Sunday, June 9, 2019

Reactions to Administration Assault on Travel

See essential excerpts from new OFAC regulations here

See current FFRD newsletter here


Unpublished letter to Washington Post

To the Editor;

The effort to shut down all large scale people-to-people travel to Cuba has been couched as retribution for Cuba's role in Venezuela.

However, it can also be seen as an expression of National Security Adviser John Bolton's decades-long hostility, not least his effort with false accusations of biological warfare research to undermine former President Carter's ground breaking trip to Havana in support of democratization.

A bigger factor is the hard line from Mauricio Claver-Carone, head of the NSC's Western Hemisphere office.  Claver-Carone created the shibboleth of "veiled tourism" during the Obama Administration when he was the principal lobbyist in Washington for conservative Cuban-Americans, producing the Capitol Hill Cubans blog and heading the US-Cuba Democracy PAC that funneled millions of dollars to Republican and Democratic candidates nationwide.

With Bolton and Claver-Carone dominating the Trump Administration's Latin America policy, the only option for cruise companies and airlines as well as for American citizens who favor freedom of travel and engagement with Cuba is to press Congress to end all travel restrictions.  A bipartisan majority is possible in both the House and Senate, reflecting the support for travel by  81% of Americans and 57% of Cuban Americans.

John McAuliff

June 5. 2019


Personal e-mail from a reporter who covers the State Department:

This was sloppy drafting, sloppy rollout, sloppy everything.


Statement by American Association of Travel Advisors (ASTA)

The American Society of Travel Advisors is speaking out against the Trump Administration’s latest restrictions on travel to Cuba, banning cruise ships and a the popular educational travel category. 
“Given the recent growth in legal U.S. travel to Cuba, ASTA is concerned about the potential for disruption from these policy changes, especially as they relates to the operations of our cruise line, airline and hotel partners on the island,” ASTA said in a statement.
“ASTA continues to believe that the American people are the best ambassadors of U.S. values abroad, and should be allowed to freely travel to any destination they wish without restriction from their own government. Rather than shutting the door to this market 90 miles off our shores, we call on policymakers to enact legislation to do away with the statutory Cuba travel ban once and for all. While today is a setback, we will continue to advocate toward Cuba travel freedom and look forward to the day it becomes reality.”

My comment

Hurrah for ASTA. So far this is the strongest statement from the travel industry.
It correctly argues that the only real solution is for Congress to end travel restrictions.

If the grass roots of the industry and the over two million Americans who have visited Cuba in the last few years tell Congress how they feel, we will win this.

A bipartisan majority is possible in both the House and Senate, reflecting the support for travel by 81% of Americans and 57% of Cuban Americans.

United States Tour Operators Association
Statement on Cuba from Terry Dale, president & CEO,

NEW YORK (June 7, 2019) –  The Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) impacting travel between the United States and Cuba. The new amendment removes the authorization for group people-to-people educational travel, which previously allowed Americans the ability to travel to Cuba with a licensed tour operator on an approved program.
Effective June 5, 2019, licensed tour operators will no longer be permitted to introduce and operate new programs to Cuba. Cruise lines and airlines will no longer be able to accept bookings for group people-to-people travel for educational purposes. However, it is important to note that OFAC’s regulatory changes include a “grandfathering” provision. The provision allows previously authorized group people-to-people educational travel to continue. Travelers must have completed at least one travel-related transaction prior to June 5, 2019. A travel-related transaction would include purchasing a flight or reserving accommodation. We believe more clarifications will come with respect to the impacts of the amendments.
Since its inception more than 40 years ago, the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) has supported an open borders policy and will continue to advocate for the growth of the travel and tourism industry inside and outside of the United States.  These new regulations are counter to USTOA’s core belief in freedom of travel for Americans. The industry will adjust how it does business under the new rules, and we will continue to clarify and comply. However, USTOA will be on the front lines of the industry advocating that the CACR be amended to re-allow group people-to-people educational travel. USTOA will be voicing our stance on these announcements at the upcoming USTOA 2019 Congressional Caucus.

Statement by National Tour Association

“This is a blow to the travel and tourism industry,” said NTA President Pam Inman. “NTA will continue to advocate for improved relations between the United States and Cuba, and we will also push for the restoration of people-to-people educational travel to the island nation.”


Catholic Church Statement

U.S. Archbishop Broglio: travel restrictions threaten “the very survival of the Church in Cuba”

Days after the Trump administration announced it was placing new restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba, a U.S. archbishop issued a criticism of the policy, saying the transformation of the island - and the survival of the Church there - depends on outside contact. ‘A half century of rigid isolation has consolidated only one thing: the very political structures U.S. Government policy seeks to change,’ said Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese of the Military Services in Washington, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace. The U.S. bishops voice ‘concern that the strengthening of the embargo against Cuba is, ultimately, counterproductive to the development of civil society on the island,’ he said in a June 6 statement.

 “‘The very survival of the Church in Cuba is dependent on the freedom of religious travel and donations from abroad,’ he said. ‘Thanks to the generosity of American Catholics, for decades the USCCB has supported the work of the Church in Cuba, providing her with financial, pastoral, and advocacy assistance,’ the archbishop continued. ‘The Holy See and USCCB have long held that the key to Cuba’s transformation depends not on isolation, but on greater cultural exchange between freedom-loving people on the island and the United States.’” (Crux, June 7, 2019)

[from Cuba Study Group newsletter]

Episcopal Church Statement

During its June 10-13 meeting The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council adopted multiple resolutions...

* Express deep concern that additional restrictions on remittances and travel, and recent efforts to marginalize Cuba will cause U.S.-Cuba relations to deteriorate further; express concern that any additional travel and financial restrictions will have a negative and harmful impact on the church’s religious activities; and that it will be increasingly difficult for our clergy to obtain visas to come to the United States from Cuba and to go to Cuba from the United States; religious exchanges, travel and engagement, particularly when there is a shared faith tradition, help sustain faith communities and contribute to religious expression and religious liberty, and bridge building, fellowship and continuing to be in relationship will allow the transformation of the political dynamics between the U.S. and Cuba; assert that the policy changes are also likely to negatively impact U.S. relations with Canada, the European Union, Latin American and Caribbean nations, and limiting the frequency and amounts of remittances will increase economic hardship for many Cuban families and will further isolate the Cuban people; reiterate The Episcopal Church’s call for an end to the embargo; and reassert a commitment to strengthening relations between the Cuban and American peoples (MW006).


New Rules on American Travel to Cuba Include Cruise Ban

By Tariro Mzezewa, New York Times
·        June 4, 2019

...The federal government has long restricted travel to Cuba, with the rules changing from one presidential administration to the next. Under the changes introduced by the Obama administration, Americans in 2016 were able visit either in groups or individually, as long as they fell into one of 12 categories, including “people-to-people” visits and “support for the Cuban people” trips, the two most popular.

Under “support for the Cuban people” category, individuals can travel to Cuba, but they must have an itinerary filled with meetings and visits with local business owners, artists or others. They must plan on participating in local activities and staying in a private home, instead of a hotel.

 “You have to have a full schedule of activities like going to meet with one community project and then another,” Mr. Popper said. “Going to hang out at the beach in the afternoon won’t cut it.”

Mr. Popper said his company is changing its tours from “people-to-people” to “support for the Cuban people,” a shift other tour providers will likely make....


What the new Cuba travel restrictions mean for tourists
By Andrea Sachs Washington Post

June 5

...Individuals, families and groups of friends can also travel under the aegis of the Support for the Cuban People category, as long as they abide by the guidelines and keep a record of their engagement activities for five years, McAuliff said. For example, the category requires U.S. visitors to follow a full-time schedule of experiences that “enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and result in meaningful interaction with individuals in Cuba.”

“It’s very unclear what these activities are,” McAuliff said, “but they are consistent with independent travelers.”

The order for what is not permitted is less ambiguous: No substantial free time or recreation allowed.

Airlines, meanwhile, survived without a scratch.

“The regulations don’t directly impact them,” Popper said. “Cuban Americans sustain the number of departures, the size of the aircraft and the routes.”

However, McAuliff said the law could affect routes carrying passengers that are equally divided between leisure travelers and Cuban Americans visiting family. He said JetBlue could reconsider its flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Havana. Alternately, United’s Newark flight is probably safe because of the sizable Cuban American population in New Jersey, as are the many flights departing from Florida.

Of course, these rules could be a temporary obstacle to less-restricted travel to Cuba. McAuliff said Congress is expected to consider a bill that will end all travel restrictions, and it has garnered support from a bipartisan majority.

“The question is whether [President] Trump will veto it,” he said.


U.S. visitors disappointed with Trump measures as last cruise leaves Cuba
Source: Xinhua| 2019-06-06 15:56:04|Editor: xuxin
HAVANA, June 5 (Xinhua) -- As the last U.S. cruise ship sailed away from here Wednesday after new regulations by Washington banned this type of travel to the Caribbean nation, many were left wondering what's next for the former Cold War enemies.

Royal Caribbean's "Empress of the Sea" left Havana with hundreds of its passengers on the top deck waving Cuban flags and cheering, while many locals onshore said goodbye to the latest symbol of the deteriorated bilateral ties....

The new regulations have affected nearly 800,000 bookings that have been scheduled or already underway, according to a statement released Wednesday by the Cruise Lines International Association....

U.S. cruises brought to Cuba 340,000 Americans in 2018, which doubled the figure in the previous year and made the United States the second largest source of visitors to the island nation following Canada, according to data by the Cuban Ministry of Tourism.

Another 298,000 U.S. citizens visited the Caribbean country last year by other means like commercial flights, private vessels and aircraft....

"I am very disappointed that these political decisions affect ordinary Cubans, those who live off tourism and also my friends and family who want to visit Cuba and now the Trump administration is banning them," Lucy Himstedt, a U.S. citizen who departed on the last cruise ship, told Xinhua.


Cuba restrictions hit cruise lines at the start of summer
Jun 5th 2019 
Nearly 800,000 passengers already on cruises or booked for future trips were affected, according to the Cruise Lines International Association, an industry trade group.
At docks in Florida and aboard ships at sea, frustrated travelers vented Wednesday over wrecked vacation plans. In New York, shares of cruise line companies fell in midday trading.
"We have a ship full of disappointed and angry people," said Darcy Van Zijl of Cape Coral, Florida, who had planned to celebrate her 45th birthday with a cruise to Havana....
Cuba trips represented a relatively small percentage of passenger cruises — about 3% or 4% for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and even less for Royal Caribbean Cruises and Carnival Corp., according to UBS analysts.
But passengers typically paid more to visit the island. Cuban itineraries commanded premiums of up to 20% over cruises to the Bahamas, according to UBS analyst Robin Farley.
"This is going to have a noticeable impact on the cruise lines' earnings this quarter and the rest of this year and likely into 2020," said Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst with Atmosphere Research Group.
At midday, shares of Norwegian were down 5%. Royal Caribbean was off 4%, and Carnival had dropped 3%....

Passengers booked to depart Wednesday showed up at Florida ports, only to learn that they weren't going to Cuba.
At the dock in Fort Lauderdale, a Royal Caribbean employee tried to disrupt a reporter's interviews with unhappy passengers, saying it wasn't the company's fault that the U.S. government had suddenly barred trips to Cuba....
In the first four months of this year, nearly 143,000 people arrived in Cuba by ship, an increase of more than 300% over the same period last year....


What travelers need to know about Trump’s Cuba restrictions
Jun 6, 2019 

...The Cruise Line International Association said in a statement that the move would immediately affect 800,000 passenger bookings that are scheduled or already underway.

“It’s a huge, huge hit,” said Engage Cuba’s Williams, adding that about 70 percent of American travelers who visited Cuba last year went for a non-family purpose.

Even though the most popular category of U.S. travel to Cuba has been eliminated, commercial airlines retain more leeway because of the other acceptable categories.

The Department of Transportation reported that about 893,000 Americans flew to Cuba in 2018, up from 177,000 in 2016. The Associated Press reported that cruise ships brought 142,721 people to the island in the first four months of this year, up 300 percent over the same time period last year....

The recent spike in visitors and investment in Cuba has also helped create a boom in entrepreneurship. In 2017, there were 567,000 licensed entrepreneurs in Cuba, up from 157,000 in 2010. Opponents of the restrictions say the latest travel ban won’t target the Cuban government, as intended, but rather Cuban entrepreneurs and American companies that are doing business in the country....


Ban on U.S. cruise trips to Cuba will hurt private sector on the island, experts say

JUNE 07, 2019  

The Trump administration sent a strong message to the Cuban government by abruptly suspending cruise ship visits and eliminating group people-to-people tours, but experts and entrepreneurs are questioning the impact of the measures.
New U.S. sanctions were slapped on Cuba Tuesday for its support of the regimes of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.
“These actions will help to keep U.S. dollars out of the reach of the Cuban military and the intelligence and security services,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
But experts say that the Cuban government’s income from the cruise visits is not significant, and that the new restrictions will instead affect a vulnerable sector of private entrepreneurs that the Trump administration claims to support.
“What Cuba earns from the cruise ships is insignificant,” said Emilio Morales, president of the Havana consulting Group, which tracks the island’s economy. “Most of the profits go to the cruise company.”
Cruise ship visits to Cuba soared in recent years, especially from the United States, after the Obama administration allowed such trips in 2015. Official Cuban news media reported that about 380,000 cruise passengers visited the island in 2017, and more than 800,000 in 2018. Industry sources caution, however, that those numbers were probably manipulated to try to cover up a drop of more than five percent in airplane arrivals in 2018.
Even with those figures, the government’s income from the cruise industry is much less than the money spent by travelers who stay in hotels or private homes.
John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, estimates that the cruise ships generated from $63 million to $107 million for the Cuban government, a tiny fraction of the $2.5 billion in income reported by the Tourism Ministry that year.
Cruise companies pay the government a tax of about $8 per visitor, according to several sources linked to the cruise industry. The companies also contract Cuban companies for some local services, such as cleaning.
Tourist companies owned by the government, such as Havanatour and Cubanacan, also offer land excursions to the historic heart of Havana and the Tropicana cabaret.
Although the Cuban government planned to expand the port of Havana by 2024, the island’s armed forces, which control most of the tourism industry, did not favor the expansion of cruise ship arrivals, arguing that the ships were taking money away from the hotels they run, according to one cruise industry source who asked to remain anonymous because the source was not authorized to comment on the issue.

Suspending the cruise visits, the source added, “will directly benefit the armed forces because now the Americans who continue coming in groups will stay in hotels and will hire government-owned transportation....


US cruise operators stop sailing to Cuba, travellers vent anger online

Jun 09, 2019

Major US cruise operators said on Wednesday they will no longer sail to Cuba following the Trump administration’s ban on travel to the Caribbean island, angering travellers and prompting worries about trip cancellations and company earnings....

Delta Air Lines Inc said it had stopped accepting bookings to Cuba under the so-called people-to-people license as of midnight on June 4. Customers who booked under the exemption before that time will be allowed to travel.

‘The reduction in the number of travellers will probably mean the end of US commercial air flights from places outside Florida because there won’t be sufficient demand to fill regular flights,’ said William LeoGrande, a Cuba expert and a professor of government at American University.

The ban was effective as of Wednesday, the US Commerce Department told Reuters, giving cruise lines no grace period to change destinations and sowing confusion among cruise passengers....

Travellers took to Twitter to vent their anger and frustration over the forced changes in their vacation plans.

‘Has anyone’s cruise to Cuba from @CruiseNorwegian been rerouted yet? If so where did they change the port of call to? Im (sic) booked for July and PISSED! Thanks Trump!’ tweeted Sabrina Carollo @superbri_22.

Susan Berland, a parenting coach from Huntersville, North Carolina, said she was enraged that a vacation designed around visiting Cuba had been upended by the Trump administration.  ‘To say I’m angry is an understatement. This whoe (sic) cruise was chosen around going to Cuba and now we can’t,’ tweeted @SusanBerland.


Trump’s new move on Cuba is idiotic
Jun 9th, 2019

By Mike McGannEditor, The Times (Unionville, PA)

...This week, the Trump Administration announced that the U.S. government would again tighten and restrict commercial and travel to Cuba. Bolton, a hard-line lunatic who helped get us into pointless war (Iraq), but was willing to say anything to return to power in the Trump Administration, falsely claimed that tourism hasn’t helped the Cuban people or furthered the journey toward freedom.

In a word, that’s bullshit.

Sorry for the profanity, but sometimes only certain words capture the truth accurately.

My own visit there last year showed me exactly the opposite of Bolton’s claims.

After nearly 60 years of failed U.S. policy — the embargo and failure to engage — hurt the Cuban people, not the Castro government. The isolation allowed strict control over information, messaging and public thought.
The loosening of travel restrictions has led to increased distribution of outside media — many tourists bring stick drives with the latest news from U.S. sources, entertainment programming and other information that then is circulated through back channels to the average Cuban. It is this information that has led to the Cuban government to finally allow a full cable to be run to island for Internet and a loosening of censorship — because the government can no longer control the flow information to the people.

Additionally, Cubans have been able to talk to Americans, share what their lives are like, and in turn, learn about us, the outside world and more. That information spreads, person to person, around the island.
Bolton’s move would change that....


NCL reduces prices on sailings that used to feature Cuba


...Norwegian's parent company, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, issued a separate statement saying that dropping Cuba will cost 35 cents to 45 cents a share from 2019 earnings -- between $76 million and $98 million.
In its statement, NCLH said "the extremely abbreviated time frame to modify our itineraries to be in compliance with the new travel restrictions to Cuba has exacerbated the impact to the company's earnings estimates."
NCLH said sailings that included a Cuban port of call represented slightly more than 3% of the company's remaining sailings in 2019 for all three of its brands. The company said about 25% of the impacted capacity days were on sailings of Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises," the majority of which were Cuba-intensive premium-priced itineraries."  
NCLH said the costs of pulling Cuba from itineraries include substantial discounts to keep guests on their booked cruise, accommodation of cancellations and changes to reservations, incremental marketing investment to support the compressed sales cycle for modified voyages, and the protection of travel agent commissions.
Is NCLH (and its competitors) doing anything to fight this absurd policy change based on the ideological demands of a hard line minority of Cuban Americans?
Are they mobilizing their past and prospective passengers to complain to the White House and to urge Congress to adopt legislation to end all travel restrictions?
If not, they deserve to lose money.


Cubans Pay for Trump’s Travel Ban
Sanctions and embargoes only make it easier for the Communists to blame America for their failures.

By Jo Ann Skousen
June 7, 2019 

I run a small libertarian film festival, where I’ve screened documentaries about Cuban dissidents. These films made me want to visit Cuba to meet the people whose resilience I had come to admire. My husband and I were organizing an 80-person cruise this November and had arranged to host Armando Valladares and Rosa María Payá at a pre-cruise reception in Miami.
Then this Tuesday President Trump made good on his threat to reinstate the ban on Americans’ traveling to Cuba. We thought we’d be able to go anyway, thanks to an exemption for travel already authorized before June 5. But on Wednesday Cuba retaliated by closing its ports and refusing to allow any cruise ships to dock. [sic:  Cuba did not close its port.  The US Commerce Department abruptly blocked all cruises from the US.] The cruise company had to cancel. It will offer another Caribbean itinerary at a heavily discounted rate—but we weren’t going for rum punches on the beach.
Our guide in Cuba is devastated. “You have no idea how this hurts,” she emailed me. “My business has been destroyed by the changes. . . . A very, very sad shift in my life that I have to start over.” She’s not alone. According to Ted Henken of Baruch College, as many as half of the 600,000 people who hold business licenses in Cuba are involved in the tourism industry. Not only have they found themselves without customers; the ports were closed so suddenly that many have perishable goods they can no longer sell. As one of our group said: “An inconvenience for us wealthy, free folks. A tragedy for the scrappy and talented folks in Cuba’s well-paying tourism sector.”
And for what? Will Cuba’s leaders suffer from the loss of tourism? A bit, but not much. Food always manages to find its way to the tables of the Communist elites. Hurting the Cuban people does not hurt the Cuban government. Sanctions, embargoes and travel bans play into their hands. They can blame America instead of socialism for their economic woes.
I’m sad that I missed my chance to visit Cuba. The opportunity may not come again for several years. But I’m even sadder for the hardworking Cubans who are suddenly out of work. “When elephants fight, the grass gets trampled,” says an Asian proverb. The travel ban is another in a series of blustery, misguided moves that are making America hated around the world—and in our own backyard.


Letter to the Editor
News Chief, Winterhaven, FL

I read with dismay that the Trump Administration suddenly canceled the people-to-people outreach program, which allowed so many American citizens to travel to Cuba. This was an arbitrary and capricious decision which will only cause harm to the Cuban people.
I was on one of the first groups to visit Cuba under this program during April of 2016. It was a whirlwind tour of the country from Havana to Santa Clara with stops in between at several cities, farms and historic sites. Along with two dozen friends from Winter Haven, my adult son and I met countless Cubans to share our stories and to partake of the culture. Seldom had we seen such beauty, and such poverty, in one place.
The people we met were friendly, curious, hardworking and determined to make a better life for their families. They welcomed us as friends and as customers with a gracious hospitality. They have suffered for years under an autocratic regime that has foisted a cloud of corruption and economic malaise upon its people. It is sadly ironic that they will again suffer the consequences of another corrupt and authoritarian figure located just 90 miles to the north.
Michael J. Gardyasz, Lakeland


♫ Havana, ooh na-na. And Minnesota, ooh na-na ♫

Minnesotans across the aisle disagree on a lot of things, but apparently the great unifier is Cuba. From Rep. Tom Emmer, MN-6, to Sen. Amy Klobuchar to Rep. Dean Philips, MN-3, there is a resounding chorus: the president is wrong on U.S.-Cuba relations. Read more at MinnPost.
Emmer, who leads the National Republican Congressional Committee and is in charge of ensuring Republicans take back the House, is usually a reliable ally of the president. But as a co-chair of the House Cuba Working Group, the Sixth District Republican and his colleagues were clear about their thoughts on the Trump administration’s new Cuba policy:
“Every American should have the right to travel freely. The Administration’s decision to further restrict U.S. travel to Cuba not only infringes upon that right, it undercuts efforts to help promote democracy and improve the lives of the Cuban people,” their statement reads. “The United States’ failed embargo policy towards Cuba over the last 60 years has resulted in the outcome we see today.”
Democrats in the delegation have been just as clear as Emmer.
Rep. Angie Craig, MN-2, told MinnPost the decision is “another step backward on making progress with U.S. and Cuba relations.” Her colleague, Phillips, echoed that sentiment: “The Trump administration’s approach returns us to the same failed strategy that hurts Minnesota businesses — and particularly our farmers, who are already facing too many economic challenges.”


Letter from Twelve Senators

including three Presidential 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.

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).


Why Cuba’s zip lines and B&B’s have fallen on hard times

By Story Hinckley  June 14, 2019

One Airbnb renter who declined to provide his name says that before Mr. Obama’s visit, he would host about three tourists a week in his three-bedroom apartment above the crowded Obispo Street in Old Havana. Visitors would typically stay for only a night or two, usually on their way to Mexico. Rarely were they American. But a few months after Mr. Obama’s visit, the renter says he would host three to four Americans each week, and they would stay for about five days. Cuba was no longer a layover. It was the destination.

Other things changed, too. The national news on television started talking about Cuba’s relationship with the U.S. in a positive way, says the Obispo Street renter, such as how the island started receiving chicken and toilet paper from the U.S.

“Obama came and told people the reality of Cuba, and everyone wants to come,” he adds. “Then Trump messes everything up.”

In 2017, Mr. Trump announced plans to tighten travel restrictions that had been loosened under Mr. Obama, making it difficult for Americans to travel to Cuba on their own.

During the first half of 2018, the number of U.S. travelers to Cuba (not including Cuban Americans) was down almost 24% from that period in 2017, a drop that Cuban officials and travel analysts have attributed to both Hurricane Irma and worry about the Trump administration’s prospective restrictions. However, figures began to tick up again during the first half of 2019.

Americans who did visit Cuba over the last year were likely to travel with tour groups or on cruise ships. The number of cruise ship passengers who came to Cuba in the first four months of this year was triple the figure for the same period last year.

But this often meant traveling in a way that cut out small businesses, like a three-bedroom apartment on Obispo Street. Tour groups are typically state-run, and the cruise ship companies typically dock in state ports, partner with state agencies, and book rooms in state hotels.

Michel Bernal, commercial director for Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism, said earlier this year that occupancy in Havana’s private bed-and-breakfasts dropped from near full capacity as Mr. Obama loosened restrictions to less than 45%, according to The Associated Press.

“The tourism industry was booming in Cuba,” says Ricardo Torres, an economist at the University of Havana. “There was a lot of money flowing into Cuban families. [But] now we have this contradiction.”...

“Ecotourism is anything that makes you feel connected with nature,” says Ms. González, the employee of Las Terrazas. “People who choose Las Terrazas choose real ecotourism.”

In the last years of the Obama administration, she says, Las Terrazas welcomed about 45,000 foreign visitors annually. In 2018, this number dropped to 40,000 visitors, including native Cubans.

Back on Obispo Street, the renter sits on a white plastic chair in a dark corner of the hallway, a cool relief from the afternoon Caribbean sun. He is angled toward the door in case anyone sees his sign on the street below and wanders up in need of a room. In the courtyard below the hallway, drying laundry hangs still in the breezeless afternoon. The renter’s three doors are also still, propped open. The rooms, modest with bare floors and striped sheets, are empty.

He’s now back to one American visitor each week, and there’s no more American chicken or toilet paper. Although the renter is frustrated, he still smiles because he loves speaking English, and it’s rare now that he gets to practice.

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