Before and since my recent trip to Havana, I was struck by how many otherwise well-informed Americans said to me, “Oh, I thought we couldn’t go any more, since Trump.” This is completely false and results from a combination of State Department shenanigans, Trump bluster, and bad reporting in the mass media (which frequently state, incorrectly, that individual travel is no longer allowed except for Cuban-Americans, while all other travelers must go in groups).
The facts are quite different.
“Tourist travel” remains illegal now, just as it was under Obama, because of the economic embargo that can be repealed only by the Congress. But the commercial airline service begun under Obama remains in place, and the only requirement for using it is to check off one of the twelve categories for permitted travel on the form provided by the airline.
There are twelve categories of permitted “general license” travel (i.e., without applying for any special permission from the Treasury Department) ranging from research relating to one’s profession, to religious or humanitarian aid, to “support for the Cuban people” and more.
The only change in general license categories since Trump took office is the elimination of individual “people-to-people educational travel.” This was the broadest and most widely used since its creation by Obama, true. But the “support for the Cuban people” category is almost as broad, provided that travelers stay in private homes (e.g., through Airbnb, which continues to book stays in Cuba) and eat some meals in private restaurants. Even Marco Rubio, facing criticism that the new regulations were undermining the relatively new Cuban family business sector, tweeted on June 16, 2017, “Individual Americans can travel to #Cuba under Support for the Cuban people category but must use privately owned lodging like AirBnB.”
As far as I can tell, there has been no increased scrutiny of travelers or other change in enforcement of the travel regs. Most travelers report being asked no questions at all on re-entry to the U.S.
The other new development is the State Department’s warning to “Reconsider travel to Cuba due to health attacks directed at U.S. Embassy Havana employees.” This is a completely spurious warning. The “health attacks” remain unproven and, if they existed at all, were directed only at certain diplomats by unknown parties. Cuba remains among the safest countries in the world for foreign travelers, in terms of both crime and the public health system.
Nonetheless, the general feeling in Havana was that there had been a drop-off in U.S. visitors, and Cubans were unhappy about this. They liked the relaxation in tensions with the U.S., they liked having direct contact with U.S. citizens to better understand our country in all its complexity, and both the small-private sector and the crucial state service sector benefit from our presence and spending. Also, if travel declines, so will the number of commercial airline flights.
So, one more small action you can take against the politics of fear-mongering and disinformation: travel to Cuba, soon. Go as described above, or book one of the many group people-to-people tours offered by licensed providers of all sorts, ranging from non-profits like Green Cities Fund to cultural institutions, alumni associations, groups specializing in Cuba travel, and more.
DICK CLUSTER and RAFAEL HERNÁNDEZ
“This beautifully written, reliably informative, and extremely sensitive account provides a delightful examination across time of the extraordinary human dimensions of an extraordinary people.”—FRANKLIN KNIGHT, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY, CHOICE