Cigar Aficionado

Hollow Victory for Change in Cuban Travel

I am no expert on legislation in Congress because it has been a long, long time since I have looked closely at various bills in pure form, but I took the time this afternoon to review online H.R. 1105— the $410 billion omnibus spending bill passed yesterday in the U.S. Senate. Now I remember why I felt like I was wasting a lot of time when I was an intern at Scripps League Washington Bureau for a group of newspapers in the early 1980s!

As you probably know, the bill includes a section on travel to Cuba, and the press today has been full of stories on how it has eased travel restrictions that the Bush administration put into place in 2004. It also authorizes "by general license for travel to, from, or within Cuba for the marketing and sale of agricultural and medical goods pursuant to the provisions of this title."

In other words, if you are traveling to Cuba to sell agricultural or medical goods you don't have to apply for a license, which in the past was normally turned down. You can travel to Cuba when and as often as you like, just like me and other (real) journalists, diplomats or others who fall under the parameters of the general travel license of the Treasury Department. Just be prepared to prove to the U.S. government that you were there on medical or agricultural business. I get hassled all the time proving I am a full-time journalist when I am traveling between the United States and Cuba.

This is my interpretation of the bill. But don't hold it as gospel.

The bill also includes provisions that say that "none of the funds made available in this Act may be used to administer, implement, or enforce the amendments made to section 515.560 and section 515.561 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, related to travel to visit relatives in Cuba, that were published in the Federal Register on
June 16, 2004."

If I am right, it means ­ that Cuban Americans can travel to Cuba as often as they want and send as much money as they want, and even though it still may be breaking the law, they won't necessarily be held liable for their actions.

What a backhanded victory! From what I could find on the Internet, the U.S. government, through its Office of Foreign Asset Control doesn't levy many fines on Cuban Americans illegally traveling to Cuba anyway. Most of its fines are against Americans illegally buying cigars.

Why can't President Obama simply change these cruel travel restrictions through an executive order making a serious and clear statement about U.S. Cuban policy?

The bill is now just waiting for his signature. Oh well...

"How about prohibiting the transfer of money out of the country? Sorry, but with the economy the way it is, I think it is a bad idea to let the money leave the country. Just my opinion though." —March 11, 2009 17:01 PM
"It would seem that a dent could be made in our recession, were we to really open-up Cuba. Housing industry, automobile industry and all the sub-industries would benefit. There would certainly be a trickle-down, mostly concentrated in Florida, but this would translate into a percentage improvement, nationwide. I have to believe that I'm not the only one who sees this." —March 14, 2009 16:47 PM