Until this year, U.S. citizens could arrange legal travel to Cuba with relative ease. Those days are gone.
The ‘‘people to people’’ provision that allowed Americans to visit Cuba as part of an organized tour for educational, humanitarian or religious reasons has been tightened by the U.S. government as of Jan. 1. The result: Many tours once available to Americans are offered no longer.
‘‘Tourist dollars provide vital hard currency that Castro and his cronies use to continue to oppress Cuba,’’ R. Richard Newcomb, director of the Foreign Assets Control Office at the Treasury Department, told a House subcommittee last fall, according to the New York Times.
Tour operators are unhappy with the policy change.
‘‘The primary reason the people-to-people license was dismantled had to with abuse by a few hustlers that crippled a relatively beneficial program,’’ said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc., a business consultancy based in New York.
Said Tom Popper, director of Insight Cuba, a nonprofit cross-cultural tour operator in New Rochelle, N.Y.: ‘‘The number of U.S. travelers that will legally travel to Cuba in 2004 will decrease drastically, almost to a trickle.’’ Insight found its license to offer such tours was not renewed for this year by the U.S. government.
But not everyone’s frothing over the new rules. For Americans born in Cuba or those who have a relative there, life’s a little easier. Though they still are allowed visits only once per year, the circle of qualifying family members has been widened.
For example, a mother’s cousin is now deemed “a close relative.’‘
The administration also scrapped the requirement for a family authorized to visit ‘‘in circumstances that demonstrate humanitarian need.’’ Now, family members can visit for any reason.
Also, the amount of cash a Cuban-American visitor may bring to the island rose from $300 to $3,000. The amount one is allowed to spend while there has been lifted entirely.
So which U.S. citizens can legally go, according to the U.S. government? Anyone. Visiting Cuba is legal—but spending money there isn’t, except for the following travelers (see the State Department’s website, [url=http://www.travel.state.gov/cuba.html]http://www.travel.state.gov/cuba.html):[/url]
o U.S. and foreign government officials traveling on official business;
o Journalists and supporting broadcasting or technical personnel employed by a news reporting organization;
o Full-time professionals whose travel transactions are directly related to their jobs, provided their research: (1) is of a noncommercial academic nature, (2) comprises a full work schedule in Cuba and (3) has a substantial likelihood of public dissemination;
o Full-time professionals whose travel transactions are directly related to attendance at meetings or conferences (such as doctors or dentists);
o Those involved in transactions directly incident to marketing, sales negotiation, accompanied delivery, and servicing of exports and reexports that appear consistent with the licensing policy of the Department of Commerce. (Approved industries include agriculture, telecommunications, medicine and medical devices.)
o Amateur or semiprofessional athletes participating in an athletic competition.
o Travelers on ‘‘fully hosted’’ trips whose Cuba-related expenses are paid by someone who is not subject to U.S. jurisdiction. Such travel may not be made on a Cuban carrier or aboard a direct flight between the United States and Cuba.
In addition, the Treasury Department will also consider requests for humanitarian travel not covered by the general license, educational exchanges, and religious activities by individuals or groups affiliated with a religious organization.
Those tempted to travel without U.S. permission—via Cancun, the Bahamas or another third country—should think again. Fines can reach as high as $7,500. And increasingly, those governments advise the U.S. government of citizens who have been to Cuba.