Monday, August 12, 2019

Impact on Cuban Private Sector of Bolton/Claver-Carone restrictions

Cuba feels the pinch of the Trump administration’s travel restrictions


A Royal Caribbean cruise ship departs Havana in June after President Trump put an end to American cruise visits to Cuba.
A Royal Caribbean cruise ship departs Havana on June 5, a day after the Trump administration announced that Americans could no longer travel to Cuba on cruise ships.
(Adalberto Roque / AFP/Getty Images)
When a bus packed with Spanish tourists pulled into her restaurant in the picturesque Viñales Valley in mid-July, Rosa Isabel Hernandez Pino was grateful. But she was also worried.
That busload represented her last reservation for the summer. Americans aboard cruise ships that docked in Havana used to account for the bulk of her business. But on June 4, the Trump administration announced that Americans could no longer travel to Cuba on cruise ships, and also eliminated a category of travel called people-to-people group tours.
Reservations for Hernandez’s thatched-roof Doña Rosita’s restaurant, with views of oxen tilling fields and the limestone hills of the Viñales Valley, came via government tour agencies that paid her a negotiated rate of $15 a lunch for a home-cooked spread that included chicken, pork, yucca, rice and beans produced on the land that her family has farmed for six generations.
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Hernandez and her family made a good living with the restaurant after President Obama made it far easier for Americans to travel to Cuba in 2015. The Trump administration began chipping away at the changes , and with the newest limitations on American travel, Hernandez said, “I think I will have to go out of business.”
Cuba’s fledgling private-sector workers — cab drivers, tour guides, souvenir sellers, restaurateurs, bed and breakfast operators — are already feeling the pinch.
The Trump administration contends the policy, which still allows for 11 categories of visits including for religious activities or professional research, is aimed at keeping U.S. dollars out of the hands of the Cuban military, ending what national security advisor John Bolton calls “veiled tourism.”
In a tweet the day the restrictions were announced, Bolton made clear they were also designed to punish Cuba for its support of Venezuela’s autocratic leader Nicolas Maduro: “Cuba has continued to prop up the illegitimate Maduro regime in Venezuela and will be held responsible for the man-made crisis. President Trump has made it clear that we stand with the Cuban and Venezuela people as they fight for freedom.”
Trump, in a June 2017 speech in Miami, declared his new policies toward Cuba would bypass “the military and government to help the Cuban people form businesses and pursue much better lives.”
Many Cubans say, however, that their private businesses have slowed to a crawl as many relatively free-spending Americans are removed from the visitor mix.
At Fusterlandia, where artist Jose Fuster has covered practically every inch of his home and workshop in mosaic tile and begun to cover walls, bus stops and nearby homes as well, the neighborhood on the outskirts of Havana is hurting.
As Fuster’s art installation gained fame, a cottage industry had sprung up and his neighbors began selling coconut water, pina coladas and all manner of souvenirs.
“I would say business is down 60% since the cruises stopped,” said Adrian Alberto, a vendor, as he sat forlorn on a mosaic-encrusted bench in front of Fuster’s house.
“Business is down so much you can practically weep,” echoed fellow vendor Yoan Perdomo Viort.
“This street used to be so full of tour buses and taxis you almost couldn’t walk,” he said. At 10:30 on a recent morning, only one tour bus and a few cars were parked outside.
“It’s been a very slow year,” sighed Andrea Gallina, who runs Paseo 206, a private 10-room boutique hotel in a 1930s mansion in Havana’s Vedado district, with his wife, Diana. In early 2017, Americans represented about 55% of their customers. Now, he said, they make up only about 30%.
“The Irma-Trump combination hasn’t been good,” added Gallina, an Italian who quit his job at the World Bank and came to the island with his Cuban wife in 2012 as former President Raul Castro began opening the economy to the private sector.
Hurricane Irma hit Cuba’s north coast hard in September 2017, causing widespread flooding. Even though the government and private entrepreneurs made it a priority to quickly clean up damage at tourist facilities, bookings were canceled and the storm put a damper on the 2018 winter season.
That coupled with Trump’s moves has sowed confusion, Gallina said. “In any market when you create confusion, people are reluctant to come.”
His solution: Market more and diversify his customer base to include more Europeans and Latin Americans.
“After a new regulation, people are afraid. They think it’s illegal to go to Cuba,” agreed Camilo Condis, an outspoken advocate for private entrepreneurship in Cuba.
It’s not illegal. While Americans aren’t supposed to engage in vacations devoted solely to lounging on Cuban beaches, they can still travel to the island if, according to State Department guidelines, they engage in “activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba.”
Many travelers, however, aren’t sure what that means.
“For me, tourism isn’t a good sector anymore,” said Condis, who made his living by renting an apartment to visitors and working in a private port-area Havana restaurant called El Figaro. This year, he said, revenue at the restaurant, which sits along a street where dozens of Cubans have opened private businesses, is about 10% of what it was a year ago.
Now he plans to sell the apartment, quit his restaurant job and work in construction.
Despite the Trump sanctions that have included placing a number of hotels owned by the Cuban military on a prohibited list for Americans, construction cranes tower over Havana neighborhoods near the sea, and government-owned and joint venture hotel projects are moving forward.
Once shunned by the revolutionary government as bourgeois, tourism has become one of Cuba’s most important generators of foreign exchange since the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of its subsidies to Cuba.
During the peak year of 2017, it brought in $3.2 billion.
This year, 372,857 Americans visited the island by air and sea through June, ahead of last year’s 266,441, according to estimates by Cuban economist Jose Luis Perello. A surge in cruise passengers before the June restrictions accounted for much of the growth.
Perello said the change in U.S. policy meant 30,000 fewer cruise passengers visited in June alone, and the Cuban government has adjusted its goal of 5 million international visitors this year down to 4.3 million. In 2018, there were 4.7 million international visitors.
In the euphoria after the United States and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations in 2015, many Cubans made decisions to renovate a room in their homes or buy buildings to open a business, thinking the steady stream of American visitors under the Obama administration would continue and grow.
Hernandez said her family spent around $6,000 to build the restaurant in Viñales, which is about a two-hour drive from Havana.
Laila Chaabon, a young Cuban fashion designer who opened a clothing store three months ago, also is feeling squeezed.
Chaabon had been working in a clothing factory in Ecuador, but she returned to the island in 2016 to start her own business.
But finding a building she and her mother could afford and renovating its street-facing living room for Capicua, her store, took longer than expected.
Capicua launched just before the new Trump travel sanctions. “I have some good days; other days I get panic attacks,” said Chaabon, who was wearing jeans and a flirty red top of her own creation. “The only consolation is the business is breaking even.”
But if things don’t pick up, she said, she’ll be lucky to hold on for a year.
“It’s been chaos [since the cruises ended]. It’s been tragic for a lot of people,” said freelance tour guide Zoila Alviles. “A lot of my friends who work for tour agencies haven’t worked at all this summer.”
Within days of the new travel restrictions, some private taxi drivers put their cars up for sale. Others who borrowed money to buy cars now worry about making the payments.
“In the end, it’s all sorts of Cubans who are impacted, not just the government or government officials,” said Giulio Ricci, a University of Havana economist.
Even businesses not particularly dependent on American visitors say they’ve been hit. Enrique Suarez, head chef and owner of the Tocamadera gastropub in Havana’s fashionable Miramar neighborhood, said affluent locals make up the bulk of the clientele in his 38-seat restaurant.
Many people who live in Miramar have houses or apartments for rent to visitors in Old Havana and with those earnings drying up, they are not eating out as much, he said. “They were here two or three times a week and now they’re not,” said Suarez.
Recent weeks have brought mixed news from the United States. A bipartisan group introduced legislation in the House of Representatives that would eliminate any restrictions on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens and legal residents. It would also end prohibitions on travel-related banking transactions.
In the Senate, Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), joined by 45 co-sponsors, introduced a Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act.
“The Trump administration’s policy toward Cuba is completely at odds with its policies toward other countries,” said Leahy. “Freedom to travel is a right. It is part of who we are as Americans.”
But the U.S. State Department has instead added to its prohibited list of Cuban businesses and organizations, including two more hotels controlled by the Cuban military.
“The department remains committed to ensuring U.S. funds do not directly support Cuba’s state security apparatus, which not only violates the human rights of the Cuban people, but also exports this repression to Venezuela to support the corrupt Maduro regime,” it said.
Whitefield is a special correspondent.
https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2019-08-10/cuba-feels-the-pinch-of-the-trump-administrations-travel-restrictions

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Venezuela Update #11

Venezuela crisis: Military force still an option, says Guaidó

26 Jun 2019

The use of military force is still an option to end the political crisis in Venezuela if President Nicolás Maduro continues killing protesters, the opposition leader Juan Guaidó says.
The president of the National Assembly told the BBC's James Menendez that another option would be a military transition as long as it lead to free elections....

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Jazz and Son Festival in Varadero August 22-25



If sufficient Americans wish to go under the Support for the Cuban People license, special meetings will take place with performers, the agency Paradiso, and the Artistic Director, Isaac Delgado, as well as with private businesses and other institutions in Varadero, Cardenas and Matanzas (including the slavery museum).  We can also assist with finding privately owned bed and breakfasts.

For more information write to director@ffrd.org


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Presidential Candidates on Cuba

Amy Klobuchar

Modernizing our relationship with Cuba. Revamping our approach to North America also includes modernizing our relationship with Cuba. I strongly support lifting the embargo and travel ban on Cuba. Increasing travel and commerce between our two countries will create new economic opportunities for American farmers and businesses and help improve the quality of life for Cubans. Our policies toward Cuba should emphasize our economic interests in expanded commerce and travel and our political interest in cultivating new freedoms for the Cuban people. More than fifty years of the embargo have not secured these interests­it is time for us to try another approach. That is why I have introduced the bipartisan Freedom to Export to Cuba Act, which would eliminate the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba, boosting job creation and exports. It does not repeal provisions of current law that address human rights in Cuba or that allow individuals and businesses to pursue claims against the Cuban government.

https://www.klobuchar.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/national-security



Klobuchar Statement on Administration Actions to Restrict Educational and Cultural Travel to Cuba

June 5, 2019

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) released the following statement in response to the Trump Administration’s decision to eliminate group “people-to-people” educational travel to Cuba, including a ban to prohibit cruise ships from stopping there. Organized tour groups on cruise ships are the most common way U.S. citizens travel to the island.

“Fifty-five years of isolating Cuba has not advanced our interests and has disadvantaged American businesses and farmers. We need to be expanding engagement with Cuba and building on the progress we’ve made, not returning to the policies of the past. America is at its best when we are innovating, making things, and exporting to the world­we should be encouraging, not discouraging engagement with Cuba.”For years, Klobuchar has fought to open the door to business with Cuba. In February, Klobuchar reintroduced the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act with Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to lift the Cuba trade embargo. The bipartisan legislation would eliminate the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba and pave the way for new economic opportunities for American businesses and farmers by boosting U.S. exports and allow Cubans greater access to American goods. Klobuchar also supported an amendment in the 2018 Farm Bill to allow U.S. agricultural producers to use two U.S. export promotion programs for agricultural exports to Cuba.


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Permalink: https://www.klobuchar.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2019/6/klobuchar-statement-on-administration-actions-to-restrict-educational-and-cultural-travel-to-cuba

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Letter signed by three candidates

Dear Secretaries Mnuchin and Ross:
We write to express our strong opposition to the recent decisions by the Departments of the Treasury and Commerce to eliminate group “people-to-people” educational travel to Cuba and ban certain passenger and recreational transportation to the island.
The actions by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security to further restrict travel to Cuba represent a significant step backwards in the U.S.-Cuba relationship. Fifty-five years of isolating Cuba has served only to disadvantage American and Cuban businesses, farmers, and citizens, while failing to achieve U.S. interests including democratic reforms and improvement in human rights.
Most Americans visiting Cuba do so on a cruise ship. By making passenger and recreational vessels and private and corporate aircraft ineligible for licenses, the Administration is weakening our business relationships and undermining the ability of Americans to travel to Cuba, which will also hurt the Cuban people. Quite simply, the downsides of this decision far outweigh any potential benefits.
Unfortunately, the Administration’s policies have negatively impacted the numbers of Americans travelling to Cuba. After the number of Americans visiting Cuba increased nearly 600 percent between 2014 and 2017, travel has stagnated under the current administration and only increased approximately one percent in 2018.
Rather than returning to the failed policies of the past, we should be working to normalize our relations with Cuba and build a relationship that benefits both of our countries. Expanding engagement with Cuba will pave the way for new economic opportunities for America and the Cuban people.
We look forward to hearing from you on this important matter.
Sincerely,

Initiated by Senator Amy Klobuchar with the support of Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Tom Udall (D-NM), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

https://www.klobuchar.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2019/6/klobuchar-leads-letter-opposing-administration-actions-to-restrict-educational-and-cultural-travel-to-cuba

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Reverse Trump's Cuba Reversals, Democratic Candidates Say. Do Cuban Americans Agree?

By TIM PADGETT •

It’s no surprise the Democratic presidential hopefuls in Miami for debates this week want to reverse President Trump’s Cuba policy. But it’s not completely certain most Cuban-American voters will want that.

Of the 25 Democratic presidential candidates, 19 have staked out policy positions on Cuba. (According to nonprofit groups such as Engage Cuba, among those who have not publicly declared on Cuba is Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam — unusual for a South Florida politician. His aides say they are consulting him on the matter.)

Just about all of those 19 favor a return to former President Obama’s policy of engagement with communist Cuba — which Trump has rolled back.

In a Miami Herald op-ed this week, front-runner Joe Biden called Trump’s efforts to isolate Cuba “a Cold War-era retread.” Biden — who was Obama’s vice president — also accused Trump of “callously limiting the ability of Cuban-Americans to reunite with and support their families in Cuba.”

Other candidates — including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — call for ending the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. They also want Americans to be able to travel to Cuba with no restrictions.

Most American voters agree with those positions. But it’s not certain most Cuban-American voters do. In Miami-Dade County, the Cuban community once again seems split over the embargo issue. And a Mason-Dixon poll out this week shows 59 percent of Cuban-Americans approve of Trump.

https://www.wlrn.org/post/reverse-trumps-cuba-reversals-democratic-candidates-say-do-cuban-americans-agree


John McAuliff comment on line:

The latest FIU poll showed that 57% of Cuban Americans support unrestricted travel for all of us. Other polls show 81% of Americans favor unrestricted travel.
This should be a no-brainer for Democratic Presidential candidates.


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De Blasio says Cuba, Nicaragua have gone astray
Jun 28, 2019 

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions have gone astray, a day after he was criticized for quoting a Cuban revolutionary slogan.

De Blasio was asked to comment on the governments of the two Latin American countries on Friday.

The mayor and Democratic presidential candidate later said he did not realize that the slogan "Hasta la Victoria, siempre!" was associated with the Cuban revolution.

De Blasio said Friday that the revolutionaries were right to overthrow Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, but the revolution later "went astray." He said Cuba "could have emerged as a democratic society."

De Blasio said the situation in Nicaragua is "very sad to watch," and President Daniel Ortega's time "has come and gone."

De Blasio has visited both countries.

https://dailyjournalonline.com/news/national/de-blasio-says-cuba-nicaragua-have-gone-astray/article_846f1d35-9392-5e64-ab13-25bfe698becc.html


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Positions on Embargo Published in Tampa Bay Times

http://www.tampabay.com/florida-politics/buzz/2019/06/26/what-about-florida-issues-we-asked-democratic-candidates-your-questions-now-see-their-answers/#a2

Would you end or continue the trade embargo with Cuba?

Michael Bennet

U.S. Senator, Colorado

I have supported ending the trade embargo on Cuba. U.S. policy toward Cuba has not been successful, and it is time to update it. We should be working to forge new relationships and build opportunities for the next generation of Cubans and Americans.

Cory Booker

U.S. Senator, New Jersey

We need a new path forward in our relations with Cuba. Only Congress can lift the trade embargo. To be sure, Cuba’s dismal record on rights, including repression of dissent, arbitrary detention, harassment of critics; and its support for Nicolas Maduro’s brutal regime are issues that must be addressed as part of any future U.S.-Cuba relationship. 

Pete Buttigieg

Mayor, South Bend, Ind.

The Trump administration’s policies toward Cuba have been largely counterproductive across the board, squandering the potential to make progress with the first post-Castro Cuban leadership in 60 years. U.S. policy toward Cuba should be one of engagement, working toward the goal of political and economic reform in Cuba and its participation in the hemisphere’s multilateral institutions. If the United States wants to have a positive influence on political and economic changes in Cuba, it has to maintain an open dialogue with the Cuban government and Cuban society. The Trump administration’s policy of hostility is hurting Cuba’s emergent private sector—the very people who President Trump has said he wants to help. U.S. economic sanctions only make life harder for ordinary Cubans and cause friction with our allies, while doing little to encourage a democratic opening. Reviving failed policies of the past is not going to lead to freedom and democracy in Cuba.

Kirsten Gillibrand

U.S. Senator, New York

The trade embargo with Cuba simply hasn’t worked and continues to hurt the people of Cuba. President Trump is going back to the failed policies of the past, instead of working to find solutions. There is much in Cuba’s domestic and foreign policies to dislike. But I would end the trade embargo so that we have the opportunity to influence Cuba’s government without hurting the American people.

Mike Gravel

Former U.S. Senator, Alaska

(through a spokesperson)

Mike Gravel would immediately end the Trade Embargo and open normalized relations with Cuba. The only reason for the embargo is to cripple vital sectors of the Cuban economy and then step back self-satisfied and claim their system doesn't work. It's an ideological effort, and the needs of the Cuban and American people don't come into the question for a minute.

Kamala Harris

U.S. Senator, California

(through a spokesperson)

Senator Harris believes we should end the failed trade embargo and take a smarter approach that empowers Cuban civil society and the Cuban American community to spur progress and freely determine their own future.

John Hickenlooper

Former Governor, Colorado

Generally speaking, I believe that more engagement is better than less, and that commerce, trade and U.S. travel to the island are the surest path to a freer and more prosperous future for the Cuban people. That said, we have clear differences with the Cuban government, including their poor human rights record and continued support for the Maduro regime in Venezuela. Efforts to address these issues would be a high priority under my administration. The current administration says their policy is designed to support the Cuban people. In fact, thousands of Cuban entrepreneurs and small businesses are suffering from the downturn in U.S. travel to the island. The Cuban people deserve greater economic and political freedom. They don’t deserve to be punished by the U.S. for the actions of their authoritarian government.

Jay Inslee

Governor, Washington

I would end the Cuba trade embargo. In 2015, I joined eight other governors who called on Congress to end the embargo. Ending the embargo would strengthen the U.S. agricultural industry and create jobs at home and benefit both the U.S. and Cuban economies. The United States should continue to be a champion for democratic values and freedom in Cuba. The best way to ensure that human rights, international security, and civil society are protected within Cuba is to engage with their government, people, and economy, not wall ourselves off. 

Amy Klobuchar

U.S. Senator, Minnesota

(through a spokesperson)

Senator Klobuchar believes it is time to turn the page on the failed policy of isolation and build on the progress of the Obama Administration to open up engagement with Cuba while respecting human rights and property claims against the Cuban government. Her bill to lift the trade embargo and eliminate the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba maintains current law that addresses human rights in Cuba and allows individuals and businesses to pursue claims against the Cuban government. Opening up new markets and lowering trade barriers are critical to America’s economic growth, and Senator Klobuchar believes that lifting the trade embargo will open the door to a huge export market, create jobs at home, and support both the American and Cuban economies. 

Beto O'Rourke

Former U.S. Representative, Texas

(through a spokesperson)

End it. Beto believes our interventions in Latin America generally, whether it is Cuba, Nicaragua, Guatemala, or El Salvador, have proved to be disastrous at every turn -- causing many of the problems we are seeing at the borders today. This embargo against Cuba and our desire to drive out the Castro brothers has been counter-productive and has produced more harm and suffering. Beto thinks we must lift the impositions on Cuba and allow the people to receive access to the food and the medications they need to thrive. Beto would work with regional partners to normalize our relationship with Cuba and improve every dynamic of that partnership from trade to travel. 

Bernie Sanders

U.S. Senator, Vermont

(through a spokesperson)

Bernie believes the trade embargo of Cuba has been severely detrimental to American businesses and the Cuban people alike. He supported President Obama’s decision to begin normalizing relations with Cuba and would lift the trade embargo as President. 

Eric Swalwell

U.S. Representative, California

It’s time to lift the trade embargo with Cuba. President Obama was on the right track by lifting various travel, financial and other commerce exchange restrictions and opening an embassy in Havana. The Trump administration’s recent tightening of the embargo by banning cruise ships, yachts, and other vessels as well as ending educational visits takes us backward on normalizing relations. This doesn’t mean we give Cuba a free pass on democracy and human rights issues. But our differences with other nations on such issues has not stopped trade relations, and – when wielded wisely – trade can be used as a tool to push such nations in the right direction. Isolation hasn’t worked; thoughtful engagement can.

Elizabeth Warren

U.S. Senator, Massachusetts

I’m an original cosponsor of a bipartisan bill that would end the economic embargo against Cuba. The proposal would maintain sanctions against Cuban government officials for their human rights abuses and property rights violations. I also support lifting restrictions on American travel to Cuba. We have over fifty years of failed experience with policies of isolation. The Trump administration’s decision to reimpose harsh sanctions only empowers the hardliners within the Cuban regime while punishing its people. I support upholding normalized relations with Cuba because I believe that engagement supports the Cuban people; policies of isolation do not. 

Marianne Williamson

Author

I would end the embargo with Cuba. It would be good to move towards normalization of relations, with open eyes to the problems with the Cuban government.

Andrew Yang

Entrepreneur

The trade embargo with Cuba is largely symbolic, in that it’s not going to effect regime change when the rest of the world is willing to trade with the island nation. The embargo has cost American billions of dollars. We should lift the embargo so that we can exert more direct influence on Cuba in order to combat their human rights violations and improve the living conditions for those who live on the island. 

Monday, June 10, 2019

Information for Visitors



Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Riverhead, NY  11901        917-859-9025
  director@ffrd.org   www.cubapeople2people.org

Revised 6/10/19

Logistics


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.   Even with a card, places that accept them are infrequent but include international hotels and government stores selling cigars and alcohol.  

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 normal 3% charge affecting all currencies.  Some people bring Canadian dollars or Euros but unless you anticipate major CUC expenditures, it is not worth the trouble.  If you are traveling independently, $100 per day while on land should be 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.   Because you cannot easily obtain more money, it is always a good idea to bring a buffer.

                                                              
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 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 ($15 - $20 for a basic non-smart instrument usable for calls and texts) or other big retailers or be purchased in electronics stores at the Miami airport before passing through security ($60+).  

The easiest 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 with no 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; www.wirelesstraveler.com roams on the Cubacell network, 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 maps.me app and the Cuba map. Most hotels have CNN but no international newspapers.  Satellite phones, transceivers and car GPS are illegal to import.


5)  Internet is available on your own laptop, pad or phone in the lobby of most hotels and in public hot spots.  It can be slow and is most useful for e-mail but you can get NY Times and other text based news services.   ETECSA internet centers, wi-fi hot spots and most hotels use the same Nauta scratch card that can be purchased for 1 CUC per hour from ETECSA offices, a hotel or a reseller.  The 5 CUC 5 hour cards are most useful.  Just remember to sign off when you finish.  Most hotels and ETECSA offices also have publicly accessible computers for direct connections but you need a scratch card to use them.

Hot spots can be identified when you see groups of Cubans on their smart phones.  A comprehensive nationwide list of locations is here   http://www.etecsa.cu/internet_conectividad/areas_wifi/


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.  For men, sandals with covered toes are OK but most Cuban men wear shoes except at home or on the beach.  Bring snorkel equipment or look for a hotel or beach shop for rentals.  Guayabera and sports shirts and bathing suits 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.   It is already included with your air ticket which is one reason to not throw it away.


12)   Visa  Your Cuban tourist card will be provided by your air carrier.  Cost ranges from $50 to $100 depending on the mark-up.


13)  Souvenirs, gifts   The US government permits you to bring $400 worth of Cuban merchandise into our country, including 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  http://cubapeopletopeople.blogspot.com/2016/01/programa-1.html]

Ready for more music?  The Jazz Cafe facing the Melia Cohiba Hotel has a rotation of quality performances every evening 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 reviews of clubs, bars and restaurants, check out http://www.lahabana.com/  (last issue December 2017)  Spanish speakers will find it useful to subscribe to La Papaleta sympa@listas.cubarte.cult.cu or to access this page https://www.facebook.com/lapapeletacuba or to download this  app.lapapeleta.cult.cu

 For more reviews of Cuban restaurants http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurants-g147270-Cuba.html

Here is a comprehensive list of restaurants in Havana with price categories http://www.lahabana.com/guide/havana-guide-home/restaurants/

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  d.eutimia@yahoo.es  7-861-1332; Atelier:  Calle 5 # 511 e/ Paseo y 2, Vedado atelierdecuba@yahoo.es  7-836-2025   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.  A proprietal internet card can be purchased in the business center for use in the lobby.

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  https://tinyurl.com/irish2cuba

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 director@ffrd.org to discuss.

Information about private visits with the Jewish community can be found here
 http://insightcuba.com/can-i-visit-a-synagogue-or-jewish-congregationcommunity-while-in-cuba


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 establishing normal diplomatic relations, opening the door to expanded travel opportunities.  In May 2019, the Trump Administration reversed gears and shut down cruise and people to people travel.  However, a virtually identical channel still exists for independent travelers and groups through Support for the Cuban People.  The current legal situation is documented herehttps://cubapeopletopeople.blogspot.com/2019/06/ofac-travel-regs-effective-june-5.html


The single most useful way to stay on top of the rapidly changing scene is the weekly Cuba News Brief from the Center for Democracy in the Americas.  You can sign up here  http://democracyinamericas.org/category/news-brief/


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 http://hereishavana.wordpress.com


FFRD posts a wide variety of articles about university, cultural and people-to-people programs in Cuba here http://cubapeopletopeople.blogspot.com  Write to director@ffrd.org for our newsletter.


http://www.havanatimes.org/ publishes perspectives from within Cuba in English, some favorable some very critical


The Smithsonian Magazine published a useful summary history "How Cuba Remembers Its Revolutionary Past and Present"    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/cuba-remembers-revolutionary-past-present-180960447/#tuDUX2V3uDTpE6IU.99


Dr. Louis Perez at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has written a remarkable historical essay, "Cuba as an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder"   https://cubapeopletopeople.blogspot.com/2019/05/louis-perez-cuba-as-obsessive.html


The Cuba Study Group expresses the views of Cuban Americans who want to transform US policy and also seek peaceful evolutionary change in Cuba.  A weekly newsletter can be subscribed to on its web site  http://cubastudygroup.org/ .


Books

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”.   

6/10/19