US vacation in Cuba still comes with Trump sanctions hangover
HAVANA, Nov. 11 (Reuters) – Cuba opens its borders next week, signaling a new opportunity for travelers tired by the pandemic and the island’s tourism industry, but for US citizens, getting there requires jump through hoops like never before, according to the heads of eight touring US agencies.
US President Donald Trump has put an end to cruise ship moorings, reduced flights to Havana and completely eliminated them to outlying provinces. His administration has declared most Cuban hotels, buses and other tourist services banned because they belong to the military and make financial transactions more difficult in general, measures that remain in place under President Joe Biden.
âThe American obstacles are the biggest in our 22 years in Cuba,â said Michael Zuccato, head of Cuba Travel Services.
Tensions between Washington and Havana are on the rise ahead of protests planned by dissidents on the island for November 15, the same day Cuba reopens its borders to international visitors. Read more
âThe challenges seem endless right now. Between Trump, the pandemic and now Biden,â said Mayra Alonso, president of Marazul Tours. She said walking the tightrope between US and Cuban regulations “remains interesting.”
Zuccato, like the others, said that booking hotels and transferring money to the Caribbean island in particular has become major headaches for those planning trips to Cuba from the United States.
Many tour operators hoped Biden would keep his campaign promises and reduce barriers to visiting the Caribbean island, a popular destination that boasts a rich culture, white sand beaches and historic buildings.
âThe US sanctions reinforced by Trump and maintained by the Biden administration are a big disappointment,â said Collin Laverty, head of Cuban Educational Travel.
Growing political tensions between longtime rivals ahead of protests slated for next week are not helping, tour operators said. Read more
Despite escalating rhetoric, Cuba, which relies on tourism, continues to welcome all US citizens on vacation to the island, Transport Minister Eduardo Rodriguez told reporters last week.
âToday the United States has four weekly flights to Havana, and we have increased that number to 147 per week, including 77 to Havana,â he said.
U.S. airlines have announced more flights to Havana starting next week, with an eye on Cuban-Americans returning home over the holidays.
The Biden administration, however, has given no indication that it plans to allow flights to the provinces.
Tom Popper, founder and former chairman of insightCuba and CEO of 82 Â° West Consultants, a Cuban business consultancy, said despite strict travel restrictions to the neighboring island nation, Americans can still travel there legally. .
“Generally, the US market sees Cuba as a binary choice: either they are allowed to travel to Cuba or they are not, which depends on the most recent actions of the sitting US president,” he said. .
Popper explained that travel to Cuba is allowed in 12 categories, including the Support for the Cuban people category, used by most travelers – journalistic activities and visits from relatives.
He said many tour operators and travel counselors design trips to comply with US regulations.
Travel exploded during the detente started by former US President Barack Obama who relaxed restrictions and even took his own family there on a historic visit in 2016.
The Trump administration rolled back Obama’s measures and added new restrictions, then Cuba closed its borders during much of the pandemic.
In 2018 and 2019, some 500,000 Cuban-Americans visited their homeland each year, according to the Cuban government.
Travel by non-Cuban Americans, however, fell from 498,538 in 2018 when the Trump administration began imposing new sanctions to just 58,147 in 2020 when pandemic lockdowns began, the government said.
Reporting by Marc Frank; additional reports by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Dave Sherwood and Lisa Shumaker
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