Q&A: Is This “Humanitarian Effort” Possible—or Even Legal?

While this plan may be well intentioned, it must be abandoned immediately.

A wealthy husband and wife from my church want to travel to Cuba with items that are needed by the Cuban people. They would like the church’s help in locating a ministry there that could distribute the items they bring. Is this plan possible or even legal?

While this plan may be well intentioned, it must be abandoned immediately. If this husband and wife fail to do so, they could easily end up committing a felony. Let me explain.

Cuba and a number of other nations are declared “sanctioned countries,” including Balkans, Belarus, Burma, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Iraq, Liberia, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, and Zimbabwe.

In order to transport anything into a sanctioned country, you need a license or permit issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)—an agency of the US Treasury Department that administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions. The permit process can take several months. Along with that, a permit is subject to a variety of limitations. The chances of this couple, your church, or a ministry obtaining one is highly unlikely.

Don’t even consider the other alternative. Trying to “sneak” goods into a sanctioned country is a very bad and illegal idea. The couple could end up in a Cuban jail.

Frank Sommerville is a both a CPA and attorney, and a longtime Editorial Advisor for Church Law & Tax.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations." Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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