Havana, Here We Come — Hopefully

A very few years ago, a friend who travels extensively in developing countries invited me to join her on a trip to Cuba. I was tempted, but the Bush administration’s punitive attitude toward tourism to the Latin American outlyer to the “axis of evil” had me concerned. American tourists could be fined heavily ($15,000 sticks in my mind) upon their return to the US. There were, of course, ways around this charade which seemed to me mostly an effort to appease the hardliners among Miami’s Cuban-American citizens, because after all, Bush’s brother Jeb is Florida’s governor. My friend went via Cancun, Mexico. Cuba did not stamp her passport. She had a fabulous experience. And of course, I regretted chickening out.

Now, there is hope on the horizon for normal travel to Cuba with the election of a Democratic-controlled Congress and with Cuban President Fidel Castro showing fraility after six-and-a-half decades in power. Things finally appear to be shifting. HR 654, submitted on January 24 by House Ways and Means Committee chairman Charles Rangel, states, “The President shall not regulate or prohibit, directly or indirectly, travel to or from Cuba by United States citizens or legal residents, or any of the transactions incident to such travel.” It has reportedly gained bipartisan co-sponsorship from more than 60 Representatives, and a similar bill is to be considered by the Senate at the end of this month.

The limited travel currently permitted requires US travel agents booking trips to Cuba, to have a license as a “Travel Service Provider” — and that seems to go just to organizers of medical or religious travel and trips for various other approved purposes. The new legislation, if approved, would also permit the use of US credit cards for travel to Cuba. It does not, however, lift the trade embargo, so don’t expect to see Cuban cigars at US tobacconists in the near future.

America’s obsessive blacklisting, blackballing and isolation of Cuba is a case of this country going it largely alone. Many countries (and most who count, economically) already have normal relations with Cuba. Their citizens happily vacation at resorts along the Cuban coast. American citizens who wish to do so take the risk of punishment by our government. Americans who want to travel there do so via Mexico, as my friend did, Canada or even Spain. The US public does seem to seems ready to resume normal relations with our neighbor to the south, with some two-thirds of Americans in favor of a major policy shift, according to CNN, Gallup and Associated Press polls. About half of all Cuban-Americans, painted by politicians with an agenda of continued isolation of Cuba, reportedly support ending all travel restrictions.

The Travel Committee on Cuba (TICC), a group of travel agents, lusts after the opening of a new tropical destination so close to American shores. No longer totally put off by government accusations of being unpatriotic, travel professionals now are talking about “direct contact between people,” “understanding” and “goodwill.” Most In truth, hordes of American tourists carrying American plastic and American greenbacks do more to “open” a country than any political posturing about “anti-Communism.” Vietnam and even China prove that tourist and trade dollars are the most effective way of “opening” a country considered to be hostile.

5 thoughts on “Havana, Here We Come — Hopefully”

  1. I agree completely with your sentiment about travelers acting as the best goodwill ambassadors for the US. This is something we desperately need right now – a little good PR.

    I’ve traveled to Cuba and many other “off limits” countries that do not currently enjoy diplomatic relations with the US. Locals so appreciate the fact that an American has come to visit their country and show an interest, despite the propaganda on both ends. I’ve generally been welcomed with open arms and shown incredible hospitality in the poorest and “most forbidden” countries. If you show a little respect for another culture, you will be welcomed in return.

    Another good reason to travel to Cuba and places like it is that these countries tend not to be very expensive – many bargains can still be found. It’s also great to see a place before it gets overrun with tourists.

    Boulder, CO

  2. A friend sent me an E-mail saying, “…I have made a friend who is married to a Cuban and she has connected me with some people that could make it possible to go legitimately for research purposes…I’ve wanted to go for years and, when I lived in Mexico, also chickened out on going through Cancun. In about the past year or so, the Mexican government has been ‘reporting’ to the US government people trying to go through Cancun and just not get their passports stamped. The US government is then contacting these people and they are incurring quite large fines, with possible jail time for some. So, even if I wasn’t cluck-cluck-clucking, I wouldn’t try to go illegally now that way.”

    The other friend (referred to in my original post) who traveled via Cancun went about 15 months ago. Her timing appears to have been perfect. If Mexico has more recenlty been reporting American citizens who travel through their country to visit Cuba, I wonder if it might be some last-ditch pressure before an anticipated loosening of regulations.

  3. i think that actually what happens is the short memory that characterizes the american society, if i can remember our friend castro pointed nuclear warheads to sweepout the continental usa in one swiftly strike, as a compliment to the russian support of his apartheid creation in the island of pleasure, where his great friend rangel should be sent without return, maybe in two weeks ( and i think that is too much time ) he will be back in a raft!!! if by any means you get to get there, try to live like a regular cuban, you will appreciate more the freedom you enjoy for free in this great country. and please, do not lecture me, i lived that marvelous communism of yours for 25 years, so i perfectly know how it is… you try to match my record, i am 100 percent sure you will not survive 72 hours. and by the way, that freedom of travel you take for granted has been prohibited in the island for more than 50 years, so please educate yourself!!!

  4. I wouldn’t presume to lecture you, Anomymous, because I haven’t shared your experience. I would respectfully point out that 45+ years after a scary incident does not equate to a “short memory,” and that US visitors have been traipsing around Russia and other former Soviet Republics, our more recent enemy Vietnam and the People’s Republic of China. Some tourists are curently staying away from China because of the appalling CURRENT situation vis-a-vis Tibet. Others are going there anyway, and Jews (and other Americans) visit Germany, 63 years after World War II ended. That, by the way, was only 16-20 years before the Cuban Missile Crisis. The reality is that visitors do not live like “real Russians,” “real Vietnamese,” “real Chinese” or, perhaps, “real Cubans.” I am personally of the mind that contact between peoples, on balance, is a good thing. Diff’rent strokes for different traveling folks.

  5. I really hope that in the comning years that the U.S let go of the trade embargo and let Cuba open up again.
    The best thing for the future of Cuba and their best chance of democracy is by letting them get a flavour of life outside Cuba -something which will happen more without sanctions.

    Cuba Travel

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