finally! we can travel to cuba {kinda}…

President Obama’s administration said this morning that the new set of U.S.-Cuba travel regulations, first announced last month as part of a return to normal diplomatic relations with the island nation, will take effect on Friday. As part of those changes, it will be easier for Americans to travel to Cuba than is has been for more than 50 years. But it won’t be as simple as booking a flight. Here’s a quick rundown of who exactly will be able to visit Cuba, and under what circumstances:

For starters, these changes will not allow official tourist travel to Cuba. Senior administration officials clarified in a conference call this morning that the new regulations “are not meant to facilitate tourist travel to Cuba, as tourist travel remains prohibited by statute.” In other words, headlines that have run rampant in recent weeks telling Americans that they can now travel to Cuba are overstated, or, at the very least, misleading.

But the changes set to take effect tomorrow will make it easier for those hoping to visit Cuba to do so. Americans who wish to travel to Cuba will have to meet one of 12 different criteria for authorized travel, as they have in the past. Those categories include 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.

“It’s a violation of U.S. law to disregard travel categories,” a senior administration official said. “Penalties can be imposed for violations of any of the terms. This is something that we will continue to highlight as part of the process.”

But—and this is a huge but—prospective travelers will no longer have to obtain a specialized license from the government, which seems to pave the way for a future in which leisure travel is more common, if not completely legal. As part of the updated regulations, those hoping to travel to Havana will only need a general license, which they can declare as individuals. In practice, this will effectively mean that people can claim they are traveling under one of the dozen approved categories, and then book a flight. Airlines and travel agents will no longer need specialized licenses to provide service to Cuba.

“A general license is not a physical piece of paper, like the specialized license is—it’s basically a presumption that you fit one of those categories,” said Julia Sweig, a longtime expert and author on Cuba. “It’s like the government is giving citizens the benefit of the doubt from now on.” read more..

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