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New regulations could allow American cars to come back from Cuba

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Photo courtesy Gavin in the UK.

Regulations passed last month designed to ease trade restrictions with Cuba could permit the Forties and Fifties American cars still prowling the streets of Havana to make their way back to their homeland either for restoration or for good.

The regulations, announced with much fanfare for their provision lifting restrictions on the amount of Cuban rum and number of Cuban cigars travelers can bring back from the country, also include a number of other provisions encouraging joint medical research, permitting grants and scholarships, and allowing certain U.S. citizens to again open bank accounts in Cuba. One of those provisions authorizes items that were previously exported to Cuba to be repatriated into the United States.

“This authorization will allow recipients of authorized exports or reexports to Cuba to return the items to the United States… including for service and repair,” according to a memo from the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. “Irrespective of involvement in the importation of these items, persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction are authorized to service and repair such items.”

The OFAC is the government entity responsible for administering the Cuban Assets Control Regulations – that is, the Cuban embargo. As the office pointed out in the memo, the repatriatization authorization is new; previously U.S. citizens could only import goods made in Cuba, and a limited number of goods at that. Returning the goods to Cuba would still require specific authorization from OFAC.

As written, the new regulation would plausibly allow Cubans to send their old American cars to the United States for restoration – perhaps a welcome option to the Cubans given the scarcity of restoration and maintenance parts that has led to Cuban mechanics’ famous resourcefulness – and even allow them to sell their cars to Americans – perhaps less likely given how attached many Cubans have become to their cars.

A request for detailed comment on the regulation from OFAC officials has so far gone unanswered.

Alongside OFAC’s new regulations, the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security made some amendments to the Export Administration Regulations, one of which will allow Cubans to freely purchase restoration and maintenance parts for their old American cars from the United States.

“BIS will generally authorize exports of certain consumer goods that are sold online or through other means directly to eligible individuals in Cuba for their personal use,” the memo reads. So no chain parts stores in Cuba just yet, but those aforementioned Cuban mechanics shouldn’t have to rely on Russian diesel engines any longer.

The regulations went into effect Monday, October 17.