Thursday, December 20, 2007

Your tax dollars at work: GAO on embargo enforcement

Responding to a Congressional request, the Government Accountability Office has done another report on Cuba embargo enforcement, focusing on U.S. agencies’ allocation of resources.

The full report (pdf) is here; the New York Times coverage is here.

The report finds an emphasis on Cuba enforcement that, in an environment of finite resources, has a cost:

“DHS’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP)…has increased intensive, “secondary” inspections of passengers arriving from Cuba at the Miami airport; in 2007, CBP conducted these inspections for 20 percent of arrivals from Cuba versus an average of 3 percent of other international arrivals. CBP data and interviews with agency officials suggest that the secondary inspections of Cuba arrivals at the airport may strain CBP’s ability to carry out its mission of keeping terrorists, criminals, and other inadmissible aliens from entering the country. Moreover, recent GAO reports have found weaknesses in CBP’s inspections capacity at key U.S. ports of entry nationwide.”

When it comes to Treasury enforcement of embargo violations, GAO found the following:

“Although the Cuba embargo is one of more than 20 sanctions programs that OFAC administers, OFAC penalties for Cuba embargo violations represented more than 70 percent of its total penalties in 2000-2005, falling to 29 percent in 2006.”

Also:

“Our analysis of OFAC data shows that from 2000 through 2006, the agency collected fines totaling about $8.1 million for 8,170 violations of the Cuba embargo—an average of $992 per violation. Most of these violations were relatively minor, such as purchasing Cuban cigars on the Internet. Over the same period, OFAC imposed fines totaling about $12.4 million for 3,054 violations of other sanctions programs, such as those on Iran, North Korean, and Syria—an average of about $4,071 per violation.”

U.S. officials interviewed by GAO also complained that embargo enforcement is difficult. One reason is that foreign governments, if you can believe it, sometimes decline the opportunity to act as chivatos for U.S. law enforcement by refusing to snitch on U.S. travelers to Cuba who pass through their territory:

“The unilateral nature of the embargo and a lack of multilateral cooperation hamper U.S. agencies’ diplomatic and enforcement efforts, according to agency officials. For example, some governments have actively opposed the U.S. embargo by refusing to identify U.S. travelers making unauthorized visits to Cuba via third countries, complicating agencies’ enforcement activities, or have declined to limit their trade, financial, and travel relations with Cuba, further undermining the embargo’s stated purpose.”

The feds also complain about other challenges that seem to be explained by Cuban Americans’ love for their own relatives in Cuba:

“Agency officials said that divided public opinion about the embargo has contributed to widespread, small-scale violations of restrictions on family travel and remittances and to an environment in which some individuals can profit from illegal activities… Also, financial services technologies, such as stored-value cards and online money transfer services, and widespread money laundering in southern Florida create opportunities for transferring funds to Cuba illegally.”

In the end, GAO could not determine how the Administration’s 2004 family sanctions and other tightened sanctions have affected Cuba’s economy:

“The impact of tighter restrictions implemented in 2004 and 2005 on travel, cash remittances, and gifts to Cuba cannot be determined because of an absence of reliable data.”

12 comments:

leftside said...

Funny how Treasury looks like they already rearranged their twisted priorities a few months before the GAO report became public. What a coincidence. The numbers of people being apprehended after going to Cuba is way down in the last few months. Hooray. I may get my wife to go visit from Ecuador in February after all.

Anonymous said...

keep us posted you miserable wretch, so we can report you to OFAC...

Anonymous said...

any dumbass knows the GAO provides precisely the conclusion that the requesting member or members want...

leftside said...

Aaah, convenient excuse since the (independent) GAO seems to be finding that all your stupid anti-Castro laws are worhtless wastes of money and resources.

Phil Peters said...

Anon, ok, but assuming that what you say is so regarding GAO, and conceding that Rangel requested the report, what is it that's wrong in this report?

If a pro-sanctions member asked for a report, would GAO find data showing that cigar enforcement has no opportunity cost with regard to other law enforcement efforts? That the number of enforcement actions or the size of fines is different than reported? That there are countries out there that agree with the embargo and travel ban and leap at the chance to snitch on Americans who travel through their countries? That it's possible to obtain data on the impact of sanctions since 2004?

Speaking of impact, the 2004 sanctions were announced with lots of hoopla about bringing down the Cuban government (the sanctions, plus aid to opposition, plus more broadcasting). By that measure it has failed. It was also supposed to deny Cuba resources for repression, which is a joke, because I doubt repression is all that expensive in the scheme of things, and in any event the CIA estimates Cuba's growth around 10 percent, in spite of the tougher sanctions. So that's a failure too, even more predictably so. And where it really counts, as political red meat, I think in Miami there are more and more people who see the phony-macho rhetoric as a little patronizing.

I don't think the problem is GAO bias or Rangel's views, but rather that someone asked to measure results, and GAO dug up some data.

Anonymous said...

if U.S. policy is so feckless then why is the Castro regime constantly calling for the lifting of sanctions? why do they even care if they're doing so great despite them?

leftside said...

The 2004 sanctions are worthless, as are the millions in support of dissidents. These were the 2 subjects of the GAO reports. The entire embargo and travel ban regime, however, costs the Cuban people billions of dollars and billions of headaches.

tranquilo said...

well, then, you're admitting that the sanctions are successful in denying the regime revenue...

leftside said...

Of couse the sanctions deny the government (and people) revenue. But the 2004 tightening is comparatively meaningless. I think I just read in PL that the Cubans put the sanctions total at $499 million this year. I don't think that counts potential lost tourism revenue.

Juan Cuellar said...

Happy New Year to all. Phil...Phill, the fact is that you omitted the very important point of who ordered the GAO report. The Washington Times did a wonderful editorial. The fact is that every action by Homeland Security can be made as an excuse for the same purpose. I will answer your post of Otero and the "comical boycott" as I always do..with facts. I will give you one hint...Toronto...Canada....and what they could not do in Miami. Now, the Permuta plan is in full drive....So are we. Let them elect a "moderate" which mean, castrites, in Miami.

Libertarian? Hahahahahaha! Mejor diria Melones, verde por fuera, por conveniencia, y rojito por dentro. You know what I mean.

Ambrose said...

great blog with out standing statistics. What a country is US that impose sanctions on its own people and feel it fun to have a fined its own people. and interesting to read about cuban cigars fines.

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