Obama Extends Cuba's Designation Under Trading With the Enemy Act

An image of Cuban independence hero José Marti is displayed in a state-run bakery in downtown Havana, September 4. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

Last week, on September 11, President Barack Obama reaffirmed that the United States and Cuba are still enemies—at least on paper.

By extending Cuba's designation under the Trading With the Enemy Act, Obama gave himself greater leeway to tighten or loosen sanctions as part of his continued efforts to end decades of antagonism between the two countries.

Using the regulations, which were set to expire September 14, Obama was able to relax the U.S. embargo against Cuba last December, the first public move in an ongoing reduction of tensions between the two countries. Had Obama allowed the regulations to lapse, a more punitive set of rules passed by Congress, such as the Helms-Burton Act, which explicitly forbids any and all trade between the U.S. and Cuba, would have become the law of the land.

But the Trading With the Enemy Act also forbids many aspects of foreign trade. In 2012, a Manhattan grocer was arrested on charges of violating the act by attempting to invest in Cuban property. The grocer, Adem Arici, was later convicted of witness tampering in connection with the case.

Nevertheless, the president appears ready to continue the long process of bringing the U.S. and Cuba closer together, despite a series of laws designed to keep them at odds for as long as the Castro regime remains in power. Congress enacted the Helms-Burton Act in 1996 after the Castro government shot down two private planes carrying anti-regime exiles from Miami who had been dropping propaganda leaflets over Cuban territory. Helms-Burton codified the embargo, making it impossible for the president to unilaterally revoke it.

While the embargo is less popular than it once was among American politicians, analysts say the likelihood of Congress overturning Helms-Burton in the near future remains low. "[U]ntil the Congress acts, the administration will continue to take prudent and responsible steps to allow commerce and travel, consistent with its authorities and within the continuing constraints of the embargo," National Security Council spokesman Peter Boogaard told ABC News.