US airline JetBlue will begin scheduled services to Cuba on August 31st, marking the latest step in the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States. Since President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raúl Castro announced in November 2014 the re-establishment of diplomatic relations after 54 years of no official contacts at the highest government levels, the US government has announced the easing a number of restrictions relating to US companies doing business with and in Cuba and for US persons wishing to travel to Cuba. Highlights include:
- Hospitality and tourism, agriculture, telecommunications and financial services are all sectors that have benefited immediately from the explicit lifting of some restrictions on their activities or receiving special authorization from the US authorities to conduct business.
- Exports of US healthcare products permitted under current US legislation increased by 457% in 2015 compared with 2014.
- Over 150,000 US nationals visited Cuba in 2015, an increase of 77% on 2014.
- Nearly 150 US government representatives have visited and held official meetings in Cuba, and over 70 Cuban officials have done the same in the US.
Critically, however, the US trade embargo and the Helms-Burton Act, under which companies which do business in Cuba can face sanctions under US law, remain in place. The US government is still actively pursuing companies suspected of sanctionsbusting; in early 2016, it was revealed that the US had imposed fines totaling close to $5.3m on firms accused of violating sanction since the diplomatic rapprochement began. Helms-Burton therefore remains the biggest obstacle and deterrent for companies interested in opportunities in Cuba.