Why was the top U.S. sanctions cop in Cuba?
By SUSAN CRABTREE (@SUSANCRABTREE) • 7/31/16 12:01 AM
Critics of President Obama's diplomatic thaw with Cuba are questioning
why a top official with the U.S. government office charged with
maintaining the trade embargo and leveling sanctions against the Castro
government was in Havana earlier this month meeting with regime officials.
Acting Deputy Director of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control
Andrea Gacki was one of several U.S. officials in Havana for meetings
that took place in mid-July, a senior administration official confirmed
to the Washington Examiner. The official did not respond to follow-up
questions about whom Gacki met with and what they discussed.
Since Obama announced his intention to start normalizing relations with
Cuba in late 2014, dozens of U.S. officials have participated in
negotiations about easing travel and other restrictions with the island
nation, both in Havana and Washington.
But Gacki's travel to Cuba this month has critics fuming because her
office is charged with doling out punishment for those who violate U.S.
law. Opponents of Obama's rapprochement with the Castro regime fear she
was there to help Cuba negotiate ways around U.S. sanctions.
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Only Congress can lift the embargo entirely, although Obama has used his
executive authority to allow greater travel from the U.S. to Cuba, and
U.S. banks are negotiating with Havana to allow them to operate on the
Marion Smith, the executive director of the Victims of Communism
Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit group founded to highlight the plight
of those who have suffered under communism, said he views Gacki's visit
to Cuba as the "latest blatant attempt" to show the regime how to get
around trade embargo against Cuba.
"While it's not surprising, it's hugely frustrating for us," he said.
"The oxygen the regime is getting in terms of access to capital is
something that we'll have to deal with from years to come," no matter
who is elected president of the United States in November.
Treasury officials have sometimes met with Iranian government officials
during international conferences focused on rolling back Tehran's
nuclear program, Smith acknowledged. But he said most of those meetings
occurred at international conferences where officials from both
countries just happen to be in the same place at the same time, instead
of a trip solely devoted to meeting with Cuban officials behind closed
doors with no transparency to the American public.
"If it was a technical-sharing of information about the existing
sanctions and why they remain, that would be one thing," Smith said.
"But if it's the sort of meeting that lets Cuba know what the
enforcement or non-enforcement intentions are of the Obama
administration with regard to the sanctions at this particular moment,
that is hugely problematic and possibly illegal."
Smith also hinted that Treasury officials who are dedicated to enforcing
sanctions instead of trying to ease them may also be upset with the top
Treasury official's recent travel to Havana.
"No career public servants are happy when they are put between U.S. law
and a very political agenda," he said.
Gacki was part of a U.S. delegation traveling to Cuba to participate in
the U.S.-Cuba Regulatory Dialogue in Havana June 12-13.
The State Department only confirmed that officials from the Departments
of Commerce, the Treasury and State participated, and that the purpose
was to describe regulatory changes announced in mid-March "related to
Cuba-related travel, commerce and financial transactions."
"The delegations addressed ways the two nations can work together within
existing U.S. laws and regulations," the release said.
The visit comes amid reports that Cuba's government-run bank and U.S.
financial institutions are trying to find ways to allow transactions
involving debit and credit cards from several U.S. banks, despite legal
hurdles posed by the trade embargo.
Right now, Stonegate Bank of Florida is the only bank authorized by both
the United States and Cuban governments to allow its customers to use
their debit and credit cards in Cuba. The bank opened an office in
Havana last year.
Shortly after the visit in mid-July, a senior State Department official
told reporters that the Obama administration is "close to approaching
the end of what can be done" through presidential executive authority to
expand commerce and normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba.
"However, we're constantly looking at the regulations to see where we
still may make adjustments or modifications that will further ... our
people-to-people ties with Cuba," he said, during a call to mark the
one-year anniversary of the re-opening of embassies in both countries.
The official was responding to a question about whether to expect
further easing of U.S. restrictions short of lifting the embargo between
now and the end of the Obama's time in office.Meanwhile, longtime human
rights activists in Congress, including Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., argue
that abuses by the Castro regime are increasing in Cuba with the renewed
diplomatic ties to the United States, not improving as the Obama
administration had hoped.
Meanwhile, longtime human rights activists in Congress, including Rep.
Chris Smith, R-N.J., argue that abuses by the Castro regime are
increasing in Cuba with the renewed diplomatic ties to the United
States, not improving as the Obama administration had hoped.
Smith held a hearing earlier this month on the human rights situation in
Cuba, where he said the "disregard for civil rights and political rights
has gotten worse, not better, since the president's much-trumpeted visit
to the island six weeks ago."
"The regime continues to jail and beat political dissidents, with even
extrajudicial killings apparently sanctioned," he said. "The Obama
administration cannot allow concerns over its 'legacy' to muffle its
voice when it should be loudly insisting that the rights of the Cuban
people be respected."
The hearing featured testimony from Sirley Avila Leon, who was a former
Cuban government official before becoming a dissident who was nearly
murdered in a brutal machete attack — the work, she says of Castro
regime-directed "security thugs."
Cuban officials were in Washington, D.C., this week for discussions on
another topic: how to settle outstanding claims between the two nations.
But the two sides made little progress other than to formalize the price
tags of their claims, and agreed to continue meeting.
A senior State Department officials told reporters Friday that there's
no way to tell how the ongoing embargo would factor into Cuban claims
related to economic damage it has caused because the talks are still in
a preliminary phase.
U.S. nationals — including some Cuban-Americans exiled to the United
States after the Castro regime came to power in the 1950s — are
demanding a total of $1.9 billion, along with 6 percent interest, in
claims for private property they owned on the island that the Cuban
government seized. There are $2.2 billion in other outstanding U.S.
court judgments against the Cuban government.
The Castro regime, meanwhile, argues that the United States owes Cuba a
whopping $181 billion or more for "human damages" and $121 billion for
economic damages the trade embargo has caused.
Source: Why was the top U.S. sanctions cop in Cuba? | Washington