CONSULATE REMAINS CLOSED - WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES? WHY ARE WE SO
March 25, 2014
The Cuban Consulate in Washington
closed its doors to all but the most dire humanitarian cases on February 17.
Since then there has been an extraordinary silence from all those depending on
the Consulate for visas, passport renewals and other ordinary consular
business. The Cuban diplomatic representations in Washington and New York have
no bank access and so cannot receive or make payments.
Remarkably, since February 17 the
Cuban-born and U.S. public remains silent. We are not sure exactly why. Every
single category of travel will be affected if travelers cannot get visas. The
Cuban regulations are that you must obtain your visa to enter Cuba in the
country from which you are traveling. That means that the only way to get visas
traveling directly from the United States is from the Cuban Consulate.
All organizations holding People to People licenses and everyone traveling
with them who do not currently have a visa in hand or promised to them by their
organization, flight company or travel agency
All universities planning student travel to Cuba who likewise do not have
visas in hand or committed
Most religious organizations (some will be obtaining special licenses on
arrival in Cuba).
All individuals traveling under General License from the U.S. OFAC and many
traveling under specific license
All Cuban Americans and Cubans born in Cuba and living in the United
THIS IS A LONG EMAIL. IF
YOU THINK YOU KNOW ENOUGH NOW TO ACT - SKIP RIGHT TO THE ACTION STEPS. HERE. AND FORWARD THIS MESSAGE
ARE PEOPLE STILL TRAVELING?
travelers who already have their visas in hand or set aside for them still are
able to travel - our estimates are that these may last through May but not
AMERICANS AND THOSE BORN IN CUBA ARE THE MOST AFFECTED
born travelers with valid passports or who had already received their special
HE-11 or A-2 visas are still traveling. As an HE-11 lasts for just 3 months,
anyone who has planned travel for late May will not have a valid HE-11. And as
Cuban passports while good for 6 years must be renewed every 2 years, we already
know Cubans who have had to cancel their plans.
DOESN'T THE CUBAN CONSULATE HAVE A BANK ACCOUNT?
July and then again in December, M&T bank which had held the Consulate bank
account for several years refused to continue to hold the Consulate's account.
Apparently, since 2008 the banking regulations in the United States have been so
complex and full of pitfalls and mines when it comes to international bank
accounts that banks are reluctant to work with foreign account holders. Add to
that the OFAC regulations. Add to that that Cuba is on the list of countries
sponsoring terrorism. Apparently the U.S. banks have drawn a line in the sand.
Too difficult. Too complicated. Too liable to error and pitfalls - and fines.
I'm not an expert but this is what I've been able to piece together. The upshot
is that no bank in the United States has been willing to accept Cuba's bank
account for its consulate and other diplomatic Missions in the United States.
CAN'T THE U.S. GOVERNMENT USE ITS INFLUENCE TO GET A U.S. BANK TO ACCEPT THE
the U.S. government is unable to tell banks in the United States what to do.
You'll have to ask the U.S. government why this is so. In fact, we suggest you
do. U.S. Treasury Department. U.S. State Department.
we at Common Ground had a visit from the FBI a few weeks ago. A couple of very
pleasant Special Agents out of the Boston Division told me that they had been
asked to investigate whether the visa situation was adversely affecting small
businesses. I have been thinking about the adverse effects ever since.
1: BARACK OBAMA HAS BROKEN HIS PROMISES TO THE AMERICAN PUBLIC ABOUT TRAVEL TO
Obama opened up People to People Travel to a wide range and variety of
organizations and even tour operators. He placed educational travel and
religious travel under General License (no prior permission required). If these
travelers cannot obtain visas to enter Cuba, except by changing plans and
traveling through 3rd countries, this promise is broken.
President Obama promised Cuban Americans that they would
be able to visit their families. If Cubans residing in the United States and
Cuban-Americans cannot renew passports or obtain visas, President Obama's
promise is broken.
2: CUBAN-BORN AND CUBAN-AMERICAN TRAVELERS PROVIDE THE GREATEST SINGLE SOURCE
OF TRAVEL TO CUBA FROM FLORIDA. THERE ARE GRAVE ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES LOOMING
- NOT TO CUBA BUT TO THE UNITED STATES, MOST ESPECIALLY TO SOUTH
else can do a proper economic analysis, but here are my calculations: There are
10 charter companies actively running something like 90 flights a week to and
from Cuba. The charter business must employ quite a few hundred people in South
Florida, between the offices and the airport. Additionally there are some 320
OFAC licensed travel agencies in Florida, most of them in South Florida. So now
we must be close to 1000 people or more employed in the Cuba travel business who
face possible unemployment if the Consulate cannot resume business soon. There
are Cuban travel agencies all over the country, but Florida has most and is one
of the states least able to absorb the economic blow if the industry should be
forced to suspend or shut down. Where will those workers, many recent
immigrants, get new jobs?
ALL THESE REASONS AND MORE, I FOR ONE DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHY THE CHARTER
COMPANIES, THE TRAVEL SERVICE PROVIDERS, THE CUBAN AMERICAN COMMUNITIES, AND THE
U.S.-CUBA ACTIVISTS REMAIN SILENT.
ARE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, SMITHSONIAN, INSIGHT TRAVEL, GLOBUS, AMBASSADORS,
COLLETTE, ABERCROMIE & KENT, GRAND CIRCLE DOING ABOUT THE PROBLEM? THEY
SHOULD BE PROTESTING. THEY HAVE INFLUENCE. AND THEY WILL NEED
THE AIRWAVES AND SOCIAL MEDIA
mind the big box companies. They will likely follow us if we start making a
fuss. And we should. All of us who have been to Cuba, hope to go to Cuba or
consider ourselves "activists" in the cause of travel to Cuba should be hopping
mad and occupying the airwaves with phone calls, emails, twitter, facebook.
mind anything the State Department is saying behind the scenes about putting
"purposeful travel" under OFAC General License. If we can't get visas to enter
Cuba, then Obama's promises are empty. Anything said "off the record" or
"behind the scenes" is empty.
is as big an issue for the future of freedom of travel to Cuba as ever there
was. Let's get on it.
Please tell me that this email
has stirred you to action. We don't need the "right strategy" here. The only
"right strategy" is to make our voices heard - "Occupy" the issue through our
calls, emails, facebook, twitters, and whatever we can do.
Director, Common Ground Education
& Travel Services