The visit to Cuba of the first sitting US President since Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) and the Rolling Stones free open-air concert were the undoubted highlights of President Obama’s visit to Cuba (March 21-22, 2016). To get a picture of how the US-Cuba commercial thaw progresses, however, let’s take a look at who accompanied President Obama on his trip to Cuba.
Three US Cabinet Secretaries:
In addition to Secretary of State – John Kerry, President Obama was accompanied by two other members of his Cabinet:
Agriculture Secretary – Tom Vilsack first visited Cuba in November, 2015 as head of a delegation of US government officials. His presence on the President Obama trip reflects the high level of interest among US farmers and agri-business companies to expand into the Cuban market. In fact, an early thaw in the US embargo against Cuba that began in 2000 allows the sale of agricultural and food commodities by US companies under a license. Financial restrictions that limit these transactions remain in place and were slightly eased just prior to the trip.
Secretary of Commerce – Penny Pritzker also paid her second trip to Cuba to continue to understand the opportunities and challenges to US companies in doing business in Cuba. In January, 2016, President Obama continued the US-Cuba commercial thaw. A new rule allows US banks to begin providing direct financing for export of some US non-agricultural commodities to Cuba. The same rule allows exporters to receive licenses to export some non-agricultural commodities to Cuba.
Though not on this trip, in February (2016) Anthony Foxx, Transportation Secretary had visited Cuba in February (2016). On that trip, Secretary Foxx signed an arrangement to re-establish scheduled direct air travel between the United States and Cuba. The U.S. Department of Transportation has already invited U.S. air carriers to apply for a route. It is expected that up to 20 daily roundtrip flights will operate between the United States and Havana by the fall (2016). Resumption of direct scheduled flights will hopefully lower the costs of travel to Cuba by US citizens who have so far been restricted to traveling in groups on chartered tours. In the same rule change announced just prior to President Obama’s trip, US persons that fall in one of the twelve (12) permitted categories of travelers are now allowed to arrange their own travel to Cuba.
President Obama’s arrival was preceded by a letter that he sent on the first resumed US-Cuba direct mail flight between the two countries.
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