U.S.-Cuba Ties Are Restored, But Most American Tourists Will Have To Wait
JULY 21, 2015 4:21 PM ET
The U.S. and Cuba have restored diplomatic relations and reopened their
embassies — but it's not yet open season for American tourists hoping to
visit the island. The U.S. embargo on travel and business means you
still have to have a valid reason to go — and that doesn't include
sitting on the beach and drinking mojitos.
Ever since CheapAir.com started offering online tickets in February for
direct flights to the island from New York, Miami and Tampa, CEO Jeff
Klee says he's seen interest rise among Americans wanting to travel to
Cuba. "In the second quarter, we had 2 1/2 times as many searches as in
the first quarter," he says. "And it's still growing and growing."
When you buy a ticket, though, you must specify a reason for your trip.
U.S. law sets out 12 categories of Americans who are allowed to travel
to Cuba, including those who have family on the island or plan to take
part in religious, academic or humanitarian work.
These travelers used to have to get a formal travel license from the
U.S. government, but now they only have to check a box when they make
If you say you are going on an educational trip, for instance, you have
to have an itinerary that backs the claim up, says Alana Tummino, head
of the Cuba Working Group and policy director at the Americas
Society/Council of the Americas.
"You have to have a certain percentage of time in these meetings so that
you are not caught drinking mojitos on the beach," she says.
Of course, the Cubans won't have beach police. They want more tourists
to visit and spend money on the island. And so far, tourism does seem to
be rising. Tummino says it's up to American authorities to enforce their
own rules once travelers return.
She has taken several U.S. business delegations to Cuba and says she has
seen a huge amount of interest from telecommunications and financial
services companies ever since President Obama eased some trade
restrictions in those areas in December.
"A lot of companies are taking trips to the island, trying to figure out
where there might be an opportunity to try to help build out the
telecommunications infrastructure or to help build up the infrastructure
to use debit and credit cards on the island," Tummino says.
Some U.S. lawmakers want to get rid of the travel and trade restrictions
altogether. But Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American Republican
congresswoman from Florida, isn't one of them.
"Bring it on," she says. She told reporters in Miami on Monday that any
attempt to lift the U.S. embargo will fail. "We have the votes to keep
the embargo in place," she insisted.
Ros-Lehtinen lamented the fact that she couldn't prevent the reopening
of the two countries' embassies, but said that she and her colleagues
could still make things harder for the State Department by limiting the
budget for the new U.S. Embassy in Havana.
"You are going to continue to see pushback from Congress," warned her
colleague Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., who is also Cuban-American.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., doesn't seem too concerned, though. Lawmakers
take their cues from opinion polls, he says. And the surveys he has seen
show that most Americans support better ties between the U.S. and Cuba.
"Those who are living 50 years in the past don't," he told NPR on Monday
as he celebrated the Cuban Embassy's reopening in Washington. "But the
past is the past."
Source: U.S.-Cuba Ties Are Restored, But Most American Tourists Will
Have To Wait : Parallels : NPR -