Recent actions by the U.S. Congress and several executive branch agencies have resulted in changes to sanctions related to various countries and regions, including Cuba, North Korea, Crimea, and Venezuela.

Cuba

On January 16, the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) amended the Cuban Assets Control Regulations to implement policy changes with respect to Cuba that were announced by President Obama in December 2014. These amendments facilitate travel to Cuba for authorized purposes, permit travel agents and airlines to provide authorized travel services, allow the forwarding by certain entities of authorized remittances, raise the limit on certain categories of remittances to Cuba, allow U.S. financial institutions to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions, authorize certain transactions with Cuban nationals located outside of Cuba, and allow a number of other activities related to certain areas, including telecommunications, financial services, trade, and shipping. 

The same day, the U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) revised the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) with respect to transactions involving Cuba. These amendments create License Exception Support for the Cuban People (SCP) that authorizes the export and reexport of certain items to Cuba, provides support for independent economic activity, and improves the free flow of information to and from Cuba. The amendments also revise the existing License Exception Consumer Communications Devices (CCD) by eliminating the donation requirement and authorizing sales of certain communications items to eligible end users in Cuba. The amendments also revise the License Exception Gift Parcels and Humanitarian Donations (GFT) by authorizing exports of multiple gift parcels in a single shipment. Finally, the amendments establish a general policy of approval for exports and reexports to Cuba of items for the environmental protection of U.S. and international air quality, waters, and coastlines. 

For more information on the new amendments to the Cuba embargo regulations, please see King & Spalding's January 2015 Client Alert

North Korea

On January 2, largely in response to the cyber-related attacks on Sony Pictures, the President issued Executive Order 13687 that authorizes the blocking of property and interests in property of entities and officials of the North Korean government, of persons who have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to the North Korean Government, and of entities that have acted for or on behalf of the North Korean Government. The same day, OFAC added 10 North Korean nationals and 3 North Korean entities to its Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN List). 

Crimea

On December 19, 2014, in response to Russia's ongoing activities in the Crimean region of Ukraine, the President issued Executive Order 13685 (EO 13685) that effectively imposes a trade embargo on Crimea. Specifically, EO 13685 prohibits new investment by U.S. persons in Crimea, importation into the United States of goods, services, or technology from Crimea, as well as exportation, reexportation, sale, or supply from the United States or by a U.S. person of goods, services, or technology to Crimea. U.S. persons are also prohibited from facilitating prohibited transactions. The same day, OFAC added 17 individuals and 7 entities to its SDN List and issued a general license authorizing the exportation and reexportation of agricultural commodities, medicine, medical supplies, and replacement parts to Crimea or specifically for resale to Crimea. On December 30, 2014, OFAC issued a general license authorizing certain activities ordinarily incident and necessary to wind-down operations involving Crimea that otherwise would be prohibited under Executive Order 13685. U.S. persons that engage in these authorized transactions are required within 10 business days after the wind-down activities conclude to file a report with OFAC's Licensing Division.

Venezuela

On December 18, 2014, the President signed into law The Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014, which does not immediately impose new sanctions but gives the President the ability to impose sanctions after making certain determinations. It appears likely that under Section 5 of the Act, OFAC will make designations in the near future. Under the Act, OFAC may SDN designate and place on its List former or current officials of the Venezuelan Government and persons acting on behalf of the Venezuelan Government related to acts of violence, human rights abuses, or arrests based on freedom of expression.