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Posted November 24, 2008 by publisher in Legal Travel to Cuba

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The Independent | Simon Calder:

Travel, like life in general, requires judicious risk management, ranging from “Am I a strong enough swimmer to cope with those currents?” and “Should I really have that extra drink?” to “What countries are too dangerous to contemplate?”

Travel insurance companies have to exercise good judgment about risk, so they can offer plenty of advice on that last question. For example, Direct Travel Insurance Services has recently deemed four nations to be so dangerous that “we made a corporate underwriting decision to exclude coverage for travel in, to, or through such countries”.

So, who are the forbidden four? Three of them have reputations as hotspots, with widespread lawlessness and violence prevailing: Afghanistan, Liberia and Sudan. And the fourth: my old favorite, Cuba.

Yes, the Caribbean’s largest island is currently so dangerous that a large travel insurer is refusing to cover British holidaymakers who go there. Direct Travel is happy for its policyholders to visit turbulent nations such as Colombia and Indonesia; yet the historic heart of Havana, the tobacco plantations of Pinar del Rio and the beach at Varadero are deemed to be in the same risk category as Helmand in Afghanistan and Darfur in Sudan.

Why should an island that welcomes hundreds of thousands of British holidaymakers every year suddenly find itself consigned to the danger zone? For the answer, Direct Travel referred me to its parent company, AIG, which recently took over the insurer. The company told me it decided earlier this year “that the risks arising from the continued provision of cover under our travel policies in respect of destinations such as Afghanistan, Cuba, Liberia and Sudan were unacceptably high at the present time”.

It seemed only diplomatic to call the Foreign Office and warn them that, according to a travel insurer that issues 2 million policies a year in Britain, the last bastion of communism in the West poses “unacceptably high” risks to holidaymakers.

The press officer I spoke to in the news department had just himself returned from a holiday in Cuba, miraculously unscathed. He kindly put me on to Matthew Forbes, the Foreign Office man with one of the best job titles on the planet: Head of Mexico, Central America, Cuba and Hispaniola. It’s fair to say he was skeptical about Direct Travel’s characterization of Cuba as too risky to cover: “Our travel advice doesn’t recommend against travel there. Large numbers of British travelers go there every year. It’s certainly not a dangerous destination.”

Ironically, about the most strident thing the official travel advice for Cuba says is: “We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before traveling.” But not from Direct Travel.

All the data I can see, from sources such as the World Bank and the World Health Organization, concurs with Forbes’ judgement. With excellent health care and a low crime rate, Cuba is a very benign place compared with others in the region. So why the sudden decision to downgrade it? One former Direct Travel policyholder, Alasdair Gibson, believes the move was triggered by the takeover: “As an American company, AIG is in effect seeking to extend to its British customers the legal ban on travel to Cuba that applies to all American citizens, and is acting as an agent of the US administration.” He calls this “a monstrous interference in the workings of the UK-based travel insurance industry – and an affront to all like me who have been clients of Direct Travel since long before its takeover by AIG.”

“We are sorry that your reader is dissatisfied with the situation,” says AIG. I was keen to find out what the company knows about Cuba that the rest of the insurance industry, not to mention leading international agencies, do not. I also wanted to know if AIG was lobbying the Foreign Office and bodies such as Abta to make them aware of the risks, pointing out that a holiday in Havana was as fraught with danger as a city break in Kabul. This is the company’s response, in its entirety:

“If travelers have questions about holiday destinations, there are a variety of sources available for consultation, such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the internet. We evaluate risks using different criteria and parameters and this information is proprietary to AIG.” In other words: we’re not saying.

—————————————- Havana Journal Comments—————————————-

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  1. Follow up post #1 added on November 25, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    i was thinking wtf until I came to the part of where it mentions that AIG is an American company .....  that explains it all.

  2. Follow up post #2 added on November 26, 2008 by Mako with 172 total posts

    I have been in Dafur and I have been in Cuba . Any comparison is bsurd

  3. Follow up post #3 added on November 26, 2008 by edward with 65 total posts

    Simple explanation.

    Cuba is listed as a country on the Axis of Evil, the country is subject to an economic blockade which was instigated solely by the US. Direct Travel Insurance is a subsiduary of American Insurance Group.

  4. Follow up post #4 added on November 30, 2008 by bluemarlinon with 8 total posts

    I have fished many tournaments at the marina hemmingway in recent years. Upon clearing customs, I am asked to surrender any weapons which I do feeling very secure. When I travel to Miami I never leave home without one.

  5. Follow up post #5 added on December 03, 2008 by MiamiCuban

    As we get closer to travel restrictions being lifted, I’m sure we’ll see many negative articles about Cuba and how “dangerous” it is to go there.  The extremist Cuban exiles will go to any lengths to keep a chokehold on Cuba.

  6. Follow up post #6 added on December 04, 2008 by bluemarlinon with 8 total posts

    I am wondering if Direct Travel has posting the preholiday crime spree that’s been going in miami. I am sure they have been being the savey company that they are letting thier clients know that miami is the murder capital of the banana republic in the U.S.

  7. Follow up post #7 added on December 18, 2008 by joey

    I’m looking forward to visiting Cuba again, I felt safe walking around Havana than in my own nieghborhood of ... USA. cant wait to go back once the travel restriction is lifted. As for the extreme Cuban exiles they are slowely dwindling.

  8. Follow up post #8 added on December 30, 2008 by siwaller with 7 total posts

    ummm Don’t you just love the US embargo of Cuba and especially the insance Helms Burton law!!

  9. Follow up post #9 added on March 28, 2009 by James

    Cuba not safe for Direct Travel Insurance - solely AIG following the USA anti-Cuba policy.  Funny thing is, its a lot safer than those poor investors who have lost fortunes with the virtually bust AIG!  I am leaving Direct travel so long as they saty with AIG

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