NFTC, USA*Engage Applaud New Direction in U.S. Cuba Policy"

Monday, 13 April 2009
NFTC, USA*Engage Applaud New Direction in U.S. Cuba Policy

Washington, DC – In response to the announcement that the Obama Administration will lift restrictions on the ability of Cuban Americans to travel and send money and certain items to Cuba, and that the Administration will license certain telecommunications services with Cuba, NFTC Vice President for Global Trade Issues Jake Colvin released the following statement:

“For the first time in more than eight years, U.S. Cuba policy is moving in a positive direction. 
“President Obama should be commended for taking steps to reunite Cuban families and facilitate greater communication with the island. The Obama Administration should also consider the benefits for the Cuban people and America’s economic and foreign policy interests that could result from broader changes to U.S. policies. 
“American businesses, workers, and ordinary citizens can have a positive impact on the lives of the Cuban people through travel and trade.  Lifting U.S. restrictions on trade and travel would also provide greater market access for America’s farmers and businesses and would boost America’s image in the world, particularly in Latin America.
“The Obama Administration has taken some important first steps to engage the Cuban people.  We hope that the Administration will build on this announcement and seek other ways to increase interactions between the American and Cuban people.”
Background on U.S. telecommunications services and Cuba

In 1992, the Cuba Democracy Act authorized transactions related to telecommunications between Cuba and the United States, though payments going to Cuba related to those services had to be licensed by the U.S. Government.  In addition, the Act provided that any transaction involving hardware also had to be licensed by the U.S. Government. 
In 1994, the “Berman Amendment” exempted from sanctions the transmission of information, which, at the time in interpretive letters, meant that telecom services between Cuba and anywhere else were not regulated by the Trading with the Enemy Act.
In 1996, the Helms-Burton Act amended the earlier Cuban Democracy Act provision to make clear a company subject to U.S. sanctions could not conduct work to improve Cuba’s telecom infrastructure without receiving a license.  In other words, if the cable was there, you could turn it on but if you needed to lay cable to reach it, that required a license.
It is the Council’s understanding that, under the Bush Administration, with few exceptions, telecom services providers were unable to receive licenses to conduct the transactions necessary to provide telecommunications services to Cuba. In addition, there were attempts by the U.S. Government to claw back the exemptions provided for by the 1994 Berman amendment.