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Posted June 20, 2004 by publisher in Cuban Americans

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BY CHRISTINA HOAG | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Miami Herald

Hundreds of Cuban Americans will be considered illegal travelers to Cuba if they do not return from the island before new travel rules take effect on June 30.

Operators of charter flights to Cuba are scrambling to schedule flights to ferry hundreds of Cuban Americans back from the island before new travel regulations make them illegal visitors subject to $7,500 fines as of June 30.
The agencies are also trying to contact Cuban Americans already on the island who may not know that they have to return before the more restrictive rules take effect.

‘‘It’s quite a panic right now,’’ said Mara Teresa Arau, chief executive and vice president of ABC Charters in Miami, one of seven local companies that operate flights to Cuba. “I’m in the process of contracting more planes, but I don’t think I’ll be able to accommodate everyone.’’

The new rules, which have been pending for months, were published Wednesday in the Federal Register. A spokeswoman for the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which regulates travel from the United States to Cuba, said the two weeks until they take effect allow travelers time to change schedules.

‘‘We encourage folks to use this time period to make travel arrangements to get back to the U.S.,’’ said Molly Millerwise, a Treasury spokeswoman. A traveler returning after June 30 will be subject to a $7,500 fine, Millerwise said. First-time violators with mitigating circumstances have sometimes gotten off with a warning letter, she added.

LICENSES EXPIRE

Under the toughened new Cuba travel policy, Cuban Americans have to complete all travel to the island before June 30 because their current ‘‘general licenses,’’ which allow them to make annual trips to visit relatives, will expire on that date.

Cuban Americans now have to obtain a special license to visit only immediate family members and can make a trip only for a maximum of 14 days every three years. The trouble is that procedures and forms for the special license have not been issued, causing hundreds of people to cancel travel plans or alter them to return before June 30.

‘‘The Treasury Department has notified us that they’ll strictly enforce this,’’ said Michael Zuccato, general manager of Cuba Travel Services, which has scheduled three extra flights from Havana to Miami for June 29.

As for people who are already in Cuba and had planned to stay into the summer, agencies said they hope relatives stateside will see media coverage of the new policy and notify their family members. ‘‘It’s impossible to contact them,’’ Arau of ABC Charters said. “I have a man who left May 28 and isn’t coming back until July. I don’t know where he is. I don’t ask them where they go.’‘

Charter operators had been told that as long as Cuban Americans left the United States by June 30, they were safe, said Francisco Aruca, chairman of Marazul, a charter company with offices in Miami and New Jersey.

Knowing that the rules were changing on June 30, many Cuban Americans rushed to schedule their outward-bound trips before that date, waiting for schools to break for the summer to be able to take children, he said.

CHANGING COURSE

It was not until late Wednesday before a Marazul employee noticed the new policy’s provision about returning before June 30 and company lawyers contacted the Treasury Department for an interpretation, Aruca said.

‘‘This has been implemented in a very shabby fashion,’’ he said. “Almost certainly we will not be able to get enough planes to facilitate travel. There are hundreds of Cuban Americans who won’t be able to travel.’‘

One is Alicia Burrola’s sister-in-law, who had planned to celebrate her daughter’s 15th birthday in Cuba over the July Fourth weekend. ‘‘They’ve spent all this money, they’ve bought all the dresses,’’ said Burrola, of Miami. “She’s crying her heart out.’‘

Zuccato of Cuba Travel Services, which also operates flights to Havana from Los Angeles, said the charter operators also face a Catch-22 with the U.S. Department of Transportation. The DOT mandates that charter companies bring back every passenger they take. After June 30, that will run counter to the Treasury rule, which states that the companies cannot accept unlicensed travelers.

‘‘We’re trying to get a clarification on what we do, but no one’s returning our calls,’’ Zuccato said. “We thought it would be reasonable to give a grace period for these people to return. This law was implemented with little forethought or consideration to people.’‘

Once the charter companies get through this period, some firms said, they expect business to slow down significantly, especially in the short term, as the special license applications have not yet been issued and it is not known how long they will take to process.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on June 21, 2004 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    “This law was implemented with little forethought or consideration to people.’‘

    Ah yeah, that’ right in line with the whole mentality of the Embargo.

    The American people and Cuban people continue to suffer because of a few high ranking officials and Cuban exiles.



    Cuba consulting services

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