by Keith D. Foote
Finally, the United States has removed its longstanding and outdated restriction on visiting Cuba. U.S. citizens can now travel legally to Cuba… if they are involved in professional research, an athletic event, a concert, a humanitarian project, or educational activities. Snorkeling off the Cuban coast would be educational.
The trade embargo still exists, the result of long standing prejudices held by Republicans in congress. Only those with an extreme prejudice against Fidel Castro, who no longer rules the country, seem to be opposed. These same people have successfully transferred their prejudices against Fidel to his brother, Raul Castro, who is the current leader of Cuba.
The U.S. reopened its embassy in Cuba after more than 54 years. In a symbolic step, showing the warming of ties between the two countries, John Kerry presided over the flag raising ceremony at the embassy in Havana. The U.S. flag raising marked the end of the Cold War diplomatic freeze between two countries. The U.S. flag was presented to active marines by the same U.S. marines who brought it down in 1961. Mr Kerry described the raising of the flag as an historic moment. He also warned that the United States would not stop pressing for political change in Cuba.
Cuban leader Raul Castro and President Obama agreed to restore ties in December of last year. While trade and travel restrictions have been relaxed, Republicans in Congress have blocked ending the trade embargo imposed on the Cuba in 1960. Not surprisingly, Mr Kerry’s visit to Cuba drew criticism from many leading Republicans, including Jeb Bush who described it as “a birthday present for Fidel Castro, a symbol of the Obama administration’s acquiescence to his ruthless legacy.”
Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington last month, but former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has blasted the United States for not lifting its trade embargo. In a letter on Thursday, Mr Castro stated the United States owed Cuba millions of dollars because of its 53 year embargo. The embargo, which Cuba calls a blockade, is hugely damaging to its economy, and relations will only be fully restored after it has lifted.
Senators and representatives from both parties have come to the island to meet with Cuban government representatives. Business people from agricultural states in the Midwest, travel companies, and technology companies from California have been flooding the island these last few months. The Discovery Channel is currently running a series titled ‘Cuban Chrome,’ which focuses on the classic American cars on Havana’s streets.
U.S. citizens can now legally travel to Cuba. Technically, U.S. citizens are still not allowed to visit for purposes of “tourism,” but if you can show your visit helped the Cuban people, or had an educational aspect to it, or your doing business of some sort, you trip is legal.
Previously, many of the “legal” activities required applying for a specific license and moving through a complicated labyrinth of government bureaucracy. Now, U.S. citizens can basically license themselves, if they believe traveling to Cuba meets the legal requirements. No one seems to be questioning visitors, or asking if they are there legally. U.S. cruise lines have proposed educational tours to Cuba.
Traveling to Cuba has also become much easier. There are now regular flights leaving from Miami, and flights are now being added leaving from Tampa, Orlando, and New York. Sadly, tickets for Cuba must still be booked through third party charter companies, because airlines still can’t sell tickets to Cuba from the U.S. Another small, unnecessary hoop to jump through that you can blame on an increasingly irrational Republican led congress.