Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Witness for Peace January People to People Trip

This very reasonably priced trip will be co-led by one of the most knowledgeable Cuba activists in Washington, Mavis Anderson of the Latin America Working Group.

Cuba: Arts and Culture Delegation
January 14 – January 24, 2012

People-to-People Licensed Delegation to Cuba:
All applicants welcome!
On this delegation we will explore Cuba’s vibrant culture, including its artistic, architectural, musical, dance, sports, and literary traditions. We will enjoy performances in music and dance, exhibitions in the visual arts and architecture, and visits to landmarks associated with such literary figures as Jose Marti and Ernest Hemingway. Our appreciation will be deepened by meetings with Cuban performers, artists, and scholars.  Discussions with Cubans will help us understand the current art scene within the unique political and historical context of the country. Arts education will be explored through visits to training centers and meetings with students. Our exploration of cultural activities will be broad and may include film screenings, sporting events, and visits to important sites outside of Havana.

All planned activities will include extended interchanges with Cubans. There will be opportunities to speak with representatives of both the United States Interests Section and the Cuban Foreign Ministry, and to learn with delegation consultants, Mavis Anderson, Sr. Associate for Cuba of the Latin America Working Group, and LAWG Education Fund board member and author, Jeanne Lemkau (www.lostandfoundincuba.com).

Please join us for an exciting cultural immersion in a truly spectacular country!

Sample of Trip Highlights: 

v      Performance of Coppélia (choreographed by Alicia Alonso) by the Cuban National Ballet at the Gran Teatro, followed by discussion of dance and Cuban national culture with choreographers
v      Santeria dance performance, followed by conversation on Cuban religion in its many forms
v      Museum visits, including the Museo de Bellas Artes and the Museum of the Revolution
v      Visit to Ernest Hemingway’s former home--Finca Vigia, Cojimar--and meeting with a curator to discuss the author’s legacy in Cuba and reaction to the Revolution
v      Architectural orientation and walking tour of Old Havana with experts from restoration project
v      Visit public art sites, and discuss the impact of recent economic changes with self-employed artists
v      Visits to artist studios and training centers to meet directly with Cubans
v      Meetings with musicians, artists, scholars and members of arts/culture organizations to discover how Cuba’s unique history has shaped contemporary Cuban life

For more information about this delegation, please contact Delegation Coordinators:
Mavis Anderson: manderson@lawg.org 202-546-7010
Jeanne Lemkau: jeanne.lemkau@wright.edu 937-572-3256

Applications:  Due by November 14, 2011 with a $150 deposit. Balance due December 7, 2011. Apply online today at www.witnessforpeace.org

Cost: $1,550 plus airfare to Havana.  This includes all meals, accommodations, facilitation, translation, and transportation in Cuba.  Your fee also covers an orientation/training session, and extensive reading materials and action tools distributed both before and after the delegation. 

Witness for Peace (WFP) is a politically independent, grassroots organization.  We are people committed to nonviolence and led by faith and conscience. Our mission is to support peace, justice, and sustainable economies in the Americas by changing U.S. policies and corporate practices that contribute to poverty and oppression in Latin America and the Caribbean. We stand with people who seek justice

Monday, September 19, 2011

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Learning in Retirement

The Learning in Retirement Program is an example of a university based program using a People to People license to organize a trip for non-traditional students.  They quickly sold out.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Arthur Frommer Critique of OFAC Implementation

Treasury constricts Cuba travel plans

In January, exceptions to the 50-year-old embargo against travel to Cuba were announced by the Obama administration, raising hopes that this totally counterproductive policy finally would be phased out.

And yet this past month, those exceptions have been narrowly defined by government officials as to quash the hopes of most Americans that they could finally make such trips. What were the exceptions designed to permit? That travel to Cuba would be permitted for educational, religious or cultural purposes.

Licenses would be issued to U.S. tour operators who submitted plans for tours involving people-to-people contacts in Cuba. Numerous well-known, reputable American travel companies — long-established firms, such as Abercrombie & Kent — applied for the right to bring thousands of American tourists to that country.

And then the U.S. Treasury Department (supervisor of the embargo and the exceptions to it) issued a statement July 25 that "the amended regulations still contain significant travel restrictions, permitting only people-to-people groups that certify that all participants will have a full-time schedule of educational activities between the travelers and Cubans."
In other words, tours to Cuba would be permitted only if participants moved continuously in a group, and met throughout each day as a group with various Cuban counterparts, on a schedule that would be meticulously planned to stay active from morning till night.

Americans touring Cuba would be bused from one meeting to another, from one event and conference to another, unable to interact with Cubans as individuals.

Almost immediately, Abercrombie & Kent canceled its program to Cuba. Having previously announced that virtually every departure was sold out, it now issued news releases about its unwillingness or inability to meet the Treasury Department's requirements.

Other tour operators announced radically increased prices for its tour programs to Cuba, given the need to operate constant activities and meetings for which it would need to pay heavy fees to the Cubans who would actually operate such programs.

The National Geographic Society announced that its 10-day tour program to Cuba would cost $5,000 a person, double occupancy, plus $500 a person for a round-trip charter flights between Miami and Havana.

Each of a couple traveling together would thus pay $5,500 (a total of $11,000 for the two of them) plus the cost of getting to Miami.

Almost as bad, the well-regarded Insight Cuba, a division of the long-established Cross Cultural Solutions, announced that its seven-night programs to Cuba would have to cost a minimum of $2,500 a person in off-season, $2,800 in winter, for its least-expensive program, and $400 to $500 a person more for its next most expensive program, all plus the cost of round-trip charter air transportation between Miami and Havana.

Assuming a $500 price for those flights from Miami, the average participant would pay at least $3,200 to $3,600 a person this winter for a seven-night tour of Cuba, plus the cost of traveling to Miami.

And almost as bad as the cost is the transformation that the Treasury Department's rules bring about in the nature of travel to Cuba. Participants will have no opportunity to interact with Cubans. They will travel everywhere in a group — and no individual Cubans will strike up a conversation with a group. The rewards of travel — experiencing the authentic life of the community, meeting with individuals one-on-one, discussing issues — will be totally lost if the various tour operators feel compelled to obey the Treasury Department's strictures.

I earlier referred to the travel embargo against Cuba as counterproductive. It angers many Cubans. It feeds into the Castro brothers' constant reference to an alleged American animus toward the Cuban people. It keeps the Castros in power.
Cuba today is thronged with tourists from Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany and Spain — from everywhere except America. This cannot help but color the Cuban attitude toward the United States. It's unfortunate that Treasury Department officials, reacting to pressures from Florida interest groups, should halt what otherwise began as an intelligent reversal of a counterproductive policy.

Arthur Frommer is the pioneering founder of the Frommer's Travel Guide book series. He co-hosts the radio program, "The Travel Show," with his travel correspondent daughter Pauline Frommer.

Read more: http://www.kansas.com/2011/09/18/2021512/treasury-constricts-cuba-travel.html#ixzz1YMv8usQi

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Ft. Lauderdale Launches Flights

Direct Flights to Cuba from Fort Lauderdale Kick Off With a Party

Excited passengers celebrated the return of direct flights to Cuba from South Florida at FLL Saturday morning

By Mary Beth Wilson
|  Saturday, Sep 17, 2011  |  Updated 2:57 PM EDT

Direct Flights to Cuba Kick Off With a Party
Travelers dance to live Cuban music before boarding a charter flight to Havana.
The atmosphere was lively at the Fort Lauderdale Hollywood-International Airport Saturday morning as eager passengers celebrated the return of direct flights from South Florida to Cuba.
Travelers sported straw hats and danced to live music as they filled the JetBlue Airways terminal before boarding the first direct flight to Cuba in nearly 30 years.
Since direct flights ended in 1987, most travelers have had to fly to other countries before then traveling on to Cuba.
"It's very exciting," said Maria, a passenger who left her family in Cuba when she came to the United States in 1959. "It's very convenient and it's a good advantage for us not to have to travel out of the country to a third country in order see our families."

Though there has been some protest over the launch of direct flights to the Communist nation, Maria said those with family in Cuba should be able to see relatives whenever possible.Under a U.S. trade embargo, tourist travel to Cuba from the United States has been prohibited. But in March, following the easing of travel restrictions by President Barack Obama, customs officials began allowing direct flights forapproved travelers from Tampa International Airport, and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood and several others are following suit.
"A lot of people are against it, especially the people who do not have family over there," she acknowledged. "There's a 50-50 split here, and I believe that the people who do have family in Cuba are for it.
"I don't think the government should interfere, especially when we do have families that we haven't seen and we have been here not because we want to but because we have to for political reasons."
Airline Brokers Company Inc. is organizing the chartered flights, which are scheduled to depart on JetBlue every Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
An increase in the number of Cuba-bound flights from Fort Lauderdale is expected later this year.
"It's least expensive to travel from here," said ABC president Vivan Mannerud. "People who are going to visit their families are counting their pennies."
Saturday morning, the route's first passengers were treated to live music, cake, Cuban food, balloons, and other celebratory treats as they moved through the terminal.
"It's a happy day," Mannerud said. "We've been working on this for over a year."

My comment:

Granting a general license to Cuban Americans means in effect they have freedom to travel, as they should. 

Has Rep. Wasserman-Schultz embraced the greater convenience and business for her own constituents provided by the Ft. Lauderdale flights or is she siding with Rep. Diaz-Balart rather than the President and trying to stop them?

The President also granted general licenses to universities and religious organizations but has failed to do the same for IRS registered not-for-profit organizations which undermines his own goal and the viability of some of the new flights.

John McAuliff

Friday, September 16, 2011

Austin-Lehman Adventures Receives People to People License

Austin-Lehman Adventures to Open Tours to Cuba in 2012

September 14, 2011By: Jesse Uruchima
Austin-Lehman Adventures has announced it will host cultural/educational adventures to Cuba beginning early 2012. The company will has received a license from the U.S. Department of the TreasuryOffice of Foreign Affairs to promote cross-cultural, people to people contact through guided tours in Cuba.
Author of six books on Cuba, Christopher Baker worked hand-in-hand with Austin to create an itinerary exclusive to Austin-Lehman Adventures. Baker will lead many of the set tour departures along with other recognized experts in Cuba lifestyle and culture.
Dan Austin, founder and director of Austin-Lehman Adventures, said, “Because most Americans have been prevented from visiting Cuba since the US embargo in the 1960s, we are extremely curious about our neighbor just 90 miles to the south of Key West, FL. Our license will allow us to finally lift the veil and rediscover this destination that‚s been off-limits to Americans the past 50 years.” He also noted, “ (Cuba) fits well with our core goals of exotic/desirable destinations, easy access from the U.S., lots of activities, a distinct and colorful culture, a friendly and welcoming host population and opportunities to immerse travelers in authentic Cuban life including world-renowned music, cuisine, art and dance.”

Thursday, September 15, 2011

New Charter Flights to Cuba

The Miami Herald

Cuba travel set to take off as flight options expand


HATS OFF: Vivian Mannerud, president of Airline Brokers, Inc., laughs with Nildo Herrera, 75, of Hialeah as he explains that he's wearing five hats to take to his grandson and cousins as presents  before boarding a charter flight to Havana July 24  at Miami Internaional Airport in Miami.
John VanBeekum / Miami Herald
HATS OFF: Vivian Mannerud, president of Airline Brokers, Inc., laughs with Nildo Herrera, 75, of Hialeah as he explains that he's wearing five hats to take to his grandson and cousins as presents before boarding a charter flight to Havana July 24 at Miami Internaional Airport in Miami.
Vivian Mannerud has been in the business of arranging air charters to Cuba long enough to have seen it all — from the passengers who wear several hats on their heads to avoid extra baggage fees to the woman who stuffed sausages in her curlers. The grease running down her face was a giveaway.Since 1982, Mannerud, chief executive and founder of Coral Gables-based Airline Brokers Co., has transported Cuban families, as well as politicians, former political prisoners, athletes and humanitarian supplies, to and from the island. This pioneer in the Cuban charter business has seen the governments of Cuba and the United States shut down travel amid political tensions, and recalibrated her business as some U.S. presidents allowed more travel and others pared it down.
Now, the policy is for more expansive travel and Airline Brokers and other charter companies are once again poised for change.
Earlier this year, the United States authorized people-to-people exchanges that make it easier for a wider variety of Americans to visit Cuba, lifted some restrictions on academic trips, and expanded the number of cities that can serve as gateways for Cuba travel from three to 15.
While many have embraced the changes — a record number of travelers from the United States are expected this year — others have criticized the flights because landing fees and payments for other services flow to Cuban government coffers.
Miami International Airport has long been the main gateway for Cuba travel — eight charter companies handled 7,616 departing and arriving flights last year — and it will continue to be.
But now other U.S. cities are getting into the act. Airports in Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers are among those that are now authorized for Cuban charter service.
The first charter flights to Cuba in nearly 50 years left from Tampa International Airport last week and Cuba service will begin from Fort Lauderdale Saturday.
Miami-based Xael Charters timed its inaugural flight from Tampa to Havana last Thursday to coincide with the feast day of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint. The airport staged a “Tampa to Havana Reconnected” event at the gate with live music and cake before the departure of the sold-out flight.
“We wanted to expand our business and Tampa historically has had strong ties with Cuba,’’ said Xiomara Almaguer-Levy, Xael’s president and chief executive. “It was here in Tampa, specifically Ybor City, where Cuba’s national hero, Jose Marti, found the unconditional support of thousands of cigar workers’’ that was crucial to the success of Cuba’s fight for independence from Spain.
Xael now offers five weekly flights from Miami to Havana and flies twice a week from Miami to Holguin. It plans departures from Tampa every Thursday.
“The time is right,’’ said Almaguer-Levy.
This year, Cuban-Americans are expected to take a record 400,000 trips to Cuba, according to estimates from the charter companies. The number has been steadily climbing since 2009 when the Obama administration began allowing Cuban-Americans to visit the island at will.
More Americans traveling on educational and people-to-people exchanges, which are designed to foster relationships with ordinary Cubans, are expected to boost the numbers even higher.
On Sept. 10, another South Florida charter company, ABC Charters, was scheduled to launch its inaugural flight from Tampa, and Cuba has granted landing rights to a third company, San Diego-based Island Travel & Tours, which also wants to begin charter service from Tampa, possibly by October.
Tessie Aral, president of ABC Charters, says it remains to be seen if Tampa can support three charter operations.
But she said her analysis showed about 100 Central Florida passengers a week were traveling on ABC flights from Miami — enough to support a weekly or twice weekly flight from Tampa during peak season.
Aral said ABC, which is owned by her mother Maria “Machi” Brieva, also has been authorized to begin charters from Dallas. She thinks the market has potential, especially as a jumping off point for educational exchanges from colleges and universities in the Midwest. But for the time being, Aral said she prefers to concentrate on service from Tampa and Miami using leased American Airlines planes.
Airlines such as American, Delta and JetBlue aren’t allowed to offer regular service to Cuba, but they are permitted to lease aircraft to the charter companies. Some airlines see another advantage in having their planes land in Havana. “Some of them want to make connections and build relationships for the future’’ if commercial flights resume some day, said Mannerud.
On Saturday, it will be Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport’s turn to inaugurate Cuba service when Mannerud’s Airline Brokers begins weekly service using a leased JetBlue aircraft.
At $379, the flight from Fort Lauderdale will be slightly cheaper than Airline Broker’s Miami flights ($409-$439) and will be a convenience for Cuban-Americans living in Broward and Palm Beach counties, Mannerud said.
Airline Brokers still plans to keep its full schedule of flights to Havana and Cienfuegos from Miami. Mannerud said she also might be interested in the Boston market as a source of passengers on educational and research trips.
While Florida cities have the advantage of being closest to Cuba, existing charter companies and newcomers are eyeing the opportunities of flying from airports such as Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and Dallas.
The new embarkation cities are good news for passengers such as Gladys Ponce, who on a recent day waited patiently in line with her husband and 3 ½-year-old son Jareth to check in for a Gulfstream Air Charter flight from Miami to Havana.
The family lives in Tucson, Ariz., and had spent $1,000 just to get to Miami.
All the bundles they were taking to friends and relatives in Batabano, Cuba, had been carefully weighed in advance so they knew exactly how much they would be paying in extra baggage fees and wouldn’t be getting another economic jolt when their baggage was weighed. In fact, Cuba travelers take so much luggage that charters do not fly at full capacity.
But the family’s next trip may be far cheaper. They’ll have the option of traveling from Los Angeles or possibly even Houston or Dallas.
Critics of charters from Miami have long complained that the fares are too high for a relatively short trip.
“I have heard complaints [from constituents] of price gouging and exorbitant baggage fees,’’ said U.S. Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami.
But the charter companies say that a number of factors make their flights more expensive.
First, they are charters and must lease their planes from other companies that also must make a profit.
The price of most tickets also includes medical insurance while in Cuba, U.S. departure taxes and landing fees in Cuba, said Bob Guild, vice president of Marazul Charters.
Then because the U.S. embargo against Cuba prohibits them from having their own operations bases in Cuba, the charter companies must sub-contract in Cuba for ticket and ramp agents and other services, said charter operators.
It also would be cheaper to do night flights, but Mannerud said the charters are required to fly during the day so Customs can inspect passengers without incurring overtime expenses.
“We also have to deal with tons of attorneys, tons of regulations and all the agencies we must report to in order to make sure we’re compliant,’’ she said.
Prior to June, when U.S. Customs and Border Patrol approved a dozen additional airports to handle flights to and from Cuba, the only way to legally travel from the United States was to take a charter from Miami or New York with occasional flights from Los Angeles during peak travel times.
Among the charter companies planning to roll out service from additional cities are:
•  C & T Charters, which has offices in Coral Gables and Key West. It expects to begin offering service from San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 16 and Chicago on Oct. 18.
“There is still some paperwork to be done,’’ said Marcelo Santos, vice president of operations. The charter company currently offers daily flights from Miami to Havana, twice weekly service between Miami and Camaguey and weekly New York-Havana service.
• CTS (Cuba Travel Services), which is based in Long Beach, Calif. The company had a shakeout trip from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Santiago, Cuba, last month and plans to begin regular charter service on the route Nov. 4. “We’ll see how it goes’’ and add another San Juan flight if the market is there, said Michael Zuccato, CTS general manager.
The charter company also plans to resume weekly nonstop flights from Los Angeles on Nov. 1 using Continental planes and is interested in providing service from Houston and seasonal charters from Oakland, Calif. Zuccato said CTS also hopes to offer service from Fort Lauderdale but airport officials said last week that they hadn’t been contacted by the company.
CTS currently offers nine weekly flights from MIA to Havana and Cienfuegos
The company’s niche will continue to be travel by Cuban-Americans visiting their families, but Zuccato said Californians, especially, are interested in people-to-people trips.
•  Marazul, a pioneer in the Cuba charter industry with more than three decades in the business. It hopes to begin weekly service from Atlanta in December using Delta planes and resume weekly service from New York’s JFK, a market that it hasn’t served since 2004, on Nov. 6, said Guild.
Marazul currently offers daily flights between Miami and Havana ($429 to $449 round trip) and twice weekly flights to Camaguey ($499). It’ll also book travelers on flights from New York and Los Angeles provided by other charter companies.
Guild said he expects academic travel to be a big category. Schools no longer have to apply for a specific license from the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to put together Cuban study trips. But they won’t be able to organize a spring-break excursion. Students must take courses for credit.
The charter companies say it’s too early to tell what kind of numbers travelers on people-to-people exchanges will add to the mix. But most of the travel groups are small, with 16 to 30 people.
A few of the companies that had planned to offer such trips also have had their wings clipped. Luxury travel provider Abercrombie & Kent, for example, had sold out 13 trips before it learned that its plan to use the license of a nonprofit group wouldn’t be allowed under OFAC regulations.
Many of the companies offering people-to-people exchanges are trying to tap into the mystique about Cuba that has developed during the 50-plus years of the embargo.
A recent survey by Travel Leaders, the largest travel agency franchise in North America, showed 75 percent of nearly 1,000 consumers surveyed throughout the United States said they wanted to visit Cuba or would consider it if all restrictions on travel were lifted. Twenty percent said they would travel immediately.
Guild says in 2003 — the last full year of people-to-people exchanges before a policy change by the Bush administration — about 40,000 Americans in that category traveled to the island.
Two South Florida congressmen, however, have problems with the people-to-people trips.
On April 11, the day the first people-to-people trip in 7 ½ years took off from Miami International Airport, Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart issued a statement saying there had been “numerous abuses amounting to thinly veiled tourism.’’ Those on the trips are supposed to engage in purposeful travel that will promote exchanges with the Cuban people.
He and Rivera want to roll back travel regulations for Cuban-Americans to what they were before President Obama took office. Bills they have proposed would limit remittances that can be sent to the island and severely restrict family visits by Cuban-Americans, but Rivera’s goes a step further calling for the elimination of people-to-people visits. The legislators say the intent of their bills is to keep money from flowing to the Castro regime.
But Xael’s Almaguer-Levy said unrestricted travel must continue. To her, it’s more than just business. “It’s unfair that families can’t meet whenever they want,’’ she said. “The most important relationship that exists in Cuba is the family relationship. Political interests shouldn’t work against families.’’
“It’s very frustrating,’’ said ABC’s Aral. “Just when things are going well, someone wants to target’’ Cuba travel.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/09/11/v-print/2402439/cuba-travel-set-to-take-off-as.html#ixzz1Y1vvLkMw

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

George Mason University Sending Students in January

The Center for Global Education of George Mason University is organizing a faculty led two week winter break program on Culture in Cuba for its students in January.    Details here:


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Opportunities for Travel Professionals

President Obama’s announcement in January of “purposeful travel” has been implemented with excruciating slowness and caution.  Less than sixty license applications have been granted.  The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has not provided straight forward ways for the travel industry to become involved.  The most ambitious tour operators, Abercrombie and Kent and Globus, were forced to withdraw their programs because of unnecessarily narrow interpretation of regulations, presumably a response to political pressure. 

The companies mistakenly believed that they could simply partner with an organization that had a people to people license and then function in a normal business model with travel agents selling their packages.  The language of their promotional materials, and its public interpretation by local agents and travel writers unfortunately sounded more touristic than their actual programs.

This allowed hard line Cuban American Representatives and Senators who despise all travel to successfully pressure the White House, the State Department and the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).  These same members are trying legislatively to roll back all of the President’s reforms, including even his earlier and more far-reaching opening for Cuban Americans.

Nevertheless, people to people travel is going forward under the auspices of not for profit organizations listed below.  The first such trip, sponsored by Insight Cuba, has received much favorable coverage.  http://cubapeopletopeople.blogspot.com/2011/09/ellen-creager-reflections-after-insight.html   

Is There An Opportunity to Sell Cuba? 

People to People (P2P) licensees cannot pay conventional commissions to travel agents, but may be able to offer 10% referral fees. 

(See report on fees from National Geographic Expeditions in the blog Travel Agent   http://cubapeopletopeople.blogspot.com/2011/09/national-geographic-offers-commissions.html )

A referral fee can definitely be offered by Travel Service Providers (TSP), the 250 companies licensed to sell air tickets, accommodations and programs, or by any third country provider.

What business opportunity does this offer to a brick and mortar or home based agent?

1)      You can refer clients to a P2P licensee that is offering open enrollment trips.

2)      You can assemble an affinity group among your clients and work with a P2P
          licensee to select or create an appropriate program.  (One example of how that
          is done  http://insightcuba.com/custom-groups/ )

3)     You can assist a group that qualifies for a general license to arrange their  
         program through a Travel Service Provider.

a)      Work with a college or university in your community to create a for-credit    mini course that takes students and teachers to Cuba during an intersession, spring break or summer vacation.  (If you have or obtain status as a part time staff member or adjunct faculty, it is also possible to make an advance preparatory trip.)

b)            Work with any kind or level of religious organization that wants to send its
members to Cuba for a program of religiously oriented activities

What OFAC says you cannot do

“OFAC only licenses People-to-People Groups that certify that all participants will have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba.  Authorized activities by People-to-People Groups are not “tourist activities” under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, which prohibits OFAC from licensing travel-related transactions for tourist activities….

A People-to-People Group using another entity to make its travel arrangements may only use an OFAC-authorized Travel Service Provider* or an entity outside the United States that is not subject to U.S. jurisdiction.  Travel agents and tour operators in the United States that do not hold an OFAC Travel Service Provider authorization cannot organize trips, collect funds, make travel arrangements, or engage in any other Cuba travel-related transactions for People-to-People Groups or any other licensed travelers.”

Guidelines for licenses

Open Enrollment Trips

The following organizations have received people to people licenses and are offering trips that are available to anyone who wishes to participate in a serious group encounter with Cuba and its people.

Insight Cuba

National Geographic Expeditions

Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel)

The Center for the Study of Cuban Culture + Economy

Witness for Peace

Application pending approval

Center for Cuban Studies

Fund for Reconciliation and Development

Travel Service Providers

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ellen Creager Reflections After Insight Cuba's First Trip



Given the restrictions of the new "people-to-people" program, is it worth traveling to Cuba? I think the answer is yes, if you are a certain type of person. You have to enjoy cultural travel. You can't be a complainer just because the food might not be up to standard or the Internet goes on the blink. You must be willing to stick with a group and get along with others.
The cost -- about $3,000 per person including airfare from Miami for a seven-night trip -- is certainly worth it. We had two guides, a driver, a very nice, modern, small tour bus, a group of only 11, and excellent service and programming. It included all meals, accommodations and activities on the Insight Cuba tour, one of the companies that has a new license to offer the people-to-people trips.
There were some logistical problems on the maiden trips. There were a few issues and complaints about long bus rides and convoluted schedules, but nothing that can't be fixed as the program progresses.
Were we subjected to propaganda? Not really. On one hand, you can see why Cuba was determined to escape American influence -- gangsters were taking over Havana, the country's leaders were corrupt. But it's still hard to see the piece of the American B26 shot down in 1961 during the Bay of Pigs, which is on display at the Revolution Museum.
But Cubans see every day that their form of government hasn't exactly been peachy. They have suffered -- yes, from the embargo -- but also from their own leaders' choices.
I came away with a respect for Cuba and an appreciation for its people, music, art, science and its pride.
But I also came away certain that things are changing. There is restlessness, too much information coming in, a generational divide, an aging Castro (who will be the fond leader until he dies, no matter how many years his brother runs the show). More ominous, there is China, Cuba's new best friend, stepping in to ply its products and influence the nation because the U.S. has turned its back.
And I came away with a conviction that the people-to-people idea is good. We met a lot of Cubans who probably had never met an American. They were surprisingly cordial, given the decades of anti-American scary stuff they've been fed. We met them, they met us. We ate cake.
I am more sure than ever that the 50-year-old U.S. trade embargo is completely useless. It doesn't work for tourists. It doesn't work for American farmers or manufacturers.
The reams of paperwork I had to fill out, the letters we had to carry to make sure we weren't questioned upon arrival back in the States, it's all ridiculous.
"The world is changing and Cuba has to change, too," said a young tour guide in Viñales, who said Cubans should be able to travel anywhere they wish.
On the U.S. side, tourism should be opened up so all Americans can travel freely to Cuba. Stop treating us like children. We know Cuba is a Communist nation like China or Vietnam, but we should have the right to go and see for themselves, good or bad.
For now, the new U.S. government-sanctioned people-to-people option is the best we've got, and it's still a pretty good option for those who have been longing to see Cuba.
The full series of Ellen Creager's reports from Cuba can be found at http://www.freep.com/dispatchesfromcuba

My comment:

12:26 PM on September 4, 2011
An excellent wrap up to a good series on the important albeit constricted opening to mutual understanding made possible by President Obama.

The White House could make people to people travel much easier and efficient by granting general licenses to all IRS recognized non profits, just as it did for Cuban Americans, college students and religious organizations. It would also help if all travel agents and tour operators could book flights and programs for authorized visitors rather than only 250 mostly Florida Travel Service Providers.

Ironically , the most open, unprogrammed and inexpensive people to people contact happens for Americans who disregard politically opportunistic official US restrictions on travel, fly in from third countries and stay in casas particulares, rent cars or use Via Azul public busses.

Visas are obtained at the airline departure desk, Cuba does not stamp US passports, and individual travelers have not been fined for four years. The moral challenge is what to say about countries visited on the US immigration and customs form. Some conscientiously believe travel restrictions are a violation of their Constitutional and human rights and have no more legitimacy than Jim Crow laws and regulations in the segregated south.

Updated information on travel can be found at http://cubapeopletopeople.blogspot.com

John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development

Blane Bachelor Reports on First Insight Cuba Trip

An American in Cuba (Legally): Part 1

August 23, 2011 by Blane Bachelor
Around midnight on my last night in Cuba, my travel buddy and I rumbled toward our hotel in a 1951 Chevrolet cab with the driver and his girlfriend, whom we’d become friendly with. Along the Malecón, Havana’s seaside esplanade, we spotted a group of locals hovering around a large fish that someone had caught and hauled onto the sidewalk.
But when we stopped to snap a few photos, it was evident that the sea creature isn’t a fish, but a shark. Exhausted fishermen struggled to hoist the four-foot body of the predator onto a bike taxi to sell at market; a few feet away, teenagers circled around the severed head, touching its fearsome teeth and screaming with skittish delight.
In a way, that scene – at once chaotic and colorful, raw and wild – helps illustrate a visit itself to this island nation, which has been all but off-limits for U.S. citizens over the past five decades. But, thanks to policy changes passed by the Obama administration earlier this year, the average U.S. citizen can now travel there legally, without the hassle of sneaking through Mexico or Canada, and the fear (and fines) of getting caught.
I was lucky enough to be among the first groups of American tourists to legally visit Cuba since 2003, when the Bush administration effectively shut it down, and our eight-day trip made headlines in both countries. Our group of 30, who traveled with New York-based operator Insight Cuba, was greeted by television crews both in Miami and in José Martí International Airport in Havana.
As I wrote in a previous post, the new U.S. regulations require that travel must be “person-to-person” through a licensed operator. So it wasn’t much of a surprise that our itinerary, which included five nights in Havana and two in the charming colonial city of Trinidad on the southern coast of the country, was packed with activities designed for interaction with locals. Among them were visits to a maternity ward (which several in our group said felt too invasive), a rural medical clinic, and a community project of Afro-Cuban artists, which I found fascinating because of its connection with the religion of Santería.
Not surprisingly, the unspoken message running through the itinerary was how socialism and former President Fidel Castro’s regime are responsible for the country’s achievements, such as nearly a non-existent illiteracy rate and universal healthcare. And even as hectic as it was, the itinerary provided a good starting point for on-your-own exploring (and gave me a greater appreciation for free time).
Indeed, as is often the case with group trips, some of my most memorable experiences came outside the van and off the schedule: a conversation about living in Spain with an overalls-wearing Havana native over a glass of sugar cane juice; listening to intoxicating Afro-Cuban jazz in an underground bar; being invited into a family’s home in Trinidad, and hearing about their struggles raising a severely disabled daughter.
And, of course, seeing that crazy shark scene unfold on the Malecón.
Stay tuned for part 2 of my posts from the trip, where I’ll discuss specific travel tips for Cuba.

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An American in Cuba (Legally): Part 2

September 1, 2011 by Blane Bachelor
Since returning from Cuba as one of the first everyday American tourists to visit the country legally in about five decades, I’ve been asked over and over again how the experience was. Here’s how I’ve been describing my trip: Fascinating. Exhausting. Eye-opening. Unforgettable.
But there are a few things I wish I’d been better prepared for – which is where this (and next) weeks’ posts come in. Here, some tips I picked up from my trip for those of you who also have Cuba on your travel wish list – and want to get there legally. (And if you have your own tips to add, I’d love to hear them in the comments section.)
It’s not as cheap as you might think: While prices for food, drinks and accommodations in Cuba are still fairly low, traveling with a government-licensed operator doesn’t fall into the budget category. You can expect to pay upwards of $400 or $500 per day for most trips  (I went with Insight Cuba; another operator, Distant Horizons, has about 45 trips in the works). Prices do cover hotels and most meals, plus a driver and English-speaking guides, charter flight (usually from Miami), airport transfers, and museum entry fees. But keep in mind that included meals are usually pre-fixe or buffet, and hotels are a notch or two below their class level compared to Western countries.
And should you decide to venture on your own to a paladar, which is a private restaurant in someone’s home, be sure to ask about prices and portion sizes before ordering. At one paladar in Havana, our group of three ended up with two whole grilled snappers, plus a pork dish and several sides – an obscene amount of food that could have fed at least six people. There was no written menu, the waitress didn’t mention it was whole fish, and we were a little taken aback when our combined bill totaled over $150 (in U.S. equivalent). Lesson learned: Ask before ordering.
Don’t expect a vacation: What the the U.S. Treasury Department’s regulations for “person-to-person” travel really means: Plenty of hours spent in a tour bus, visits to community projects, neighborhood associations and national monuments, and limited free time. It’s a great, albeit exhausting, way to get a crash course in Cuban culture and history, and it’s nice to have everything organized, without the stress of planning things yourself. But more independent-minded travelers might find themselves getting especially antsy. Check with your operator beforehand, and see if you can take an afternoon or morning off from scheduled activities, which is easier to do ahead of time instead of on the spot.
A warning for high-maintenance travelers: While Havana’s crumbling buildings and classic cars are iconic images of Cuba, the country’s lack of infrastructure comes as a surprise to some. Restrooms in restaurants, museums, and public buildings can be dicey: Toilets are sometimes bucket-flushed, paper is rare (ladies, you should always carry it), and you’re supposed to put the paper in those small trash bins in the stalls. Drinking bottled water is recommended, even in higher-end hotels. And hustling is common, especially in touristy areas like plazas and monuments. Don’t be afraid to repeat a firm “No, gracias” until they get the hint.
If you need it, bring it: That means everything from toiletries (medication, sunscreen, toothpaste, and feminine hygiene products) to snacks (I went through my entire stash of granola bars and trail mix). Convenience stores, groceries, and pharmacies aren’t readily available in Cuba.
Credit and debit cards and cell phones do not work in Cuba: This one has its own category for a reason, folks. You’ll need to take enough cash out in the states to exchange into Convertible Cuban Pesos, or CUCs, in Cuba, so make sure you have enough – about $75 per day should be more than enough for activities and expenses you incur on your own. Set aside $25 CUCs for your departure fee.

And forget about using your cell phone for communication; the trade embargo from the U.S. government means it won’t work (my Blackberry has a peculiar 8-day gap between e-mails)

  1. My comment:

    1) Unlocked GSM quad band cell phones work if you get a local sim card and pay $3 a day plus prepaid usage. Easiest place to do it is at an ETECSA office at the airport, but you will need CUC for payment.
    2) US travelers checks pay only a 3% dollar-CUC exchange rate at hotels and banks. US currency pays 10% because the US fines European banks that accept dollars from Cuba.
    3) The White House could make people to people travel much easier by granting general licenses to all IRS recognized non profits, just as it did for Cuban Americans, college students and religious organizations. It would also help if all travel agents and tour operators could book flights and programs for authorized visitors.
    4) The most open, unprogrammed and inexpensive people to people contact happens for Americans who disregard politically opportunistic official US restrictions on travel, fly in from third countries and stay in casas particulares, rent cars or use Via Azul public transportation. Visas are obtained at the airline departure desk, Cuba does not stamp US passports, and individual travelers have not been fined for four years. The moral challenge is what to say about countries visited on the US immigration and customs form. Some conscientiously believe travel restrictions are a violation of their Constitutional and human rights and have no more legitimacy than Jim Crow laws and regulations in the segregated south.
    5) Updated information on travel can be found at http://cubapeopletopeople.blogspot.com
    John McAuliff
    Fund for Reconciliation and Development

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