July 25, 2009 at 11:37 a.m. SEATTLE TIMES

Travel to Cuba

Posted by Bruce Ramsey

A reader writes:

I’ve read with interest your July 21 column on your visit to Cuba. There are, as you noted, drab state stores where Cubans can use their currency to obtain basic necessities, like beans and rice, but the real retail market is the underground economy where, if you have the CUC’s [convertible pesos bought with dollars], you can obtain just about anything you want – usually goods that disappear out the back door of CUC stores – for a good price (at least for foreigners). There is also a thriving internet market in home swaps, since Cubans cannot buy and sell their homes. Perhaps, some day, the underground economy will become legal, but probably not while “the old man” is around. As one illegal taxi driver told me during a recent visit, “it’s against the law to work here”. If any of your readers are interested in going to Cuba now, there is a non-profit organization, Global Exchange, which has taken thousands of U.S. citizens to Cuba over the years on educational tours in an effort to allow people to get to know this “forbidden country”. If any reader wants to simply go without a license, that’s possible too simply by traveling via a third country. While illegal, the Treasury Department has been quite lax about enforcing the law in recent years, and there are attorneys such as myself and the National Lawyers Guild, who believe U.S. citizens have a Constitutional right to travel and offer pro bono legal services to citizens caught up by the travel ban. It’s a great time to go, and Cuba is full of surprises – such as the St. Patrick’s Day parade down O’Reilly Street in Old Havana, led by a well-known Cuban transvestite, and the international art (much of it very political) in the recent Biennial.

Tom Miller, General Counsel
Global Exchange

My comment:

I saw some of the art–realism, but nothing like the old “socialist realism.” I liked it. I also liked the music, the mojitos and the Cubans themselves. When Miller says, “It’s a great time to go,” it’s true for a certain kind of traveler. It helps if you’re into what Rick Steves calls “travel as a political act.”