WASHINGTON — President Obama renewed a 20-year-old state of national emergency to enforce the blockade against Cuba Wednesday, even as he plans a trip to the island nation next month to continue talks on normalizing relations between the two countries.
Obama’s Proclamation 9398 continues the blockade first instituted by President Clinton in 1996 under emergency powers granted to the president by Congress, and prohibits U.S.-registered vessels and aircraft from entering Cuban waters or airspace without authorization. Under the National Emergencies Act, those emergency powers expire unless the president renews them each year.
There is one substantive change to the Obama blockade policy: Obama authorizes the Coast Guard to inspect and seize vessels suspected of violating the blockade, but only “to the extent consistent with international law.” The White House did not immediately explain why the president added that condition.
But in renewing the blockade, Obama also softened the language used to justify the emergency. He removed the more bellicose language used by Presidents Clinton and Bush that Cuba “has demonstrated a ready and reckless willingness to use excessive force, including deadly force,” against the United States, and instead expressed a desire for “a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Cuba.”
Clinton declared a state of emergency on March 1, 1996 after Cuban fighters shot down planes belonging to Brothers to the Rescue, a group founded by Cuban exiles to help spot Cubans attempting to flee by sea to the United States.
The Cuba embargo is one of 30 separate national emergencies now in effect, including one renewed Tuesday against the regime of the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Despite a 1976 law requiring Congress to review those emergencies every six months, legislators have never formally done so.
Gregory Korte, USA TODAY
February 24, 2016