sectors such as transportation, telecommunications, education and non-profits, and in areas like travel and family remittances, along with a few others. For many industries, the remaining legal restrictions continue to deter market entry. Obama Administration officials have stated that they would like for the embargo to be lifted entirely, to allow a normal level of commerce with Cuba, while acknowledging continuing obstacles on the Cuban side. The Administration has indicated that the reason they have moved so cautiously in lifting some of the restrictions over the past few years is because of the statutes that remain on the books that they do not have the power to overturn by executive action.
However, on October 17, 2016, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published a new general license at Section 515.534 of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) that appears to show a crack in the Administration’s public position about why it cannot do more to lift the embargo. Continue Reading