Saturday, December 2, 2017

Alternative Restrictive Interpretations of Support for the Cuban People

“Travelers can continue visiting Cuba legally,” says Peggy Goldman, Founder and President of Friendly Planet Travel, a U.S. tour company. But if they book their tickets or hotel stays online, they will need to provide proof that they fall under approved categories of travel. Alternatively, visitors can visit the island with operators like Educational Experiences Abroad, Friendly Planet Travel or Cuba Educational Travel.

Now, after a rollback of former President Obama’s easing of restrictions, Goldman explains that, “what Trump did was take away that independent style of travel. Americans can continue to visit as long as they comply with the twelve ways that you can travel to Cuba.”

...the rules essentially roll back travel restrictions to the pre-Obama era of Cuban-American relations,


Although still legally allowed to enter the country, individual Americans must travel with a licensed “people-to-people” group tour. Group tours are required to provide a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities, and an employee of the tour company travels with each group to certify that the schedule is maintained.

Cuba in past years has appeared on USTOA’s surveys as an emerging destination; this year, however, it appeared on the list of those places “at risk,” that travelers should see now.

Referring to Donald Trump’s recent executive order regarding travel to Cuba, USTOA’s Dale noted that tour operators running escorted programs in Cuba are not affected; however, those who want to do FIT, or independent travel, to the island are.

“That autonomy [to travel independently] is gone,” he said. “Those individuals have to go with the group operator or a group entity that follows the people-to-people [guidelines].”

Dale also cautioned that airlines that had previously added service to Cuba may drop it now that the ability to travel there has been diminished.

“If they can't fill their seats with individuals and groups, they may pull service. Alaska Airlines pulled their service as an example, and some service was cut back from other airlines, so there are implications to all actions that could affect Cuba, so it's kind of a double-edged sword,” he added.

Dale said USTOA has done some lobbying regarding Cuba travel; however, he admitted he’s not optimistic about the outcome, considering all of the other issues facing Washington, DC.
Senator Flake has been just an amazing champion of opening up Cuba for all types of travel. Representative Sanford has as well,” he said. “Representative Titus from Nevada has also been pretty outspoken, so we work with them a lot, but when you weigh what they are juggling and their priorities, I don't see this gaining a lot of traction.”

Dale said USTOA on its visits to “The Hill” will continue to press forward, but that it’s an “uphill battle.”


Trump began the rollback on June 16, with regime-change rhetoric and a new directive curtailing the ability of individual US citizens to travel to Cuba..... Now, all non-academic educational visits under the “people-to-people” licenses must be done through a recognized US group-tour agency. This last point is key, as the individual people-to-people category was the one most commonly used by Americans visiting the island; it was the easiest to obtain, the cheapest way to visit Cuba, and the one that offered the most freedom to travel around the island....The fact that US citizens must now travel under the auspices of a US tour company hurts me and others economically because now we are limited to being subcontractors, and no longer have the ability to work with clients directly—if at all.


Now, tourists can only visit Cuba ”under the auspices of an organisation subject to US jurisdiction” while they must be accompanied by a US representative of the organisation. Thus, the only means of travelling to Cuba for Americans is through an organised trip.


According to the new rules, “people-to-people” exchanges are banned. Americans who want to meet Cubans will now have to travel in groups accompanied by an authorized representative of the trip’s sponsoring organization.


Now Americans who want to visit Cuba will again be limited to tours sanctioned by the US government, permission for which the Trump administration can make as stringent as it wants. Numbers will drop precipitously.
     -- from an article in the New York Review of Books by Nik Steinberg who served as counselor to the Obama Administration's UN Ambassador Samantha Power. 


As we noted before, the most important policy change with regards to travel is that U.S. travelers can no longer travel on their own under the broad ‘people to people’ category without going through an authorized travel provider like Global Exchange Reality Tours.


Individuals can travel under the Support for the Cuban People Category. This means that anybody can visit Cuba if they spend majority of their time interacting with the Cuban people, supporting the private sector, and supporting civil society (donating to church, synagogue or community program or offering information to entrepreneurs). 

Cuba Educational Travel assists individual travelers in complying with this category, so you can carry out your own itinerary but comply with the law. 

For the actual US regulations, go to

My layman's interpretation:  if your view of your goal is to promote independent activity to strengthen civil society and your activities enhance contact with the result of meaningful interaction, your presence in Cuba will be positive in support of the emerging private sector and you qualify for this general license.  If you are motivated by the other listed goals and act on them, your presence will be regarded as intrusive and not respectful of Cuba's sovereignty. -- John McAuliff

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