Trump’s Cuba Policies: The Upshot for U.S. Boaters

Author:
Publish date:
According to the Trump administration, U.S. citizens will be forbidden to spend money at facilities affiliated with the Cuban military. That would include Marina Gaviota in Varadero, about 80 miles to the east of Havana. Credit: Peter Swanson

According to the Trump administration, U.S. citizens will be forbidden to spend money at facilities affiliated with the Cuban military. That would include Marina Gaviota in Varadero, about 80 miles to the east of Havana. Credit: Peter Swanson

On Friday, President Donald Trump turned back the clock on the Obama Administration’s policy of engagement with Cuba, making it more difficult for ordinary American citizens to visit. This article is designed to clarify how these changes affect boaters, to the degree possible at this early stage.

From the outset, it must be pointed out that broad policy announcements toward Cuba never consider the boating angle initially. Our little world is always an afterthought. The complete effects will only become clear after White House staffers and agency rulemakers have fine-tuned Trump’s broad policy announcements.

In a worst case, for example, U.S. boats could be banned from going to Cuba altogether, even though the administration has not said so thus far. Such a ban could be accomplished under the President’s authority to issue executive orders. George W. Bush enacted just such a ban in 2004. His administration first mandated that any U.S. vessel traveling to Cuba obtain a Commerce Department export permit, then the agencies involved were instructed to deny any and all applications for export permits from boaters wishing to visit Cuba.

Following Trump’s speech, the Commerce Department posted the following on its website: “Aircraft and vessels departing the United States on temporary sojourn to Cuba will remain eligible for a license exception. Passengers must have appropriate authorization from OFAC.” That applies to airlines and cruise ships, but recreational vessels?

All this by way of saying that what follows assumes no total ban on boat traffic.

In late 2015, I began organizing a rally of boats to Cuba under Obama’s interpretation of the “people to people” exception to the U.S. travel ban. At that time boats could visit Cuba under the auspices of a group offering an educational people-to-people program. Bear in mind that “tourist” travel per se was still forbidden, though no one could definitively say where education ended and tourism began, as long as participants were not “sipping cocktails on the beach.’

By March 2016, the requirement for group people-to-people travel was dropped, and individuals could then visit Cuba and self-certify that they would follow the requirements. About eight of the 24 boats committed to our rally promptly dropped out because they could now go without the expense of being in a group.

Trump’s recalibration of the Cuba regs reinstates the requirement that people-to-people travel happen under the auspices of a group. This applies to U.S. recreational boats—again, assuming there is no ban.

The good news—again, assuming—is that regattas to Cuba and sportfishing tournaments in Cuba will continue to be permitted. This is because these fall under a different exception to the travel ban. Regattas and tournaments fall under the category of international competition.

Another Trump change will forbid U.S. citizens from spending money with entities belonging to the Cuban military, which reportedly includes 60 percent of the island nation’s tourism infrastructure. That means that Americans would be forbidden from staying at hotels operated by subsidiaries of the military. It stands to reason, then, that American boats will be prohibited from docking at Marina Gaviota in Varadero. Marina Gaviota, operated by a military subsidiary, is the crown jewel of Cuban marine infrastructure, having opened a few years ago with more than 1,200 berths on state-of-the-art floating concrete docks.

American-flagged boats are a common sight at Havana’s Marina Hemingway

American-flagged boats are a common sight at Havana’s Marina Hemingway

Marina Hemingway at Havana, with 260 slips, presumably will not be affected. Hemingway is operated under Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism, not the military.

The Washington Post reported: “The new regulations are also expected to call for stricter enforcement of Treasury’s role in auditing whether Americans are doing what they say they are doing in Cuba.”

This is not only bad news for boaters visiting Cuba going forward but for some who have already gone since the Obama changes took effect. That’s because there is a five-year enforcement “look back” period.

As someone who has run a boating rally to Cuba, I have seen other rallies and certainly numerous individuals that failed to live up to the stringent requirements for a legal people-to-people program. Almost nobody thought Trump (or Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio) would become president, and many did not take these regulations seriously.

Treasury Department officials in charge of enforcement have told me that they expect people-to-people travelers to live up to a “full time schedule” of educational activities every day that they are in Cuba. There is a little wiggle room, but these officials define full-time as eight hours a day, which I have argued works well enough with hotel guests, but not for people on their own boats who have tasks to perform.

The rules say that people-to-people travelers must keep records of their Cuba visit for five years. So in theory Treasury enforcers could audit folks who have already taken their boats to Cuba under the Obama rules. Those who cannot offer sufficient “affirmative evidence” of compliance face fines, and in some egregious cases, jail time.

OFAC is the division of the Treasury Department that enforces the travel ban. As it stands, OFAC does not have the resources to audit thousands of U.S. travelers to Cuba. The question is: Will those resources be forthcoming? Meanwhile, expect more specifics from Commerce and Treasury departments within 60 days.

June 2017

Save

Save

Related

7261ab1f-6891-424f-a22f-14c946c08ba8

Gear: Fusion Panel-Stereo

Plug & Play StereoIt can be a real pain to install a marine stereo inside a boat, what with the tiresome business of running cables through cramped spaces and finding somewhere sensible to locate the speakers. The audiophiles at Fusion thought about this and came up with the ...read more

2019BestBoatsPromo-04

Best Boats 2019

Some years ago, the book Aak to Zumbra catalogued—and celebrated—the incredible diversity of watercraft that has evolved over the centuries, a diversity that remains evident to this day in the 11 winners comprising the “Class of 2019” in SAIL’s Best Boats contest. Indeed, it ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell.Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.comGuaranteed result What you see on the end of this halyard isn’t a beautiful Flemish Eye worked by a rigger, but it will make a big difference when you have to “mouse” a line through the mast. If the ...read more

dometicadler-700x

How to: Upgrading Your Icebox

The time has come when the prospect of cold drinks and long-term food storage has you thinking about upgrading your icebox to DC-powered refrigeration. Duncan Kent has been there and done that, and has some adviceFresh food must be kept at a refrigerated temperature of 40 degrees ...read more

Jet-in-Belize

Cruising: Evolution of a Dream

There’s a time to go cruising and a time to stop. As Chris DiCroce found, you don’t always get to choose those timesAlbert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, ...read more

01a-rosemary-anchored-at-Qooqqut,-inland-from-Nuuk

Cruising: A Passage to Greenland

When a former winner of the Whitbread Round the World Race invites you to sail the Northwest Passage, there is only one sensible answer. No.More adventurous types might disagree, but they weren’t the ones facing frostbite of the lungs or the possibility of having the yacht’s hull ...read more