A ton of red tape still needs to be eliminated before average Americans can take spontaneous or unregulated Cuban vacations.
When President Obama announced the further loosing of restrictions on travel to Cuba this week, the administration reaffirmed its commitment to opening Cuba to American businesses and travelers.
But a look at the updated restrictions shows that it’ll still be hard for the average American to legally visit Cuba for vacation, at least for those inclined to tell the truth.
The government has removed the stipulation that vacationers participate in so-called people to people educational trips, in something of a blow to established tour operators, but the traditional restrictions concerning who can travel to Cuba, and for what purposes, are still in place.
The updated rules will “remove the requirement that people-to-people educational travel be conducted under the auspices of an organization that sponsors such exchanges,” according to the Federal Register. “This section now authorizes individuals to travel to Cuba provided that, among other things, the traveler engage while in Cuba in a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that are 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.”
In other words, travelers can travel individually but still have to participate in educational activities with native Cubans. There is also language that forbids Americans from mingling with members of the Cuban government.
“The predominant portion of the activities engaged in by the traveler must not be with certain Government of Cuba or Cuban Communist Party officials,” it continues. “Persons relying upon this authorization must retain records related to the authorized travel transactions, including records demonstrating a full-time schedule of authorized activities.”
Having to submit detailed itineraries detailing contact with Cubans suggests that onerous restrictions will remain in place for some time. The eased restrictions on banking and currency exchange, however, will make it easier for travel professionals and other business people to visit the island and assess potential business opportunities.
“Travel-related transactions involving Cuba are only permitted for the 12 categories of activities identified in the [Cuban Assets Control Regulations restrictions],” read the revised travel guidelines from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. “Travel-related transactions for other purposes remain prohibited.”
The current reasons you can visit Cuba legally are still: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain authorized export transactions.
Photo credit: A traveling salesman on the beach in Cuba. Sebastian / Flickr