Cuba reports more Americans visit forbidden island
U.S. travel to up 20 percent in 2010 Cuba
* Americans join flood of Cuban Americans visiting homeland
now second tourism provider despite sanctions U.S.
By Marc Frank
HAVANA, June 22 (Reuters) - The number of Americans visiting their country's long-time foe Cuba is steadily increasing under the Obama administration, according to Cuban government figures, with the highest number in years likely in 2011.
U.S. citizens visited in 2010, up from 52,500 the previous year and 41,900 in 2008, according to a report by the National Statistics Office (http://www.one.cu/aec2010/datos/15.3.xls). Cuba
In the years following
Cuba's 1959 revolution the highest known number of visitors peaked at 70,000 under U.S. President Bill Clinton, then dropped to an average of 30,000 in the last term of U.S. President George W. Bush. U.S.
The 2010 numbers do not include 350,000 Cuban Americans estimated by travel providers and
diplomats to have come to the island last year. Because U.S. considers them nationals, they are not listed in tourism statistics except within the broader category of "other." Cuba
In 2009, Obama gave Cuban Americans a green light to visit their homeland at will and in January loosened restrictions on Americans traveling to
for professional, religious and humanitarian reasons. Cuba
The combined figures of
U.S. travelers and Cuban Americans made the United States Cuba's second-largest tourism provider after . Canada
Before the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power,
used to be an American playground, with hundreds of thousands of Americans visiting to gamble and have a good time. Cuba
But since the early 1960s, few have made the trip due to a general travel ban imposed by a
trade embargo against the island. U.S.
LOOSENING OF RESTRICTIONS
The current rise in U.S. visitors is a result of the Obama administration loosening travel restrictions to Cuba to encourage more "people to people" contact in hopes of aiding political change on the communist-ruled island 90 miles (145 km) from Florida.
As well as allowing Cuban Americans to travel to
Cuba freely, Obama also authorized the issuing of licenses to more travel providers and allowed more airports to give charter service between the two countries. Cuba
Travel providers report they are swamped, despite delays in implementing the measures, and forecast more than 100,000 Americans not of Cuban descent will come to the forbidden island this year.
"In 2010, Marazul sent over 3,500 people to Cuba for academic, professional, religious and humanitarian reasons, as well as performing arts and sports groups," said Bob Guild, vice president of Miami-based Marazul Charters.
"This year, we have already sent close to this number and, if the new people to people educational licenses begin to be issued soon by the Treasury Department, we project more than 10,000 people in 2011 traveling through Marazul under the new revised legal categories, not including people visiting their families," he said.
According to official figures, overall tourism was up 11.3 percent through May, compared with the same period last year.
(Editing by Jeff Franks and Cynthia Osterman)
Analysis of OFAC licensing http://thehavananote.com/2011/06/how_long_must_we_wait