Cuba isn’t just another island in the Caribbean with fine, white sand beaches. It’s one of the most electric and visceral of all Latin American nations. A history wrought by swashbucklers, revolutionaries, crooks and plenty of soul, it’s a place with mildewed streets where vintage American cars run on Russian engines, and ration stations and rundown tenements sit alongside colonial palaces. It’s where all-night, sultry, raw, salsa dance and mambo-infused festivities erupt spontaneously to sugar up an already spicy existence. So how do you join in the fun? And – perhaps more importantly – should you?
Many travelers have called for the voluntary ban on traveling to rogue nations such as Cuba. While it is everything listed above, it’s also a nation with an authoritarian government and a terrible human rights record. And when we spend our money there, whom really will it benefit? The argument is that it only further fuels the actions of the scallywags running the state. There’s also an argument for informed world citizens. Shouldn’t we all know what’s going on there? The more secrets a government has, the more they can get away with, right?
Either way, here are the details: It is no longer illegal to travel to Cuba per say. And actually, it never necessarily was – the law was that you could not spend your money there, and, as a visitor to a foreign land, that’s virtually impossible.
With the Obama presidency came relaxed travel rules. As it stands now, you can legally enter Cuba with one of two licenses: a general license (for family visits, professionals conducting research or attending conferences, or for journalists covering a story), and a specific license (for study abroad purposes or humanitarian projects). Traveling under general license is the easiest because you don’t have to ask the government for permission, but then they may you for documented proof that your trip legally falls within the guidelines. Specific licenses are a hassle – paperwork, bureaucracy and bullshit. But hey, what are your options? Well, there is one more…
You may not fall under either category, in which case you’ll have to take matters into your own hands and go with the more traditional, dubious and less-than-legal option. Make your way to some other country, like Canada or Mexico. Change all of your currency in that country. Do not bring credit cards or US cash because if you do, you’ll be screwed. Like heavy fines and potential jail cell time screwed. And don’t bring your cell phone. Basically, you have to keep the whole thing under wraps and you don’t need anything that shows proof of your presence in a place where we have strict embargo rules. Cuba allows Americans to enter Cuba. It’s the USA that doesn’t want us to go there. Just make sure that when you enter, have the Cuban border officials stamp a piece of paper rather than your passport, and you should be home free.
With the embargo rules lightening and travel restrictions slowly being reversed, it may not be long before the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act passes, and then we won’t have to worry about any of this.
By Bryan Schatz