Washington, D.C. — On October 14, 2016, an announcement from the U.S. President’s office gladdened the hearts of many smokers and drinkers throughout America.
Obama’s administration announced a series of Cuba-related executive actions, including one that will end restrictions on the island’s famed high-quality rum and first-rate cigars starting October 17.
American travelers to Cuba will be allowed to purchase and bring back into the U.S. unlimited quantities of rum and cigars, as long as they are for personal use.
U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice observed of the new policy,
“You can now celebrate with Cuban rum and Cuban cigars.”
Under the new regulations it will also become easier for American companies to sell agricultural products to Cuba, for Cubans to purchase American-made goods, and for U.S. companies to import Cuban-made pharmaceuticals.
These rules are intended to boost U.S. travel, trade, and financial relations with the nation, which is only ninety miles from Key West, Florida.
Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean. It has a population of more than 11 million, making it the Caribbean’s second most heavily populated island. In addition to being known for superior cigars and outstanding rum, the country is famed for an abundance of fully functional and well-maintained vintage 1950s American automobiles.
The groundwork for the new policies was established two years ago by President Obama and Cuban President and Prime Minister Raúl Castro. Raul is the younger brother of Fidel Castro, who became Prime Minister soon after Cuba’s Communist Revolution in the late 1950s.
In December 2014 Obama and Raul Castro announced their mutual intention to improve relations between the two nations. This came after half a century of hostilities between the two Cold War enemies — including the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 when the Soviet Union began constructing ballistic-missile launch facilities in Cuba. The Soviets later agreed to dismantle the weapons and return them to the Soviet Union.
American laws still restrict general tourism to the island, although U.S. citizens are able to visit via package tours, one of twelve authorized tourism and travel categories.
American legislators, however, have for decades been reluctant to end the 50-year trade, travel, and financial embargo, citing the Cuban government’s reputed political oppression as a justification. Indeed, some believe the U.S. President is being too soft in view of human rights issues. As Cuban-American politician and Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio observed,
“After two years of President Obama’s Cuba policy, the Castro regime has made out like bandits.”
Nevertheless, the new policies will be hard for a future American administration to reverse because they will allow for the formation of multiple trade relationships that will be difficult to undo.
Speaking about his October 14 executive order normalizing trade relations with Cuba, President Obama acknowledged,
“Challenges remain — and very real differences between our governments persist on issues of democracy and human rights.”
However, he continued,
“I believe that engagement is the best way to address those differences and make progress on behalf of our interests and values.”
“The progress of the last two years, bolstered by today’s action, should remind the world of what’s possible when we look to the future together.”