Monday, May 23, 2016

Cuba Cruise Legal Parameters

P2P Cuba Cruise
Havana – Maria la Gorda - Cienfuegos – Santiago de Cuba -Montego Bay 

Celestyal's Cuba Cruise is without equal for a reasonable cost low stress educational and cultural introduction to all four compass points of the Caribbean's globally significant and largest country.   Since December 2014, there has been steady progress toward a more normal relationship between too long divided neighbors.  Traveling with Cuba Cruise is an enjoyable way to contribute to a historic process of fostering mutual understanding.  (See below for attributes of Cuba Cruise.)

One Easy Steps to Come Aboard

!) Book your cabin and program with a travel agent or on-line here

[FFRD is no longer providing the P2P general license for passengers on Celestyal's Cuba Cruise.  Celestyal believes it can provide legal coverage internally through an affiliated company.]

New regulations were announced on March 16. 2016:

"In the case of an individual traveling under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact, the individual may rely on the entity sponsoring the travel to satisfy his or her record keeping requirements ... "*

A general license is not a document.  It is a concept, in effect an entitlement because of who one is or what one is doing.  FFRD is the qualifying organization to sponsor people to people programs in Cuba in partnership with Cuba Cruise. The letter we issue is a courtesy to confirm affiliated participation in the group trip authorized under our general license but the essential requirement is that each passenger is entered in our data base.

An agent of FFRD will be on board to assist you with our program, as required by OFAC.

For your legal protection and ours, we are very serious about making your trip with Cuba Cruise appropriately people to people and thus legitimate under our general license. Participants in Cuba Cruise just like travelers on more conventional (and more expensive) ground tours are purchasing a "full-time schedule of educational exchange activities".  (OFAC's current interpretation of legal requirements is here )

On board, please introduce yourself to some of the eighty Cuban staff.  Most speak English and welcome a chance to exchange experiences and personal stories.  They will be part of your life for a very pleasant and meaningful week.  Plan on attending daily talks about Cuban history and culture.

Regulations do not allow us to structure independent excursions into the cruise schedule except on Monday evening in Havana but free time is provided in every port:

"An organization that sponsors and organizes trips to Cuba in which travelers engage in individually selected and/or self-directed activities would not qualify for the general license."*

If you receive a customs form to complete or are asked by US immigration or customs officials what countries you have visited, do not hesitate to say Cuba.  This is a completely legal trip.

Specialized Excursions with Cuba Cruise and FFRD

With at least six weeks notice, encounters can be arranged for special interest groups large enough for a designated bus, e.g. teachers, medical practitioners, lawyers, students, artists, social workers,  dancers, musicians; African Americans, Irish Americans, Chinese Americans, Hispanic Americans; Jewish, Protestant and Catholic faith communities, etc. Supplemental charges will apply.

On request with at least one month notice FFRD will try to arrange an opportunity for you to invite a Cuban professional counterpart to a private lunch in Havana, Santiago or Cienfuegos.

Combine the Cruise with self-directed travel

Americans are welcome to embark in Montego Bay, Jamaica, or in Havana.   New commercial flights offer convenient access to the cruise through international airports in Havana, Santa Clara and Varadero/Matanzas.  This creates an opportunity to organize your own people to people program under an individual general license before or after the cruise.  According to the regulations:

"(1) Travel-related transactions pursuant to this authorization must be for the purpose of engaging, while in Cuba, in a full-time schedule of activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people's independence from Cuban authorities;
(2) Each traveler has a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba;
(5) persons relying on the authorization in paragraph (b) of this section must retain records sufficient to demonstrate that each individual traveler has engaged in a full-time schedule of activities that satisfy the requirements of paragraphs (b)(1) through (3) of this section. "*

 For guidelines on use of the individual general license, click here


Under regulations announced in January 2015 it became possible for US companies to sell travel insurance for Americans going to Cuba.  Your provider may ask you to complete a Cuba Travel Compliance Certification form which can be sent to you on line or by mail.

No documentation is required from FfRD or Cuba Cruise.  The form doesn't even ask how and when you are going to Cuba.  The completed form is sent to the insurance agent, not to FFRD.

Their coverage for Cuba is by reimbursement which means Cuba will still require you to have local insurance from Asistur.   You can obtain it through Cuba Cruise.

John McAuliff
Executive Director, Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Coordinator, Cuba/US People to People Partnership

Riverhead, NY
917-859-9025                                                                                                                 5/23/16


We encourage travelers to urge their Senators and Representative to support legislation to end all travel restrictions so the above becomes unnecessary.  For list of House members who support and oppose the President's opening of travel, go here


OFAC Language to Stop Bank and Paypal Account Freezes

There have been numerous instances of Paypal and bank transfers, checks etc. frozen because "Cuba" was mentioned in a memo line.  The following language should end that problem but it is safer to avoid all Cuba references.


52. Is a financial institution required to independently verify that an individual’s travel is authorized when processing Cuba travel-related transactions? No.  A financial institution may rely on U.S. travelers to provide their certifications of authorized travel directly to the person providing travel or carrier services when processing Cuba travelrelated transactions, unless the financial institution knows or has reason to know that the travel is not authorized by a general or specific license.

The CACR requires persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction providing travel or carrier services to retain for at least five years from the date of the transaction a certification from each customer indicating the section of the CACR that authorizes the person to travel to Cuba.  See § 515.572(b).  U.S. travelers utilizing a general or specific license are also required to retain for five years records associated with their travel to Cuba.

53. May a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction utilize online payment platforms to facilitate or process authorized transactions involving Cuba or a Cuban entity?  Yes.  Subject to certain exceptions, transactions that are ordinarily incident to an authorized transaction are authorized.  Such transactions may include use of online payment platforms to facilitate authorized transactions.  Please see the interpretive guidance in 31 CFR § 515.421.

Distinguishing characteristics of Celestyal's Cuba Cruise 

1) Three years of experience; hosted 6,000 very diverse Americans in 2015-2016 season 
2) One more port, Isla de la Juventud
3) Longer time on the ground in Cuba (5 vs. 3 1/2 days) 
4) Interact for full week with eighty Cuban staff and crew including lectures by two University of Havana professor, animators, musicians, singers, dancers, chefs, waiters and cabom stewards. Most speak English.
5) High level Cuban guest experts speak about current issues 
6) Opportunity to fly on scheduled commercial flights to Havana, Varadero/Matanzas or Santa Clara on Friday or Saturday; self-directed casa particular weekend under individual general license or group program through tour operator or travel agent under FFRD general license; then join full cruise program on Monday 
7) Opportunity to disembark in Santiago, enjoy its night life and fly home on Sunday on a commercial flight 
8) Extensive live Cuban entertainment on board, including professionally produced nightly shows, classical and Cuban music, and a performance of Afro Cuban religious music and dance by N'Sila che che. 
9) Opportunity to choose for Havana night-life a reasonably priced performance by Opera de la Calle ("Music of the Street"), the first large scale private cultural production 
10) Significantly lower all inclusive cost (with all but top shelf drinks provided)
11) Montego Bay, Jamaica, interlude; excursion or beach time for passengers boarding in Havana

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Information for Visitors

Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Riverhead, NY  11901        917-859-9025


1) Electricity in Cuba is usually 110 volts AC, 60 Hz, but in some buildings it is 220 and requires a plug with round prongs or three prongs (not US style 3).  Usually there is a sign if voltage is other than 110.   Happily most electronic gear now has power blocks that handle both.  If your equipment has a US three prong plug, bring an adapter to make it two. 

2)  Money within Cuba is on a cash only basis unless you happen to have a credit card on a non-US (and non US owned) bank.  OFAC regulations now allow use of US credit cards but bank agreements have not yet made that possible.

You can exchange dollars for CUCs (the currency needed for most purchases) at the airport, in hotels, at CADECAs and in banks.  Because the US blocks Cuba's normal international use of the dollar, there is a 10% surcharge on the dollar exchange rate, plus the 3% charge affecting all currencies.  Some people bring Canadian dollars or Euros but unless you anticipate major expenditures, it is not worth the trouble.  $100 per day while on land should be more than sufficient for non-group meals, incidental costs, taxis, etc., unless you plan to buy serious art or original handicrafts or eat at high end paladars with good imported wine.  

3) Tips at restaurants and for guides and driver for excursions are at your discretion.    On group tours, a common practice is to give per day 5 CUC to the guide and 3 CUC to the driver. At restaurants, 10% is the norm.  Some restaurants show a 10% service on the bill, but you should ask what that is for.

4)  Telephone calls between the United States and Cuba are expensive because of the US embargo.  US calling cards are not accepted and there is no way to make collect calls, so you must pay cash for your phone calls at hotels or an ETECSA kiosk.  Prepaid cards for use on public phones are available from hotels and ETECSA.

Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile have announced roaming service in Cuba.  It is expensive and requires a quad band GSM phone.  Most people on short trips do not need a local phone but they are useful if you have a private guide or are arranging your own program, reserving seats in popular restaurants, etc.  To function, cell phones must be unlocked quad band GSM, i.e. the kind used on ATT or T-Mobile networks, and require a Cubacel SIM card.  Unlocked phones can be bought on-line from Amazon or other big retailers or be purchased in electronics stores at the Miami airport before passing through security ($60+).  

The only fast place to get a SIM card is at Cubacel offices at airports.  Even there it can take 20 minutes, assuming there is not a line.  The cards cost $3 a day plus prepaid time  That gives you a local number with domestic calls that cost about 50 cents a minute as well as inexpensive texting.  Charge up the phone with estimated usage and get a 5 or 10 CUC scratch card for back up.  Calls to the US are about $3 a minute but you can receive them without an incoming charge.  If you have a non-US phone, check whether the company has a roaming agreement with Cuba. 

If you must be in regular contact for work or personal reasons, another pre-arranged option is to use a service that provides SIM cards or rents phones; roams on the Cubacell network while on-shore, but it does not offer a local phone number so will only be called from abroad.

5)  Most personal electronics are fine to bring: digital cameras and video, cell phone, I-Pad, lap top, shortwave receiver, CD and DVD players.  Cell phones and pads can have GPS capability but you need to download the app and the Cuba map.  Don't bring a car GPS.  Most hotels have CNN but no international newspapers.  Satellite phones or transceivers are illegal to import.

5)  Internet is available on your own laptop, pad or phone in the lobby of most hotels, but it is dial up speed and most useful for e-mail.  Some international hotels have wireless, which is improving but often still very slow.  There are also internet centers and wi-fi hot spots that require a Nauta scratch card from the center, ETECSA, a hotel or a reseller.

From another Lonely Planet site:

Link to map of wi fi hotspots in Havana

Addresses of wi fi hotspots and hotels etc with wi fi for all of Cuba

Additional wifi and phone information in FAQs 25 and 26 at

6)  Cuba has adopted daylight savings time so east coasters will not have to change their watches.

7)  Clothing is informal and tropical.   In most situations, men wear buttoned shirts and slacks; women can use dresses, skirts or slacks.  T shirts are OK for sightseeing and personal time.  Shorts are usually worn by Cubans only at home and in very casual situations and can mark you as a tourist.  I wear sandals with covered toes but most Cuban men wear shoes.  Bring snorkel equipment or look for a hotel or beach shop to for rentals.  Guayabera and sports shirts are available for purchase but pricey.  T shirts are sold everywhere.

8) Bring a few copies of descriptive materials about your school, business or hobby as well as promotional souvenirs from your own community.   Photo books and calendars illustrating your city or state are nice remembrances.

9)  Humanitarian Assistance  I am often asked about providing material help to Cubans, a giving back opportunity offered by some tour organizations.  We and most Cubans are not comfortable with handing out gifts on the street, be it candy, pens or baseballs because it encourages a culture of begging.  If your schedule includes schools, retirement centers, clinics or social service institutions, donations in cash or kind are welcome.

10) Bring 25 to 50 business cards for Cubans with whom you may want to stay in contact.

11)  Insurance  Cuba requires coverage by its national health insurance even if you have another policy because it cannot obtain reimbursement from US firms.   Charter carriers and cruise lines provide it for an additional cost.  Some airport terminals have an insurance kiosk before immigration.

If you have a Starr Assist travel insurance & assistance policy you will have the proper medical benefit coverage to fulfill the Cuban government’s requirement.  If you have any questions on your coverage you may call 866-477-6741 or visit

12)   Visa  Your Cuban tourist card will be provided by your carrier, air or sea.

13)  Souvenirs, gifts   The US government permits you to bring $400 worth of Cuban merchandise into our country, $100 of which can be cigars and rum.  Music, art and books as well as goods produced by Cuban entrepreneurs can be imported without monetary limitation.

Program, special events and attractions

Opera de la Calle  "Music of the Street" offers a people to people opportunity for a surprising and thoroughly engaging evening in Havana. In one hour an exciting company of 50 singers, musicians and dancers captures many genres popular in Cuba during four centuries, including contemporary style.  [See program of the show here]

Ready for more music?  The Jazz Cafe facing the Melia Cohiba Hotel has a rotation of quality performances at 9:30 and 11 p.m. or try the jazz and night clubs on La Rampa.  Popular tourist options like the Tropicana Cabaret and the Buena Vista Social Club sell tickets through Cubanacan desks at international hotels.  The Jazz Cafe is virtually free.  The $10 cover provides two or three drinks and/or food.

For other cultural events taking place in Havana and reviews of clubs and restaurants, check out , (click What's On)  and   Spanish speakers will find useful   For more reviews of Cuban restaurants

Here is a comprehensive list of restaurants in Havana with price categories  My two favorite good quality and reasonably priced paladars in Havana are Dona Eutimia near the Cathedral in Habana Vieja and Atelier, two blocks from the Melia Cohiba Hotel.  Reservations are advisable and plan on two hours for a substantial meal.  Dona Eutimia:  Callejon del Chorro No. 60-C, Plaza de la Catedral  861-1332; Atelier: XKKW 5Tm Bi, 511m e/ Paseo y 2, Vedado  836-2025   Also interesting is Arte Chef, a teaching restaurant of the Cuban Culinary Association, two blocks from the Melia Cohiba:  Calle 3ra, esq. A,  The Melia Cohiba is the best group and business hotel, but rooms are scarce.  An internet card can be purchased for use in the lobby, but expect dial up speed.

Specialized P2P Programs can be arranged for groups by Amistur and San Cristobal that include a guide/interpreter and transportation.  At least one month advance notice is recommended.

My personal focus is the Irish and Irish American heritage of Cuba that can include a power point presentation and walking tour in Havana. Click here or go to

There are also opportunities to engage with the Chinese and Jewish communities and with counterparts in music, dance, education, art, medicine, senior programs, child care, small enterprise, etc.   Contact to discuss.

Information about private visits with the Jewish community can be found here but the e-mail addresses don't work.

Links for background

I am prone to assume that everyone who travels to Cuba shares my fascination/obsession with its history, culture and politics.  However I do recognize and respect that your primary agenda may be different.  Take from the following whatever is useful, and that you have time for.

Current Policy Debate

On December 17, 2014, the Presidents of Cuba and the US created a tectonic shift in our countries relations, opening the door to expanded travel opportunities such as Cuba Cruise and the establishment of diplomatic relations eight months later.  The process is ongoing, faster than most experts anticipated and slower than some advocates hoped.  The keystone is the growth of mutual understanding and trust, to which your visit contributes.

The best analysis I have read of where bilateral relations stand is by Fulton Armstrong of American University. "U.S.-Cuba Normalization: Entering a New, Challenging Phase",  Fulton served as a senior professional staff member responsible for Latin America on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from July 2008 to October 2011.  He was National Intelligence Officer for Latin America – the U.S. Intelligence Community’s most senior analyst – in 2000-2004 and served two terms as the Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council (1995-97 and 1998-99).  You can download his 16 page paper here

The single most useful way to stay on top of the rapidly changing scene is the weekly Cuba Central Newsblast from the Center for Democracy in the Americas.  You can sign up here

There are a multitude of blogs written in Cuba with a very wide range of politics.  Get a non-political very personal take from Conner Gorry, a New York journalist who has lived for more than a decade in Havana and opened an English language center/snackbar at

I post a wide variety of articles about university, cultural and people-to-people programs in Cuba here publishes a variety of perspectives from within Cuba in English, some favorable some very critical

A column by David Roberts in a Latin America business publication has a useful estimate of Cuban's real comparative income from the CIA:

A series of scholarly articles is being published by the Social Science Research Council and the Center for Latin America and Latino Studies at American University which seek to understand how things are changing and why

The Smithsonian Magazine published a useful summary history "How Cuba Remembers Its Revolutionary Past and Present"

A Cuban American who favors change

Dr. Louis Perez at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has written a remarkable historical essay, "Cuba as an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder"

And a Cuban American who opposes it

What If...the U.S. Ended the Cuba Travel Ban and the Embargo? By Jaime Suchliki of the Cuba Transition Project, Focus on Cuba Issue 185


Cuban Revelations: Behind the Scenes in Havana (Contemporary Cuba) by Marc Frank, long-time resident and correspondent for Reuters and the Financial Times.  The must read on contemporary Cuba.

If you have time for serious study, the best source is Louis A. Perez of the University of North Carolina.  Cuba in the American Imagination: Metaphor and the Imperial Ethos  puts the last 55 troubled years into a two century long cultural context.  His comprehensive history is unequaled: Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution 

A shorter more focused volume The History of Havana  was coauthored by an American, Dick Cluster of the University of Massachusetts at Boston, and a Cuban, Rafael Hernandez, editor of the pioneering magazine Temas.

Moon Cuba is the best guidebook to prepare for your visit.

Havana Quartet are four novels by Cuban author Leonardo Padura, translated into English, that use the medium of a detective solving crimes to offer trenchant social commentary:  best read in the seasonal written order, not their publication in English (Havana Blue , Havana Gold, Havana Red, Havana Black.)  A fifth book, Havana Fever, carries the story into the “special period”.   


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Are Americans Replacing Brits in Hotel Contracts?

Cuban hotels dropping Brits in favour of US firms

12 May 2016
BY Patrick Whyte

Hotels in Cuba are breaking contracts with UK holiday companies following the opening up of the island to US visitors, according to a travel lawyer.
Ian Skuse, a partner at Blake Morgan, told the Abta Travel Law Seminar that some of his clients had already been affected by Cuban hoteliers trying to get out of their contracts so they could sign deals with US firms.
“Cuba accommodation contracts are being broken because the Americans are paying more money,” he said. “Whether this is going to become a theme, we just don’t know yet. It’s supply and demand – they can get more money elsewhere.”
The “normalisation” of relations between the US and Cuba now allows US citizens to visit the Caribbean island for 12 specified different purposes, although these categories do not include tourism.
But the seminar heard that these travel restrictions were “very easy” to get around and US citizens could now visit Cuba if they wished, which was creating a “free for all” situation.
Neil Baylis, a partner at K&L Gates, said that US authorities were set to allow 110 daily scheduled flights to operate from the US to Cuba.
US-based airlines have submitted applications to the Department of Transportation to be allowed to run some of these services, which will include 20 daily flights to the capital Havana.
Iran is also set to grow as a destination following the lifting of sanctions with British Airways among the airlines due to resume flights to the country this year. Iran hopes to grow tourism arrivals from 5 million a year to 20 million by 2025.

my comment

European and Canadian tourists have benefited for years from lower prices in Cuba.  The opening of a more normal US market will naturally increase competitive costs.   That will be most dramatic when Congress ends travel restrictions completely and all inclusive resort hotels will become available to Americans for the first time.

Are the Cubans breaking contracts or simply not renewing them at old rates?

For Americans that have faced price increments by charter carriers and US tour operators, more normal transportation and booking processes may lead to lower total costs.

John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development