Monday’s news was full of reports that pop stars Beyonce and husband Jay-Z may have violated US trade sanctions laws by traveling to Cuba last week. Now Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) want to find out, sending a letter of inquiry to OFAC Director Adam Szubin asking for more.
This article on the Miami Herald‘s website is the one of the better ones when it comes to explaining the legalities. Effectively, as many articles have explained (some more accurately than others), travel to Cuba by US persons is heavily regulated under the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 CFR Part 515 (CACR). Although the Obama Administration loosened many requirements early in its first term, most travel to the island state still requires a specific license from OFAC.
Cuban-Americans can now basically travel as much as they want to visit certain categories of relatives in Cuba without an OFAC license. Also, certain professional research in Cuba and professional meetings can be attended without the need for a license, as well as certain academic activities by US students and faculty,and religious activities, etc. Everything else basically requires a license.
Even if a Cuba trip is authorized (irrespective of whether it is through a general license or specific license) one still needs to abide by certain restrictions – e.g., spending only as much time in Cuba as needed for the given task, and spending no more than certain maximums based on the State Department’s per-diem rate for the country and regions therein. Records of all transactions should be kept meticulously, credit cards cannot be used, no bringing home Cuban cigars as souvenirs, and so on. Once licensed, there are relatively minimal restrictions on how to get there – there are even certain OFAC-licensed services that run charter flights out of designated airports in the US straight to Cuba.
From a legal practice perspective, clients really need to be walked through the details and intricacies. I have helped many a client on Cuba travel matters and the list of considerations is hefty. This is not to mention the arduous and complex licensing process. If you plan on taking your own jet there, be sure to get a Temporary Sojourn License from the BIS, too!
Most interestingly to many is that simply wanting to tour Cuba in its relatively untouched form is generally not an option for US persons, and it would be very surprising at the very least if OFAC ever issued such a license. So the question remains – did the blockbuster R&B stars get a license to go to Cuba? The answer to that is not yet clear. Will it give this issue more scrutiny in the press and possibly by the Administration? Maybe.