Cuba, What's Next: It's All About the Regs

When

January 5, 2015

Details

Now that the U.S. has restored diplomatic relations with Cuba and plans to expand travel, financial transactions and commerce on the island, it's up to the Commerce and Treasury departments to determine how to regulate the new changes. Americas Quarterly Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini explains why the regulations will matter to the U.S. private sector, Cuban entrepreneurs and human rights advocates in his January 2 editorial for the Huffington Post.

Cuba, What's Next: It's All About the Regs

Just about the time President Barack Obama and his team were at the end of their secret negotiations with the Cuban government that would lead to historic changes to the half-century old U.S. embargo, the insipid song "It's All About the Bass" seemed to be everywhere—on the radio, piped into stores, even on the TV show "The Voice." An ear-worm of a song, my hope is that the White House officials who crafted the executive actions announced on December 17th have a slightly altered version of it ringing in their heads now as they sit down to implement them: "It's all about the regs."

The success of the President's plan to adapt a policy that, for over five decades, has failed to achieve its goals of protecting human rights and forcing the collapse of the famously autocratic Castro brothers' (Fidel and Raúl) regime hinges on the regulations developed in the bowels of the Commerce and Treasury Departments.

That's because since the unironically named Cuba Democracy Act of 1992 and the Libertad Act of 1996, the embargo is law, requiring an act of Congress to lift it. What President Obama announced in December was a series of executive actions intended to amend the embargo without going to Congress to have it lifted entirely. The success of actions on everything from the expansion of general travel licenses (to 12 new categories), to the sale of telecommunications equipment to the island, to the use of U.S. credit cards on the island will depend on how the regulations are written and interpreted by the Commerce and Treasury departments.

The Devil (or Angel) Is in the Details

Sure, after all the excitement of (whether you agree with it or not) one of the most important U.S.-policy initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean in decades, writing regulations is pretty boring, in-the-weeds stuff.

But those bureaucratic, turgid, legalese-laden memos will matter for three related reasons:

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