Saturday, October 19, 2013

Americans traveling to Cuba in record numbers

Americans traveling to Cuba in record numbers
By Marc Frank
HAVANA | Fri Oct 18, 2013 11:50am EDT

(Reuters) - Americans are visiting Cuba in record numbers despite strict
travel restrictions, joining the hundreds of thousands of Cuban
Americans who travel home each year, according to Cuban government
figures published on Friday.

Just over 98,000 U.S. citizens visited Cuba in 2012, up from 73,500 in
2011 and twice the number compared with five years ago, according to an
online report by the National Statistics Office (

The numbers do not include more than 350,000 Cuban Americans estimated
by travel agents and U.S. diplomats to have visited the island last
year. Because Cuba considers them nationals, they are not listed in its
tourism statistics.

U.S. citizens are barred from traveling to Cuba without government
permission under a U.S. trade embargo imposed half a century ago that
can only be lifted by Congress.

The rise in U.S. visitors partly reflects a loosening of travel
restrictions by President Barack Obama's administration and allow
"people-to-people" contact aimed at speeding political change on the
communist-ruled island 90 miles from Florida.

As well as allowing Cuban Americans to travel to Cuba freely, Obama
authorized licenses for "purposeful" travel to more than 250 Cuba travel
agents and allowed more airports to provide charter service between the
two countries.

The program, which began in 2011 and requires annual renewal of
permission to bring groups to Cuba, allows for educational and cultural
travel. The regulations require detailed itineraries of each traveling

Cuba hosted 2.8 million tourists in 2012, with arrivals down 2 percent
so far this year.

"Cuba has so much to offer in terms of culture, history and issues of
mutual concern - healthcare, education and the environment - and
students, professionals, people of faith are curious," said Collin
Laverty, head of travel provider Cuba Educational Travel.

In the years following Cuba's 1959 revolution when Fidel Castro took
power, the highest known number of U.S. visitors peaked at 70,000 under
President Bill Clinton, but dropped to an average of 30,000 in the last
term of President George W. Bush.

Travel to Cuba is seen as a key political issue by both embargo
supporters and opponents in Washington.

"This is not about promoting democracy and freedom in Cuba. This is
nothing more than tourism ... a source of millions of dollars in the
hands of the Castro government that they use to oppress the Cuban
people," Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida told a congressional
hearing soon after Obama instituted the policy.

Theodore Piccone, deputy director of foreign policy at the
Washington-based Brookings Institute that advocates engagement, said
Obama should do more to open travel to Cuba. He said it was ironic that
Cubans, due to reforms on the island, were now free to travel where they
pleased while U.S. citizens were not.

"American travel to Cuba will remain a small fraction of its potential
as long as President Obama avoids a further liberalization of travel,"
he said. "If the Cuban government can open travel of its citizens, which
it now has, why can't we?"

(Reporting by Marc Frank; editing by Christopher Wilson)

Source: "Americans traveling to Cuba in record numbers | Reuters" -

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