The Hotel Nacional in Havana
Restrictions on travel to Cuba are loosening and more people are going, but don't expect to book a Spring Break party at the Hotel Nacional in Havana anytime soon. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Many people have longed to enjoy Monte Cristos and daiquiris in the same bars as Hemingway, but the ban against traveling to Cuba has made that impossible. It is becoming less impossible over time, as loopholes in the travel ban make it possible for a small number of people to go every year. The number of people traveling to Cuba is beginning to increase.

Travel to Cuba is fine as part of cultural exchange

Relations between the United States and Cuba have not been the warmest for the past half century. The Cuban embargo enacted under the Kennedy administration is still in effect, but President Clinton signed a bill granting exceptions to the ban on travel to Cuba for private citizens in 1999, according to MSNBC, which a small but growing number of people have been taking advantage of. The law allows for travel to Cuba for “people to people contacts,” or in other words, a person has to go with the intention of engaging in cultural exchange and learning about Cuba and the Cuban people. Adjudicating the quality of the pina coladas doesn’t count; most groups have itineraries packed with museum, factory and farm visits.

Clampdown easing

In order to go on this sort of trip to Cuba, a person has to book a trip with a group that is authorized to conduct such tours. A key rule change will make it easier to get into a tour of Cuba, as travel itineraries no longer have to be approved ahead of time by the State Department. However, Cuba it isn’t a great place to take the kids. Though the “person to person” travel exemption has been reinstated and more people are going there, most travel to Cuba is for academic, journalistic, governmental, religious or a limited range of commercial purposes, according to the State Department website. People can visit relatives in Cuba, provided their relatives are Cuban nationals. There is no U.S. Embassy in Cuba, though a U.S. Special Interests Section is located in the Swiss Embassy in Havana, functioning as an embassy of sorts.

Have papers in order

The State Department says Cuba is “a totalitarian police state” that uses physical and other means to control its citizens. People looking to visit Cuba shouldn’t fear for their safety but should have their paperwork in order and be on their best behavior. Most Cubans cannot travel at all. The exit visa, “white card,” required for Cubans to leave Cuba costs the equivalent of $150. Most Cubans live on $20 a month and barely get enough to eat, according to the Christian Science Monitor.  President Obama, according to Reuters, is open to normalizing relations and lifting some restrictions on trade and travel if the Raul Castro regime makes meaningful changes to the notoriously tight-fisted Cuban regime. Castro notably began granting licenses for private trade and property ownership but is committed to retaining communism in Cuba.

Sources

MSNBC: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43126754/ns/travel-news/

U.S. Department of State on traveling to Cuba: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1097.html

Christian Science Monitor: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2011/0513/Cubans-may-no-longer-be-stuck-on-Caribbean-isle

Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/13/us-usa-cuba-obama-idUSTRE74C3P820110513

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