Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Obama's new rules on gift parcels to Cuba

I just plowed through the Commerce Department’s announcement of new regulations governing the gift packages that Americans can send to Cuba. The new rules took effect September 3, and they are a significant liberalization.

Commerce is involved because it regulates exports, and gift parcels are considered exports. The announcement is a counterpart to this month’s Treasury regulations that end restrictions on Cuban American family visits and remittances. Both actions follow from the President’s April 13 announcement.

The new Commerce Department regulations are here, and a short Q&A is here.

The regulations make significant openings by expanding the range of items that can be sent, by increasing the allowed value of package contents, by increasing the frequency with which packages can be sent, by expanding the universe of recipients in Cuba, and by allowing all Americans, not just those with immediate relatives in Cuba, to send gift packages. Pretty good.

Here’s what the regulations do.

The regulations move away from the Bush approach of listing items that can be sent in gift parcels (food, medicine, medical supplies, radios, batteries, cell phones) and prohibiting anything not on the list.

The Obama regulations keep that list and add a few items to it: “clothing, personal hygiene items, seeds, veterinary medicines and supplies, fishing equipment and supplies, soap-making equipment.” But they then add a catch-all category: “non-sensitive items normally sent as gifts between individuals.”

With that phrase, the Administration pretty much gets out of the business of regulating every single decision someone might make when sending a gift to someone in Cuba.

Under the new regulations, any American can send a gift parcel to an individual in Cuba who is not a high-ranking government or party official, or to a “charitable, educational, or religious organization in Cuba that is not administered or controlled by the Cuban government.” Previously, only Americans with immediate relatives in Cuba could send gift parcels – which meant Cuban Americans and a tiny number of others, such as families with kids studying in Cuba.

It remains the case that only one gift parcel may be sent per month. But instead of one per month to a Cuban household, the new rules allow one parcel per month to an individual in Cuba – which in most cases will mean several parcels per household. The limit on the value of a parcel’s contents has been raised from $400 to $800, and there is no limit on the value or frequency of parcels containing food.

The regulations then create a separate category of items that may be sent as gifts to people and organizations in Cuba: “commodities and software…related to basic personal communications devices that are widely available for retail purchase in the United States.” This includes:

“Mobile phones, including cellular and satellite telephones; subscriber information module (SIM) cards; personal digital assistants; laptop and desktop computers and peripherals such as monitors, graphics accelerator cards, data storage devices and media such as disk drives, flash drives, writable compact disks and floppy disks, keyboards, mice, and printers including commodities possessing IEEE 802.15.1 ‘Bluetooth’ wireless personal area networking (WPAN) capability; Internet connectivity devices including those possessing IEEE 802.11 ‘Wi-Fi’ and IEEE 802.16 ‘WiMax’ wireless capabilities; satellite-based television and radio receivers; digital music and video players and recorders; personal two-way radios; digital cameras and memory cards therefor; and batteries, chargers, carrying cases and similar accessories for the equipment authorized by this rule. This rule also authorizes the export and reexport of basic software for laptop and desktop computers such as: Computer operating systems and software (except ‘encryption source code’) that enable activities such as word processing, producing spread sheets, producing graphics presentations, sending and receiving e-mail, Web browsing or developing relational databases.”

As in the general gift category, these items cannot be sent to high-ranking government or party officials or to organizations controlled by the Cuban government. Unlike the general gift category, there are “no limits on value or frequency of shipments.”

In all the cases described above, senders of gift parcels do not need to get prior permission from the U.S. government.

Finally, the 44-pound limit on baggage carried by travelers to Cuba is eliminated.

There are additional details in the regulations themselves, for example a restriction on devices and software that are on Commerce’s “control list,” such as items containing sophisticated encryption technology. Separately, there’s a section that opens the door to licensing the export of equipment for satellite radio and television, in the unlikely event that Cuba would reach an agreement with U.S. companies to provide those services.

All in all, these regulations are another good, humane move by the Administration. Unlike President Obama’s new policies regarding travel and remittances, this one doesn’t create special privileges for Cuban Americans only. It recognizes that Americans in general might have something positive to contribute. Let’s hope that thinking continues to take hold.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Phil, Do you happen to know how people can send these packages? All I know is the services that charge about $10/lb for someone to take it with them on their plane trip.

Anonymous said...

Many of the items that are listed are prohibited by Cuban import regulations. How far up the PCC and government hierarchy is one allowed to send packages?

This opens the door to support many dissidents who do not have close relatives in the USA. It remains to be seen what is the Cuban government's reaction?

Also would the import tariffs be lifted or reduced by the Cuban side?

Vecino de NF

Anonymous said...

"Who says blogging isn't work?" ;-)
Once again, good work Peters.
As usual, interesting questions raised by Vecino. God knows I don't have any of the answers.

Things are changing. The pace will be extremely slow to appease the old guard crowd on both sides, but things are changing.

leftside said...

Many of the items that are listed are prohibited by Cuban import regulations. How far up the PCC and government hierarchy is one allowed to send packages?

Most of the import regulations have been by Cuba. Here is the updated list of prohibited items. Basically only heavy electrical appliances are still prohibited (and it is unclear whether the new US regulations would permit things like air conditioners or stoves anyhow).

As for who exactly constitutes a "high-ranking" government or party official - that is left deliberately vague by the US Government. As is the notion of a "government controlled" organization. It basically allows wide discretion by the prosecutors and courts in deciding when something crosses the line. It's political, basically. But their FAQ does make clear that Cuban hospitals and schools are NOT eligable for gifts. It would follow that neither are cultural institutions and many other things in Cuba. The key phrase is "under the adminstrative control of the Cuban Government." Many organizations are quite independent from the Government in Cuba, but may not be seen that way in Washington.

leftside said...

Actually, I found some more specifics in the Treasury Code"

(A) No gift parcel may be sent to any of the following officials of the Cuban Government: ministers and vice-ministers; members of the Council of State; members of the Council of Ministers; members and employees of the National Assembly of People's Power; members of any provincial assembly; local sector chiefs of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution; Director Generals and sub-Director Generals and higher of all Cuban ministries and state agencies; employees of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT); employees of the Ministry of Defense (MINFAR); secretaries and first secretaries of the Confederation of Labor of Cuba (CTC) and its component unions; chief editors, editors and deputy editors of Cuban state-run media organizations and programs,
including newspapers, television, and radio; or members and employees of the Supreme Court (Tribuno Supremo Nacional).

(B) No gift parcel may be sent to any of the following officials or members of the Cuban Communist Party: members of the Politburo; the Central Committee; Department Heads of the Central Committee; employees of the Central Committee; and the secretaries and first secretaries of provincial Party central committees.

(C) No gift parcel may be sent to organizations administered or
controlled by the Cuban Government or the Cuban Communist Party.


So the regs seem a little more open for individuals, but pretty closed in regards to organizations. So if a group here wanted to "sponsor" a school or health clinic in Havana we would not be able to.

Anonymous said...

On Planet Leftside, many organizations are quite independent from the Government in Cuba.

leftside said...

Anon, I acknowledged that many orgs in Cuba probably do meet the threshold of "government control." But many others do not, or at least ought not to.

There are many small non-governmental groups. But I was referring to the groups on the edge. For example, the case of something like the Centro Cultural Pablo de la Torriente Brau (picked at random). They define themself as an "independent cultural institition." But they probably also receive some State support (and State salaries). Are they really "controlled or administered" by the Cuban Government - at least in any common sense definition of those word? I highly doubt the Government involves itself in any of their day-to-day affairs.

Even something like UNEAC (the writers and artists union) is surely on the list of prohibited groups, even though they elect their own leaders and went against the Government quite publicly (last year). I'm just saying it is tricky and the US regulations ought to acknowledge that.

Many of us would like to help Cuba but feel sending things to one person is unfair and unproductive. A much larger and more substantial impact can be had by assisting many of the wonderful organizations and institutions that exist on the island - that serve all Cubans. But that is still prohibited.

Anonymous said...

wow, big deal, glad to see this little movement but end the embargo, maybe this will take it a step closer.
as usual vecino you're wrong re what's prohibited into cuba. when was the last time you were there?

Anonymous said...

Leftside,

Would it be fair to say that any organization in Cuba that has a Cuban Communist Party (PCC) cell in it, and takes direction from that cell could be considered controlled by the Cuban government?

BTW thanks for the research! Outstanding and thoughtful as always!

A mischievious person would argue for the lifting of all restrictions to individuals. Imagine what would happen if high ranking PCC officials, and MININT and MINFAR personnel starts receiving gift parcels from abroad. That would turn upside down the entire security clearance apparatus. "Excuse me, General, can you explain why did you get an I-Pod from the known counter-revolutionary Mr. Diaz in Washington?" Remember what happened to Lage, Perez Roque, and Aldana for much less!

Let slip the dogs of war! I say.

Vecino de NF

John McAuliff said...

These are positive moves, but still embody accommodation to Cuban-American extremists and contradict US interests.

Singling out excluded categories of recipients is simply vindictiveness, and needlessly alienating to people of influence in Cuba.

Blocking assistance to organizations which provide virtually all services and humanitarian assistance is a misguided political agenda. Civil society takes different but still legitimate forms in socialist countries.

It also implicitly compromises those organizations which are eligible for assistance and drastically limits the role of US non-governmental organizations.

Schools, hospitals, environmental organizations, etc. are effective recipients of European aid.

At some point the Administration is going to have to make an intellectual break with treating Cuba's governmentk economic and social leadership as enemies if it ever wants them to be friends.

John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development

leftside said...

Would it be fair to say that any organization in Cuba that has a Cuban Communist Party (PCC) cell in it, and takes direction from that cell could be considered controlled by the Cuban government?

"Taking direction" from a Party cell is different than being "controlled by" one. To me it would need to be a case by case investigation to determine the degree of control. But of course the Commerce and Treasury Department's don't have time for this, so they basically end up erring on the side of being conservative (ie. saying no).

Of course, I agree with John in believing that ANY organization in Cuba ought to be available to receive a donation or gift. We are not talking about material aid to terrorism here (the main other thing these sorts of idiotic regulations are meant to prevent). We are talking about a policy that is designed to starve anything related to the Cuban Government and make it lucrative to break away and be in opposition.

brianmack said...

Phil, you are getting some nice "press" and deservedly so. Thank you for such a grand job and service.
Oh! And may Cuba, one day be Free!

Anonymous said...

John McAuliff said...

"These are positive moves, but still embody accommodation to Cuban-American extremists...."

What can we do in the U.S. to rid ourselves of these Cuban American extremists, with all their tiresome talk of "freedom" and "human rights?" U.S. internal policies toward these reactionaries should be guided by the exemplary measures instituted 50 years ago by the Comandante and appropriate Party organs. The Maximum Leader knows how to handle impertinent reactionaries.

"Singling out excluded categories of recipients is simply vindictiveness, and needlessly alienating to people of influence in Cuba."

Exactly right! Only people of influence, as reflected by their rank in the Nomenklatura, deserve our respect. All of the other Cubans are non-persons whose existence and so-called "human rights" can be serenely ignored.

"Civil society takes different but still legitimate forms in socialist countries."

What a refreshing comment! Yes, "legitimate" civil society organizations in socialist nations (including *national* socialist nations) are, beyond all dispute, "different." And as for those rude persons who insist on their "right " to join illegitmate civil society groups, send them all to Villa Marista, where they can be serenely ignored by McAuliffe & Co.

"Schools, hospitals, environmental organizations, etc. are effective recipients of European aid."

But where, and to whom, does the European aid go after being delivered to Party institutions? Does Mr. McA. know or care?

"At some point the Administration is going to have to make an intellectual break with treating Cuba's government economic and social leadership as enemies if it ever wants them to be friends."

That's right, Johnnie! In unenlightened countries like the U.S. and Canada, all this frivolous talk about free elections, a free press, free trade unions, etc., is okay, but in Progressive "hero nations" like Cuba, Libya, Venezuela and North Korea, such silly talk should be suppressed while we get down to the serious business of "making friends" with the various Maximum Leaders of these nations, whose right to lord it over their peons is beyond dispute, at least by Johnny Boy McAuliff.

Ah, Progress!

Anonymous said...

anon 813; and your solution is what? to support the embargo, to make a bad situation worse, to criticize without context and to offer absolutely nothing constructive. all the while supporting ideals you have no concept about.
bravo, after 50 years your single minded efforts have accomplished so much. keep up the good work and maybe one day you'll look at the sky and see it is blue.

the mere fact you lump cuba, libya, venezuela and north korea together is absolute proof you don't have a fricking clue, just reading the script the CANF handlers tell you to.

Anonymous said...

what is the matter anon 8:21? Isn't he on your side?

Anonymous said...

"your solution is what? to support the embargo, to make a bad situation worse, to criticize without context and to offer absolutely nothing constructive."

"to support the embargo?" Obama's measures dilute the embargo for non-elite Cubans, which is exactly why the Castro regime is ignoring or belittling Obama's changes.

"Criticize without context?" Yes, that's what we need, more journalism in the style of Granma. As Sen. Moynihan said, "There is no country so poor that it cannot afford a free press."

And since when has the policy of defending freedom offered "absolutely nothing constructive?"

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reporting this Phil. It's a great contribution to news about Cuba and it has gone unreported in the mainstream press. Amazing to me because this is a big story.
For us, we no long have to send baseball equipment via France to the son of a friend in Cuba when postage alone was over $100 for a relatively small parcel.
The Obama administration is taking incremental albeit positive steps to improve relations.

Anonymous said...

Leftside,

"Taking direction" from a Party cell is different than being "controlled by" one."

Could you explain the difference in the Cuban context?

Vecino de NF

Joel said...

Leftside,

"Taking direction" from a Party cell is different than being "controlled by" one."

Leftside, you are so funny. hahaha
Who is telling you about Cuba? hahaha

Anonymous said...

diluting the embargo for non elite cubans -- man that says it all as far as the attitude of the right wingnuts go.
end the embargo, quit putting a drop of piss into a bucket. unless the embargo is ended, and it's working at both sides, why would the cuban govt change it's position.

and criticism is always warranted if in context; but the gusanos just criticize regardless; as soon as they hear the bell, you know like pavlov's dogs.

i have not heard ONE constructive criticism from the extreme side, so don't try to spin it otherwise.
'defending freedom' yeah right, under your terms and conditions -- freedom to support an embargo that makes things worse. hello mr orwell.

free press, i wish the americans would get one. as well as a pluralistic political society not a two party dictatorship. see, perspective is everything. go get some.

Anonymous said...

anyone, please let us know what constructive criticism has ever come from chingon or the hate or anyone on the extreme. all they care about is negative, nothing is ever good.
if fidel was to walk on water they'd say he just can't swim.
please, give me one example of constructive criticism, not mindless reaction, from any of those types.
mitio

Anonymous said...

Mitio,

If Fidel was to walk on water, we should look who he is drowning by standing on them. Unless of course you think that Fidel is the returning Messiah. Come to think of it, he has done the miracle of the fish and the loaves in reverse (He took some and made them disappear!)

Vecino de NF

Anonymous said...

Peters, for all your diligence in reporting on the recent changes to policy, it seems you chose not to report the most important point. Obviously, this was no sop to the bootlicking legions who want nothing other than total surrender to the regime (see comments above). When you look at the commodities, obviously the Obama Administration is trying to empower the Cuban people at the expense of the regime by facilitating communication between them and with the international community -- outside of the regime's manic control. It's nothing more than an expansion of the Bush policy. Tell us, Peters, how do you think Obama's initiatives can work to undermine the Castro regime?

chingon

Anonymous said...

vecino
and the constructive criticism in your post was..??? thanks for proving my point. more people starved in cuba prior to fidel, under no embargo etc. so your point is, lost as usual.


when was the last time you were in cuba?

oye pidgen, come on, who wrote that, really? very sophisticated english there, the CANF handlers have changed the blogger while keeping the handle.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous September 25, 2009 12:40 PM,

Thanks for pointing out the need to refresh citations by researching average caloric intake in Cuba throughout the years (a good measure of general food consumption), and other measures of hunger. Will post them when I get them! As far as intent, the last post was meant to be a funny comeback to mitio's over the top scenario! You can smile, laugh, etc.. right? I can live with the fact that I am not funny.

Vecino de NF

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