There's been a lot of discussion on if the US embargo on Cuba should be ended, but I would like to know: how could it be ended? What legislative process? Would any laws have to be removed to allow this to take place?

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    There are a lot of ways this could happen and it would just be an opinion about which of the ways this could happen.
    – Joe W
    Feb 5, 2023 at 17:40
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    Follow std procedures to repeal Cuba-specific acts & laws in Congress. Did you read en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_embargo_against_Cuba ? There also hasn't been a lot of discussion, in the US, on whether it should be ended or not. Neither by a lot of people, nor by a few people with a lot of influence. Might be a lot discussion outside the US. Or by loud progressives in the US. For the record, I think the embargo is vindictive and counterproductive, and driven by domestic politics more than foreign policy benefits. Not the purpose of this site to predict future tho. Feb 5, 2023 at 18:32
  • Ending the embargo would be the normal legislative process going through the house and the senate. If I remember correctly that Obama reduced only some restrictions via executive orders and stopped there because he could not do more without the participation of the house and the senate.
    – FluidCode
    Feb 6, 2023 at 13:06
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica To be fair, there was some discussion when Obama made his executive orders, and again when Trump rescinded them.
    – Barmar
    Feb 6, 2023 at 17:42
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    @Barmar and had this question been asked anywhere in that timeline I would not have made this remark. Feb 6, 2023 at 19:12

3 Answers 3


The answer seems to be as simple as this, if you're talking about the institutional process: it would be an ordinary legislative process. Write a bill, make a member of congress put it on the desk, it will (leadership willing) find its way through a committee then on the floor, get adopted by one house, the other, signed into law by the President. Voila.


Unless you think one of those perennial proposals that seek to abolish (nearly) all sanctions on Cuba is going to pass regardless of what Cuba does[n't] (and if you care about those, you can read one of them, e.g. H. R. 3625 of the 117th Congress and see the list of legislation they proposed to abolish; there's a dozen things in there [sec. 3], but clearly the

  • Cuban Democracy Act (This one "Prohibits vessels which enter Cuba to engage in trade from loading or unloading any freight in the United States within 180 days after departure from Cuba" among other things) and the
  • Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act, which substantially amends the former with more sanctions

are included--but those proposals to just abolish those laws always seem to die in the 1st committee they reach--I wasn't able find a floor vote for their abolishment), a more realistic scenario is that Cuba actually stops being a one-party state and holds something resembling free elections first, as the Cuban Democracy Act demands. If you're curious what is demanded there, it

Waives sanctions against Cuba under this Act if the President reports to the Congress that Cuba: (1) has held free and fair elections conducted under internationally recognized observers; (2) has permitted opposition parties ample time to campaign for such elections and has permitted full access to the media to all candidates; (3) is showing respect for basic civil liberties and human rights; [...]

The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act additionally sets some conditions with respect to property formerly owned by US nationals on the island, and expropriated by Castro. I'm not betting my house[s] on this, but I suspect the political regime change might be more important to most US legislators, especially in the current int'l context of fighting against autocracy etc., but then again if a "you gotta pay" president gets elected, the priorities might change. It's perhaps worth recalling that despite Obama's popularity, he was unable to persuade US legislators to do much about the sanctions on Cuba that were not in his powers to change unilaterally; see "Cuban thaw" for what he was able to do.

I don't find it remotely plausible that a/the Supreme Court would find the CDA unconstitutional, or that it would allow a president to unilaterally override it (as another answer here suggests) because...

The Commerce Clause refers to Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.”

There are debates how far the commerce clause can stretch, but completely gutting it in a [clear] case of foreign trade seems extremely unlikely, to me.

Now I suppose some pathological liar president (and extremely friendly to Cuba too) could try to game some of those laws, e.g. by reporting to Congress that Cuba held free elections when in fact it hasn't done anything approaching that, etc. But for stuff like that, there's always the chance the president would be impeached. If one reads the letter of the CDA in detail, the Secretary of the Treasury may grant exceptions to the embargo, so I suppose at least the CDA could, in theory, be circumvented by executive decision alone, just on that level, but the Secretary may also be impeached, apart from the President.

The Libertad aka Helms–Burton Act (sec. 204(e)) further added a Congressional review (by joint resolution) of such Presidential decisions, although that in practice means the President can veto the review/resolution, so the bar for his actions to be specifically overturned by Congress are rather high: 2/3 of the vote in each chamber. (Ironically perhaps, the bar for impeachment is somewhat lower, as it requires 2/3 in the Senate, but only simple majority in the House of Representatives.).

  • This answer seems based upon the assumption that the sanctions are due to Cuba not being democratic enough, rather than it being not US-aligned enough. A misguided assumption, in my view. Feb 6, 2023 at 6:05
  • @Gouvernathor no it doesn't. "I suspect the political regime change might be more important to most US legislators."
    – Caleth
    Feb 6, 2023 at 9:31
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    @Caleth By regime change I assume you include any type of regime provided it support US interests. In all the other countries in Latin America US (or CIA) backed regime changes were not towards more democracy.
    – FluidCode
    Feb 6, 2023 at 12:46
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    I don't think the question is asking what has to change so that the legislature would decide to end the embargo. I think it's just asking what the technical process would be to make and enact that decision.
    – Barmar
    Feb 6, 2023 at 17:40
  • Cuba is sufficiently in the political doghouse wrt the USA that the US would likely have all sorts of intrusive requirements before relations were normalized, beyond just elections. They would have to be elections the Cuban expats like, for one and that lot is not the most reasonable of audience. Anyway, plenty of other autocratic regimes do not get saddled with US sanctions as much as Cuba does and did not require elections before being treated semi-normally. Feb 6, 2023 at 23:50

The legislative branch could pass a law stating that all restrictions on trading with Cuba are ended, or, more complicatedly, pass a law enumerating less restrictive conditions on trade and saying that it supersedes previous prohibitions, or, even more complicatedly, pass a law that explicitly rescinds all previous restrictions.

The president has some leeway to effectively repeal the restrictions, by simply declaring that the restrictions will not be enforced, although that is legally fraught and doesn't have to be respected by the next president. And if you can convince five justices on the Supreme Court that passing restrictions on trading with other countries "is not deeply rooted in the Nation's history and traditions", then that would be another way to get rid of the restrictions.

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