Posted on Thursday, 05.20.10
U.S. approvals of Cuba travel providers make big jump
By JUAN O. TAMAYO
The U.S. agency that enforces Cuba sanctions approved 42 new travel and
other service providers this year, compared to none in 2009, in what
government officials described as a push sparked by changes in the Obama
administration policy and the bureaucracy.
The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) also
updated its list of “authorized providers of air, travel and remittance
forwarding services to Cuba'' four times this year, compared to twice in
2009 and just once in 2008.
The increases were driven both by President Barack Obama's change in
policy to allow more U.S. travel to Cuba and OFAC's effort to clear up a
backlog of applications for new licenses that had been pending for
several months, said one knowledgeable U.S. official.
Obama lifted virtually all restrictions on Cuban Americans' travel to
the island last year, overturning a Bush administration ruling that had
limited their trips to once every three years.
“It's a little bit of both, policy and bureaucracy,'' said the
official, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly about the changes.
“The people at OFAC had been spending a lot of time [monitoring] the
family travel'' under the previous administration.
“Not only is this good for people who have been waiting for years to
open their businesses, but it allows the U.S. government to address more
pressing matters that affect the entire nation,'' said Vivian Mannerud,
president of the Miami-based Airline Brokers Co.
OFAC reports showed the agency issued 11 “new approvals'' on March 8,
March 24 and March 31, two on April 19 and five on its latest update of
the list, issued May 14, which now lists 224 companies licensed to offer
travel and remittance services to Cuba.
No new authorizations were reported in the OFAC updates issued in 2009,
though there were dozens of changes to existing licenses, such as new
branches and different addresses.
The increase in new approvals is not linked to the recent hike in U.S.
travel to Cuba — more than 20,000 people each month now compared to
less than 9,000 before Obama eased the family travel restrictions —
according to two travel industry experts.
There are already enough licensed service providers to handle the
increased flow, and maybe too many, said Pedro Gonzalez Munné, president
of Cuba Promotions in Miami.
Other Cuban travel industry experts noted that most of the companies
authorized this year have been in the Cuba travel business for several
months, usually operating in conjunction with already licensed companies.
OFAC requires new applicants for licenses to have fully established
companies — including office space and telephones — but bars them from
conducting Cuba business until their applications are approved months
down the road, one official noted.
“That's very unreasonable and unfair,'' the official added, asking for
anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue. “Did OFAC's
delays force some people to do roundabout work? Maybe.''