Cuban Embargo

Selected Issues Relating to Travel, Exports, and Telecommunications Gao ID: NSIAD-99-10 December 1, 1998

In 1962, the United States imposed an economic embargo against Cuba that has been modified over the years by legislation and presidential actions. This report reviews the implementation and the monitoring of embargo provisions affecting travel, telecommunications, and trade. GAO examines (1) whether the decision of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control to allow authorized U.S. travelers to fly directly to Cuba by taking chartered aircraft that touched down and changed flight numbers in third countries and then flew on to Cuba was consistent with U.S. law; (2) whether a telecommunications agreement between International Telephone and Telegraph and an Italian communications company was consistent with U.S. law; (3) how U.S. products can be available in Cuba; and (4) how U.S. agencies license and monitor U.S. travelers and companies, including licensed air carrier providers, and exports that are affected by the embargo's restrictions. GAO also discusses whether the executive branch's changes to the embargo in 1998 were consistent with U.S. law. GAO also provides information on the telecommunications provisions of the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, Cuba's imports, and U.S. restrictions on imports containing Cuban components.

GAO noted that: (1) the President's broad authority under section 5(b) of the Trading With the Enemy Act allows the executive branch a great deal of discretion in making changes to embargo restrictions; (2) both flight procedures used by Treasury and the Department of Commerce were consistent with existing U.S. law; (3) the executive branch's 1998 change that further monitors fully hosted travel is also consistent with U.S. law; (4) GAO also believes that the agreement between ITT and STET International regarding ITT's confiscated property in Cuba is consistent with the applicable statutory language of Helms-Burton Act; (5) ITT has agreed to let STET use ITT's confiscated property in Cuba over the 10-year period of the agreement, and STET provided substantial compensation to ITT; (6) some U.S. goods can legally be exported to Cuba; (7) in most instances, U.S. goods can also be legally exported to Cuba by non-U.S. firms in third countries if the U.S. supplier has no knowledge that the buyer intends to sell them to Cuba; (8) exports may also reach Cuba illegally if businesses deliberately circumvent the embargo restrictions; (9) according to U.S. officials, few countries cooperate with U.S. enforcement of the embargo; (10) the executive branch's 1998 changes that expedite procedures for medical exports to Cuba and permit licensed medical and pharmaceutical sales representatives to travel to Cuba are consistent with the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act, which specifically authorizes medical exports, and OFAC's licensing authority under the Cuban Asset Control Regulations; (11) OFAC is primarily responsible for implementing the Cuba embargo, the Bureau of Export Administration licenses exports, and the Customs Service enforces the embargo at U.S. borders; (12) Customs seizes contraband and refers potential civil violations to OFAC and potential criminal violations to the Department of Justice (DOJ); (13) DOJ officials told GAO they have not prosecuted many Cuba embargo cases partly due to the difficulty of proving specific intent to violate the law; (14) they also indicated that the lack of significant monetary impact of Cuban embargo cases and jury appeal where humanitarian issues may be present are factors to be considered in these cases; (15) in 1998, the executive branch changed family remittance procedures to allow U.S. persons to send general family remittances of up to $300 per quarter to relatives in Cuba; and (16) based on GAO's review of all the applicable statutory language, GAO believes OFAC had the authority to make the family remittance changes under its general legislative authority.

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