The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

U.S. sets limits on money Cuban Americans can send to family in Cuba

A woman takes a selfie as an oil tanker enters Havana Bay, Cuba, on Aug. 20. The Trump administration has moved to reverse Obama policies that normalized relations with Cuba. (Ismael Francisco/AP)

The Trump administration has unveiled new restrictions limiting the amount of money Cuban Americans can send to relatives on the island, and prohibiting remittances to certain government officials and members of the Communist Party.

The intent to make changes was first announced months ago, but the impending publication of the new rules in the Federal Register means they will take effect Oct. 9.

“We are taking additional steps to financially isolate the Cuban regime,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement issued Friday. “The United States holds the Cuban regime accountable for its oppression of the Cuban people and support of other dictatorships throughout the region, such as the illegitimate Maduro regime. Through these regulatory amendments, Treasury is denying Cuba access to hard currency, and we are curbing the Cuban government’s bad behavior while continuing to support the long-suffering people of Cuba.”

This is the second round of steps to tighten pressure on Cuba in recent months as President Trump tries to reverse President Barack Obama’s moves to normalize relations with Havana, policies that Trump has called “terrible and misguided.”

White House national security adviser John Bolton said in an April speech in Miami that new travel and financial restrictions were being put forward. In June, the administration followed up with Treasury Department orders that ended authorization for certain group travel to Cuba and for individuals making educational visits. Tourist travel has long been prohibited under U.S. law.

The latest change sets a $1,000 cap on the money any one person can send to a Cuban family member every three months, and prohibits all remittances to relatives who are Cuban officials or members of the Cuban Communist Party. Nonfamily remittances are prohibited.

Currently, there are no limits on the amount or frequency of remittances under rules that took effect when the Obama administration normalized relations with Cuba in 2014, ending five decades of Cold War hostility between the two nations. The payments amount to billions added to the struggling Cuban economy each year.

“In line with the President’s foreign policy on Cuba, these actions are designed to target the Cuban regime while continuing to provide vital relief to the long-suffering people of Cuba,” a statement issued by the State Department said.

“Remittances to private businesses, human rights groups, religious organizations and other self-employed individuals operating in the nonstate sector are authorized with no cap,” the statement said.

The new rules also prohibit banks from processing U-turn transactions, which originate and end outside the United States. The ban could affect insurers that have provided coverage for foreign companies offering investment opportunities in Cuban state-owned enterprises.

With new restrictions under Trump, any hopes of an economic boom in Cuba, ushered in by an evolved relationship with the nearby United States, have vanished.

Cuba is a one-party socialist state, and its constitution enshrines the Communist Party as the “superior ruling political force in society and the State,” though some modest social and economic reforms have been permitted.

Earlier administration actions prohibited financial transactions by U.S. citizens with hundreds of businesses and individuals deemed to be part of the Cuban government, allowed U.S. citizens to sue the Cuban government for expropriated properties, and effectively ended cruise ship and other travel opportunities opened under Obama. Commercial airlines are still allowed to fly to Cuba.

Neither the Trump administration nor Cuba, however, has reneged on a January 2017 migration agreement, under which Cuba agreed to accept migrants deemed inadmissible to the United States and the United States revoked the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which allowed entrance to any Cuban reaching U.S. shores.

Although the number of Cubans attempting to flee the island by sea directly to the United States has dropped, the number waiting for asylum interviews at the U.S.-Mexico border is now in the thousands. This year, the administration has deported hundreds of Cubans back to the island, including a planeload of 120 last week.