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A Warm Reception
It is still technically illegal for ordinary American tourists to vacation in Cuba which has been under a United States economic embargo for nearly 50 years. But thanks to recent policy changes designed to encourage more contact between Americans and Cubans, the Treasury Department is granting “Support for the Cuban People” licenses, which greatly expand travel opportunities for Cuba-bound visitors.
These licenses - no longer limited to special status categories such as students, scholars, journalists, religious tourists, etc. - were first created in 1999 during the Clinton administration and then eliminated in 2003 by the Bush administration. Subsequently, the number of Americans visiting Cuba legally dropped from more than 200,000 in 2003 to less than 50,000 in 2004. These new “Support for the Cuban People” licenses - as well as less restrictive rules for Cubans and Cuban-Americans visiting relatives in Cuba - have significantly increased the number of travelers visiting Cuba.
But trips to Cuba aren’t typical vacations. Rather, the focus is on meeting local citizens and learning about their history, culture and every day lives. Guidelines published by the Treasury Department say the tours must “have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba.”
Depending upon the interests of travelers, we will exchange ideas with Cubans from all walks of life including experts in their field and the people who are impacted by their work. There will be opportunities to visit people wherever we go - in Havana’s Old City or in other parts of the island such as Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santa Clara. Our days will be filled with busy itineraries that include visits to NGO’s (nongovernmental organizations) such as the Martin Luther King Center, small Jewish communities, orphanages and other social welfare agencies. We will meet and exchange ideas with artists, architects, musicians, entrepreneurs in restaurants and in the marketplace, church and synagogue leaders, writers and artists. We will meet people in the streets and parks, at concerts and dance performances, at baseball games and on the hot corners arguing about baseball, Cuba’s national sport. And for travelers interested in the exchange of ideas with Cubans in the fields of education, medicine, science, technology or law we can arrange for you to meet those experts.