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Comment from Cubalinda.com: The articles below contain recent
U.S. press reporting on Cuba, the action in
Congress end the travel ban for Americans, and on new
enforcement policies of the Bush Administration. Americans
thinking of traveling to Cuba without a license, i.e.
illegally, should read the August 9, 2001 Press Release
of the National Lawyers Guild on legal aid for non-licensed
travelers and also check out Special
Info for U.S. Citizens.
| News Index
1. Cuba suddenly seems to be a very safe place
(Laurie Goering. Published November 7, 2001 in the Chicago Tribune.)
2. Press Release and Letter to Treasury Secretary of Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND).
(September 7, 2001)
(Includes several of the ridiculous enforcement actions carried
out by the Treasury Deaprtment against travelers to
Cuba without license.)
3. End the Cuba Embargo Now
Article by Walter Russell Mead (Esquire, September 2001)
4. Senator chastised the Treasury Department Friday for cracking
down on Americans who have been illegally traveling to communist Cuba.
(Fox News, August 17, 2001)
5. Cuba readies for fall of U.S. ban on visits Relaxed embargo would jolt tourism
(Chicago Tribune, August 14, 2001)
6. Lawyers Fight Cuba Travel Crackdown
Press Release of National Lawyers Guild (August 9, 2001)
7. Havana's Not for Eating, But Eating Can Be Fun
(New York Times, August 5, 2001)
8. Exploring Two Sides of Cuba's West
(New York Times, August 5, 2001)
9. Bush administration showing willingness to enforce law on visiting Cuba
(New York Times, August 5, 2001)
10. U.S. clamps down on defiant travelers to Cuba
(Miami Herald, Friday, August 3, 2001)
11. Bush Faces Tough Choice on Easing Cuba Sanctions
(Reuters, Thursday July 26, 2001)
|Cuba suddenly seems to be a very safe place
Havana's ties to terrorist hotbeds and tendency to open your
mail are oddly comforting these days, the Tribune's Laurie
Goering. Published November 7, 2001 in the Chicago Tribune.
-- When I returned to Cuba the other day for the first time
since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, my landlord rushed to
give me a hug.
goodness you're back home where it's safe!" she said.
to smile at how the world has changed. Not too long ago, it
was my friends and family living in the United States telling
me to be careful out there. Now I'm the one asking them to
a safe place in the world is changing fast.
years I lived in Rio de Janeiro, where street kids fell to
the guns of off-duty cops and petty crime was widespread.
But those of us rich enough to live outside the slums felt
safe. Brazil had no enemies in the world.
beyond the reach of Cold War rhetoric, nuclear weapons, Arab
terrorists. In Rio's warm sunshine, all that seemed a world
Last month a letter reported to have been tainted with anthrax
arrived in the Rio office of The New York Times, into the
hands of a friend who works there. She immediately started
a course of antibiotics, and later a lab analysis determined
that the substance on the letter wasn't anthrax after all.
that once-safe corner of the world doesn't seem so safe anymore.
also blew up a McDonald's in Rio, at night when no one was
around to be hurt. A year ago we would have laughed at what
surely was a symbolic blow against the emblem of creeping
American culture. Now everything has taken on darker overtones.
in Cuba people are looking over their shoulders. When a trio
of visiting Arabs in white robes and turbans strolled down
Old Havana's main shopping street one day recently, the crowd
parted before them, staring and
pointing and murmuring.
an electrical transformer exploded outside the home of the
new press officer of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana,
a crowd of journalists gathered there for a cocktail momentarily
froze, silent and
OK, it's OK," somebody said finally. "We're in Havana!"
ways Cuba may be one of the safest places to weather the current
storms of war, even if the weather itself hasn't been too
kind with the recent hurricane.
Cuba was listed once again this year as a state that sponsors
terrorism, it lies well down the U.S. list of current terrorist
concerns. Nobody argues that Cuba has anything to do with
the current crisis, and a group of U.S. analysts last month
wrote an open letter suggesting that Cuba should be removed
from the terror list.
other hand, Cuba's 40 years of warm relations with the likes
of Libya and Syria mean the terrorists of that region aren't
very interested in creating trouble in Havana. No one is seeding
anthrax here, although everyone keeps an eye out. A computer
technician tells me that a keyboard covered with innocuous
white dust was hustled to a lab in Havana for tests the other
day, just to be safe.
Cuban quirks may make Havana a particularly safe place.
journalists sometimes complained that their mail was opened
they received it; now no one complains. In fact, with the
worldwide tourism slowdown since the September attacks, I've
been thinking that Cuba needs a new marketing slogan, highlighting
its at least temporarily secure spot in a less-secure world.
airplanes for years have had beefy security guards and locking
and barred cabin doors, the better to deter hijackers bound
for Miami. Maybe the next round of tourism posters needs to
show exactly that.
Š 2001, Chicago Tribune
September 07, 2001
Press Release and letter from Senator Dorgan
The press release below of Senator Byron L. Dorgan (Democrat---North
Dakota) describes several of the ridiculous Cuba travel enforcement
actions carried out by the Treasury Department. Note Dorgan's
importance: he is Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee
that funds Treasury. His letter to the Secretary of the Treasury
calling for suspension of fines is also below.
SAYS TREASURY DEPARTMENT'S OFAC IS SUPPOSED TO BE FIGHTING
TERRORISM, NOT CHASING RETIRED AMERICAN BICYCLISTS WHO TRAVEL
IN CUBA (WASHINGTON, D.C.)
I am both
surprised and disappointed by the actions the Treasury Department
has now taken against American citizens who have traveled
have talked to American citizens who have been subject to
these fines. They include Donna Schultz a retired 64-year-old
social worker who joined a Canadian bicycle tour of Cuba and
was fined $7,600 by the Treasury Department, and Kurt Foster,
a traveler who joined some friends to fly from the Grand Cayman
Islands to Cuba, was fined $19,000 by the Treasury Department.
These and other U.S. citizens, including a man who took his
deceased father's ashes to be buried in Cuba, have become
targets of the Treasury Department's heavy-handed enforcement.
true that under current law Americans, but for a few exceptions,
are prohibited from traveling in Cuba. It's also the case
that the ban has not been enforced with any aggressiveness.
event, I believe the Congress is about to repeal that misguided
travel prohibition. I think it's just unseemly for the Treasury
Department to crank up an enforcement effort and chase a retired
social worker who rides a bicycle in Cuba for thousands of
dollars in fines.
I am Chairman
of the Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the Treasury
functions, and I don't believe this represents the best use
of the taxpayers' dollars. The Office of Foreign Asset Control
(OFAC) is supposed to be fighting terrorism, not chasing retired
American citizens who are riding a bicycle in Cuba.
I am asking the Treasury Secretary to do two things.
1) Suspend these enforcement activities until Congress votes
on provisions dealing with this matter next month. The House
of Representatives' appropriations bill already includes a
provision prohibiting OFAC from spending money to enforce
this travel ban. I intend to offer an amendment with several
of my colleagues to lift the ban, and I expect the ban either
to be lifted or, at a minimum, for a prohibition on enforcement
to be the policy that comes out of the appropriations bill
conference. For those reasons I believe the Treasury Secretary
should suspend these enforcement activities until Congress
completes its work on this appropriations bill, which will
almost certainly bear directly on this subject.
plans to use EPA judges to hear these travel enforcement cases.
News reports from the Department of the Treasury say that
they are intending to use judges from the Environmental Protection
Agency to prosecute these travel cases. Aside from the fact
that I think that is a bad idea, if judges from the EPA have
enough time to go over to Treasury to handle enforcement cases
on Cuba travel, then there's something wrong with the priorities
of EPA. I intend to add a provision in the appropriations
bill that would prohibit Treasury from spending funds to use
the EPA judges for these cases. The money appropriated for
the Environmental Protection Agency is designed to be used
for those purposes, not to engage in some ill considered crack
down on Cuba travel by American citizens.
I think what the Treasury Department is doing is heavy-handed
and ill - advised. I'm asking the Treasury Secretary to suspend
those actions until Congress acts in September.
preventing U.S. citizens from traveling to Cuba has not been
aggressively enforced and is, on its face, an unjustifiable
restraint on the freedom of travel by U.S. citizens. No such
travel restriction existed in the height of the Cold War for
travel to the Soviet Union. There have been no similar restrictions
on travel to communist North Korea, China or Vietnam.
defies all logic to continue this+ policy. But it certainly
makes no sense for the Treasury Department to begin an enforcement
crackdown at this time, given that Congress is about to consider
a change in the law in the coming month.
The Honorable Paul O'Neill
The Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20220
I am writing
to urge you to suspend the Department's increased enforcement
activities against Americans who travel to Cuba without licenses.
In addition, I am requesting that you withdraw the current
proposal to use administrative law judges from the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) to hear cases concerning violations
of the Cuba travel ban.
know, several weeks ago the House of Representatives voted
to stop enforcement action on the 39-year-old ban on travel
to Cuba. I intend to offer a similar amendment to the Treasury
and General Government appropriations bill that will soon
be considered in the Senate. There is growing support in Congress
to lift the travel ban to Cuba, and I am confident that we
will end this unfair and unenforceable restriction on the
freedom of Americans to travel.
Congress has an opportunity to fully debate and vote on the
matter, the Department should stop its ramp-up of enforcement
activity. In addition, I am troubled by your Department's
proposal to use administrative law judges from the EPA to
hear cases concerning violations of the Cuba travel ban. I
am concerned that polluters may go unpunished if the Administration
shifts enforcement resources from EPA to Treasury. It will
be my intent to offer an amendment to prohibit the use of
funds for that purpose as well.
inconsistent to me that even as our government promotes more
trade and travel throughout Latin America and the world, we
need stricter and tougher enforcement of the Cuba travel ban.
And why, in just the past few months, has it become necessary
to target and take action against more and more of our own
citizens for traveling to Cuba? And levying harsh fines against
Americans who travel there will do nothing to hurt the communist
leadership in Havana, but they do hurt many Americans unfairly.
Mr. Secretary, I am deeply concerned about the Treasury Department's
crackdown on Americans who travel to Cuba, and I call on you
to suspend these efforts until Congress takes up the matter
United States Senator
Back to Index
The article below
presents eastern liberal establishment views on why the embargo
of Cuba has been a failure and should be ended. As the author
acknowledges, he is staff director of a Council on Foreign
Relations (David Rockefeller, et.al.) task force on U.S.-Cuba
relations. We do not agree with all he writes, particularly
the absurdity that Fidel Castro wants the embargo to continue.
We post his article, however, as an articulate statement of
the control Miami Cubans exercise over U.S. policy toward
Cuba against the clear wishes of a majority of Americans.
the Cuba embargo now Esquire; New York; Sep 2001; Walter Russell
IS A RELIC, AND IT HAS FAILED. AND GUESS WHAT? IT ONLY HELPS
FIDEL. HEREIN, A BOLD NEW PLAN.
John F Kennedy declared a total economic embargo against Cuba
with the goal of making living conditions intolerable for
ordinary Cubans so that they would rise up and overthrow Fidel
Castro. For twenty-seven years after that, the Soviet Union
subsidized the Cuban state, and Kennedy's embargo did not
achieve its strategic objective. We can call 1962 to 1989
Embargo I. Embargo I failed. After the Soviet Union fell,
proponents of the policy thought, Ah, now is the hour of the
embargo. We can call 1989 to the present Embargo II. And admittedly,
in the early '90s things on the island looked bleak, as Castro's
economy fell into a deep depression. But for reasons we'll
get to in a moment, that has changed. We can now say definitively
that Embargo II has failed. It is time to do something else.
the embargo's best year and the last, best chance for it to
work. In 1994, Havana was a city that broke your heart: Some
of the finest architecture in the Americas was falling into
the sea. The drive along Havana's world-famous seawall took
you past one beautiful facade after another that was being
eaten by salt; mansions were crumbling to dust before your
eyes. With more old houses being washed away in the rains
ones being built, Cubans used to say that you could calculate
the date when all of Havana would disappear.
Square in downtown Havana was unpainted and in decay; there
were old women begging for food, arms as thin as broomsticks.
Hungry street kids hung around, begging for pennies and scraps.
A mysterious epidemic of blindness, apparently linked to malnutrition,
struck the country in 1993. That same year, the Cuban peso
collapsed against the dollar, falling as low as 120 to 1;
at that rate, most Cuban salaries were worth less than two
dollars per month. Prices in the state-controlled stores remained
low enough that, technically, you could buy enough beans and
rice to live for a month; the trouble was that there weren't
any beans or rice in the state stores. The following year
saw riots break out in Havana, and tens of thousands of Cubans
fled Castro's collapsing economy on rafts and boats.
On a visit
that year, over cognac and steaks (the upper class the world
over always seems to have a way of remaining insulated from
economic catastrophe), distraught Cuban economists explained
the situation to me. Without its key markets and deprived
of its low-priced oil, Cuba's inefficient economy had fallen
into a deep depression. In four years, GDP had fallen by 35
percenta bigger drop than the U. S. suffered during the Great
country was on the verge of total collapse.
hear this anymore. I went back this year to see how things
had changed, and what I saw certainly wasn't good news for
America's Cuba policy. Havana is turning into a huge reconstruction
and renovation site. One street after another in the Old City
has been systematically restored; there are jazz bands at
hopping cafes in plazas I first saw as crumbling, empty ruins.
Homeowners all over the city are sprucing up their houses,
repainting, adding new rooms.
there was only one hotel where the phones worked reliably;
now there are
world-class hotels all over the city where you can watch CNN
and phone out whenever you want. The service, which used to
be casual and sloppy-a mix of Soviet charm and Caribbean efficiency-is
embargo clearly has more holes than a sieve. You can get a
Coca-Cola anytime you want in Cuba, and hotels offer dishes
like "Shrimp in Jim Beam" on their menus. The Cuban
government broadcasts pirated Hollywood movies (vetted for
political content, of course) on television; things you and
I can see only on HBO and pay-per-view they get free down
factors drive Cuba's recovery First, there is the money from
Cuban Americans. Most Cuban Americans think the embargo is
essential in the abstract but not a policy they want applied
to their own families. Since the summer of 1993, when Castro
shrewdly made it legal for ordinary Cubans to own and use
dollars, Cuban Americans have sent hundreds of millions every
year to relatives and others on the island. And since roughly
one out of every twelve people born in Cuba now lives in the
United States, that's a lot of money to a lot of families.
Because of Miami, Castro nets more money from his enemies
than from most of his state-run economy.
there's tourism. Americans aren't allowed to travel to Cuba,
but that doesn't stop us. Cuban immigration officials don't
stamp U. S. passports, and there are quick and easy flights
to Cuba from popular Caribbean resorts like Cancun and Montego
Bay. According to Cuban estimates, a quarter of a million
Americans are expected to visit Cuba this year; add that to
almost two million Europeans, Mexicans, Canadians, and others,
and you see why hotels-and Fidel's treasury-stay full.
this matters more than you might think-the Soviet collapse
drove Castro to do something that for him was totally new:
He made some good economic decisions. Cuban state enterprises
set up to earn hard currency by serving tourists and producing
goods for world markets (sugar, tobacco, nickel) have gotten
leaner and better managed. I've watched Cuban bureaucrats
make PowerPoint slide presentations for foreign investors;
these guys are much slicker than they used to be.
average Cuban, life is still very hard. The necessities are
usually available in farmers' markets, but state salaries
are less than fifteen dollars per month, and that doesn't
go far in the free-market economy. Cubans still spend much
of their time finding creative solutions to shortages and
other problems. And they are sick and tired of deprivation.
But they no longer fear sliding into a bottomless pit.
old days, I'd sit in a cafe or a bar and young Cubans I talked
to would worry about how the country would survive. Now they
complain that the only good jobs are in the
tourist business. Why should I study hard at the university
to be an engineer, one woman told me her college-age son keeps
asking, when I am going to have to work as a bartender or
a tour guide anyway?
question, and it's a problem for the government, but not being
able to get the job you want is a very different problem from
not knowing if you can live at all.
this is roughly where Cuba is today. The worst is over, and
they know it.
this, of course, has had any effect on U.S. policy toward
Cuba. President George Bush literally owes his election to
the roughly 120,000 Cuban Americans in Florida who voted for
Bill Clinton in 1996 but voted Republican last year to punish
the Democrats for returning Elian GonzAlez to Cuba. Given
that First Brother Jeb Bush faces reelection in Florida in
2003, the Bush administration looks more likely to tighten
the embargo than to end it.
the most powerful elements of the organized political leadership
of the Cuban American exile community-still supports the embargo,
and when it comes to Cuba policy, Miami still rules.
too bad, because the single biggest beneficiary of the U.
S. embargo against Cuba, the one person who truly wants and
needs it to last for a thousand years, is Fidel Castro-a man
whose one constant strategic goal from 1959 to the present
day has been to build a Cuba independent of the United States
culturally, politically, socially, and, above all, economically.
If he could, he would row the island out into the Atlantic.
national nightmare, the thing that keeps good revolutionaries
awake at night in cold sweats, is the example of Puerto Rico-a
Spanish Caribbean island whose independence and culture has
been largely swallowed up by the giant to the north. There
is an acute Cuban fear that American investment, American
tourism, American cultural influence, and an American political
system (fueled, of course, by good old American campaign contributions)
will someday swamp Cuban society and turn it into a cross
between Cancun and Las Vegas.
Castro has almost always had two goals in foreign policy.
While he doesn't want the United States to become so angry
that we actually invade the island, he wants the embargo to
remain, and he wants everybody-in Cuba and around the world--
to think that the embargo is America's fault.
that, his major strategic goal is to build up a new Cuban
elite who will continue the Revolution when he leaves the
scene. The embargo keeps the Cuban Americans in Florida while
doing nothing to stop the new Cuban establishment from learning
management techniques from Europe, Canada, and Latin America.
we remained calcified in our Cuba-cold-war posture, the Revolution
went to business school. Fidel's younger allies and proteges
are much better equipped to manage the island's economy in
the post-Castro era than they were five years ago. Give them
another five years of this and Cuban Americans will have permanently
reduced their future influence in Cuba.
the emobargo works so well for Castro, why does Miami support
it so fanatically? Why are Cuban Americans so firmly determined
on a course of action that strengthens Castro and cuts them
off from the role they hope to play in shaping a post-Castro
reason is that Miami politics is exile politics. Exiles everywhere
always make the same mistakes: They consistently underrate
the solidity of the regime they fled and exaggerate their
own future role. Exile society is a hothouse of gossip, intrigue,
and breathless rumors about imminent splits in the leadership,
the imminent death of Castro, or some other miraculous development
that will bring the whole ugly government down. Miami overestimates
its importance and the importance of the embargo to life in
Cuba; after forty years of exile and thirty-nine years of
embargo, they still think that success could be just around
even if the embargo doesn't overthrow Castro, Miami hopes
it will work after Castro leaves power. By keeping Cuba poor,
isolated, and technologically backward, the embargo, the thinking
goes, will ensure that a post-Castro Cuba will desperately
need the capital and the know-how of the exile community.
and deepest reason is sheer anger and bitterness. Fidel Castro
destroyed the world the exiles knew and loved; his oppressive
regime and confiscatory economic policies made it both economically
and socially impossible for them to stay in their homeland;
over the decades, he has showered them with infamy and filth
and done his best to offend every patriotic, religious, and
personal sensibility they have. Miami is furious, and Castro
knows how to twist the knife to keep the wounds always fresh.
Castro wants Miami so tormented by fury and pain that it can't
think straight-and it works every time.
assisting Castro in his prime goal of building a Cuba that
is free of American influence, the embargo allows him to blame
Miami exiles for Cuba's economic problems.
helps make him an international star. Castro needs international
celebrity the way a fire needs oxygen. Thanks to U. S. policy
and its misguided backers in Miami, he gets it. In an age
when most Third World leaders couldn't get media coverage
if they doused themselves with gasoline and set themselves
on fire outside their houses of parliament, Fidel Castro can
mesmerize the international press corps with old war stories,
as I witnessed last spring at a Havana conference commemorating
the fortieth anniversary of the Bay of Pigs. One of the single
biggest sources of support for Castro at home is Cuban national
pride at the way he has put the country-a resource-poor, economically
impoverished island roughly the size of Virginia-at the center
of world politics.
secret of Cuba policy for the last generation has been that
whatever his failings as an economist or as a democrat, Castro
is an infinitely smarter politician than his exiled and defeated
enemies in Miami. Time after time, he plays them like a violin.
He can provoke them into paroxysms of gibbering rage, he can
lock them into self-destructive political options, he can
even turn their greatest strength-their ability to monopolize
the American political debate over Cuba policy-into a pillar
propping up his regime.
the last few years, I've had a chance to watch the evolution
of U. S. policy toward Cuba up close. As staff director of
an independent Council on Foreign Relations task force on
U. S.-Cuba relations, I've met with senior officials, policy
makers, and economic and political leaders in both countries.
Gradually but decisively, American policy makers and business
leaders are taking another look at America's Cuba policy,
and as a result the end of the embargo is, I think, closer
corporate sector, originally outraged and horrified by Fidel
Castro's nationalization of U. S. properties in Cuba during
the early years of the Revolution, calmed down as time went
by and it became increasingly clear that Castro's example
was not spreading through Latin America. Cuba might be communist
but Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil still want U. S. investment.
Cuba is a relatively small country, and after forty years
of communist misrule and embargo, it has a tiny economy; its
GDP is less than the net product of South Dakota The loss
of the Cuban market was a sacrifice American business was
willing to bear, and while tourism and airline companies might
like the idea of getting back on the island, there are, after
all, plenty of other islands in the Caribbean.
American business out of its indifference to Cuba policy was
a law Miami
succeeded in putting through the Congress as part of its plan
to intensify the embargo after the collapse of the Soviet
Union. The Helms-Burton Act was basically an attempt to internationalize
the U. S. embargo. Other countries had refused to support
the U. S. boycott of Cuba with embargoes of their own. But
under one of the law's provisions,
foreign companies can be sued for damages in U. S. courts
by anyone who alleges
that the foreign company is "trafficking in" (that
is to say, using) property that was confiscated from the complainant
by the Castro government. In other words, a French company
that purchases property from the Cuban government-a transaction
that is legal under both Cuban and French law-can be sued
in American courts.
American presidents have, up to now, used their authority
under the law to suspend such suits, Helms-Burton infuriated
both the European Union and our NAFTA partners. Led by (surprise)
France, international reaction has been swift and sharp-and
full enforcement of Helms-Burton would lead to major trade
and economic sanctions against a wide range of U. S. multinationals.
presents another thorny problem for American business. Under
its legal theory, American companies could become entangled
in lawsuits all over the world. Egypt, for example, could
pass a law allowing lawsuits in Egypt by Palestinians alleging
that U. S. corporations were using "confiscated"
Palestinian property in Israel.
this that the collapse of global farm prices has made American
farmers hungry for new markets, and Miami and Havana are having
to deal with a new-and often strongly Republican-set of players
who want change in U. S. policy toward Cuba.
same time, foreign-policy makers and strategic thinkers are
changing their assessment of U. S. interests with respect
to Cuba. During the cold war, these thinkers looked at Cuba
from the perspective of the U. S.-Soviet rivalry. The U. S.
wanted to isolate Cuba in the Western Hemisphere as part of
its broader policy of containing communism, and even if the
embargo didn't bring Castro down, it forced the Soviet Union
to pay his bills--billions of dollars the Soviets couldn't
use for other purposes.
collapse of the Soviet Union, most U. S. policy makers thought
that communism in Cuba would collapse, as it did in Czechoslovakia
and Poland. Now the realization that Cuban communism has survived
is slowly percolating through the U. S. establishment, and
a new sense of the national interest is beginning to emerge.
In this new picture, a strong Cuban government is an asset
to American strategic interests; a strong government can control
immigration and assist American efforts to stop the flow of
the Caribbean. The great danger for the U. S. today is not
that post-Castro Cuba will stay communist and strong; it is
that Cuba after Fidel will be divided, unstable, and weak.
In a worst-case scenario, civil war could break out, with
Cuban Americans fighting with and supplying arms to one side
as hundreds of thousands of Cubans attempt to flee to the
stability in post-Castro Cuba while a gradual turn to democracy
and free markets takes place is probably the best the U. S.
can hope for. By isolating Cuba from American influence and
by increasing its economic difficulties, the embargo only
increases the chance for a rough landing in Cuba.
that the private views of leading Bush administration officials,
including the vice-president and the secretary of state, favor
an end to the embargo with Cuba-just as they favor normal
trade relations with China and other communist countries around
will work out in policy terms is anybody's guess, but my own
proposal is for a Cuba Relations Act that repeals all existing
U. S.-Cuba laws and redefines our relations with Cuba:
embargo and the travel ban need to end, now.
2) The United States needs to restore normal diplomatic relations
as soon as possible; we have a lot of things to talk about.
3) While the U. S. should maintain its opposition to Cuban
participation in the Organization of American States (one
of the great achievements of the last twenty years in this
hemisphere has been the consensus that all the countries in
the Americas should be democracies), Cuban membership in organizations
like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund should
be encouraged, not blocked.
a U. S. naval base in eastern Cuba that the American military
no longer needs, should be returned to Cuba.
considerations of this new Cuba Relations Act will annoy some
people who think that Cuban Americans already have a much
sweeter deal than most immigrant groups. This is, to a large
extent, true, but again, Cuban Americans, especially the earlier
arrivals, are not classic immigrants; they are exiles. They
are the only significant group of Americans who aren't legally
allowed to visit their relatives abroad more than once a year
or who break the law when they send more than $1,200 a year
to their elderly grandmothers. Unlike Dominican or Mexican
Americans, they can't retire to Cuba in their old age to live
on Social Security and be cared for by their families. Mexicans
and Canadians who live in the U. S. can claim their relatives
back home as dependents under U. S. tax laws if those relatives
meet standard IRS rules; Cuban Americans cannot.
Relations Act should end all these disabilities, and it should
do more. The Cuban exiles who stormed the Bay of Pigs did
so because they had assurances that Washington would back
them up with air cover and other support. We lied and left
them stranded on the beach. Some were killed; virtually all
the survivors faced captivity in Cuba.
Relations Act should provide for a presidential commission
to fully investigate and make recommendations, as appropriate,
for a formal presidential apology, for compensation, for recognition
of individual acts of heroism, and, as justified, for pensions
and health care for survivors and their families.
the Cuba Relations Act should establish a U. S. government
commission to review and document the claims of Cuban Americans
for property confiscated without compensation and should offer
to purchase newly certified claims in a way that provides
the most compensation most quickly to those who need it most,
especially the many elderly and low-income Cuban Americans
who didn't make a fortune in the United States and may never
have recovered from the losses they sustained when they were
forced to flee. However, even wealthy Cuban Americans who
can substantiate their claims should receive a fair settlement
the U. S. government would seek reimbursement from Cuba for
the value of these claims; diplomats have many time-tested
ways of settling these disputes.
Relations Act along these lines won't please everybody. It
might not please anybody Miami will object to the provisions
concerning renewed relations with Cuba, and passionate embargo
opponents won't like all the chocolates and flowers it sends
is life in the big city. If the United States is serious about
regaining control of its Cuba policy from Fidel Castro, this
is the approach we must take. Miami and Havana are important
to the future of Cuba and the region. After forty long years,
Washington needs to have a sensible policy for both.
Back to Index
Dorgan Friday, August 17, 2001
By Kelley O. Beaucar
WASHINGTON - A U.S. Senator chastised the Treasury
Department Friday for cracking down on Americans who have
been illegally traveling to communist Cuba.
Dorgan, D-N.D., said in a press conference today that the
travel ban is unfairly restricting the freedom of Americans
while doing little to hurt dictator Fidel Castro. He said
he supports an amendment and appropriations bill that would
lift the U.S. ban on Americans traveling to Cuba.
is growing support in Congress to lift the travel ban on Cuba
and I am confident that we will end this unfair and unenforceable
restriction on the freedom of Americans to travel," Dorgan
said in a letter written to Paul O'Neill, U.S. Treasury Secretary,
Department spokesman said late Friday that it had not received
the letter but "the Treasury Department looks forward
to discussing this matter with any elected official who has
questions or concerns about our Cuba enforcement policy."
charged that the Treasury Department has jacked up its enforcement
of the ban in the last two years, to the point where hapless
retirees and Americans with family in Cuba have been fined
tens of thousands of dollars for traveling there.
said that an average of 147 fines a month of have been levied
against Americans who have illegally traveled to Cuba between
May and July of this year. This compares to an average of
15 fines per month throughout 2000. The hike came after a
codification of the travel ban into law by Congress last year.
think it is heavy handed and unseemly," said Dorgan.
The senator called
the ban a "cold war relic" that hasn't eroded Castro's
power in four decades.
doesn't work, Dorgan says he will support an amendment, similar
to one already passed in the House, that would suspend funds
to the Treasury for enforcement of the ban.
lifting the embargo has failed to pass both chambers in the
last decade, a result of lawmakers' disdain for the Castro
regime as well as pressure from politically influential Cuban
if not all of the (tourist) money goes to the military and
security forces - all we are doing is providing support for
the regime," says Frank Calzon, executive director of
the Center for a Free Cuba.
argues that the U.S. had no problem attempting to affect change
when it used sanctions to combat South African apartheid in
the 1980s. Furthermore, the government has continued sanctions
against Iraq and other nations ruled by dictators.
says Cubans, whether they have the money or not, are banned
by the government from staying in the posh hotels inhabited
by tourists. Furthermore, resort owners pay Castro upwards
of $10,000 a year to operate on the island, while Castro pays
employees $15 to $20 a month.
believe allowing U.S. tourism to Cuba will result in the maintaining
of segregated facilities and workers will have no say about
their conditions," he said. "Until Cubans are treated
with the same rights and have the same opportunities as foreigners
in Cuba, then we shouldn't allow Americans to travel freely
suggest allowing Americans to travel to Cuba might hasten
the island's transformation to democracy and indicidual rights.
with the Soviet bloc gone and Cuban military capabilities
vastly reduced," says Philip Peters, vice president of
the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., and former state
department official in the first Bush and Reagan administrations,
"it is possible to use a different mix of policy measures
to serve important American interests such as promoting human
rights, assisting the Cuban people, and building contacts
with the generation that will govern Cuba in the new century."
sources said Friday that the White House supports maintaining
the regulations against the Castro regime now in place, including
the travel ban.
Back to Index
readies for fall of U.S. ban on visits Relaxed embargo would
By Laurie Goering Tribune foreign correspondent
-- As a lively quintet knocks out Benny More classics, Mike
Callinan leans against an Old Havana bar, sips a cold beer
and shakes his head at the thought of Cuba opening to U.S.
think that's a terrible idea," the Sarasota, Fla., writer,
who fell in love with Cuba in 1987 and has been sailing and
flying there illegally since, says with a smile. "I like
this place just like it is now."
may have company sooner than he'd like. For the second year
in a row, the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to end
enforcement of the U.S. travel ban to Cuba, and the Senate
is likely to follow suit next month.
mean it's time to call the travel agent. President Bush is
expected to veto any softening of the U.S. embargo against
Cuba that reaches his desk, and a congressional override would
Cuba races ahead with an unprecedented tourist infrastructure
buildup, in preparation for what the island's leaders anticipate
will be spiraling growth in tourist demand, members of the
U.S. Congress and a variety of anti-embargo organizations
insist that change is coming and that tourism may be where
momentum is moving in the direction of dismantling [embargo
restrictions] one by one, and travel is a terrific place to
start," said Sally Grooms Cowal, president of the Republican-led
Cuba Policy Foundation, a new Washington organization that
favors lifting the embargo. "What started in the House
was an important step forward and has helped build the momentum."
to a nationwide poll by the group, 67 percent of Americans,
and even 53 percent of Miami-area residents, favor lifting
the travel ban. Last year, more than 176,000 Americans made
their way to the island, including about 124,000 Cuban-Americans
on legal visits to their families and another 30,000 Americans
on U.S.-approved exchanges and research trips. The rest-at
least 22,000--came illegally, flouting U.S. regulations and
flying through third countries such as Mexico, Canada and
administration in recent months has launched an unprecedented
crackdown on those travelers. From May to the end of July,
the U.S. Treasury Department sent out 443 letters to illegal
tourists--most of them detected
in customs or boarding planes for Havana--seeking fines averaging
$7,500 for having violated the U.S. ban on spending money
in Cuba. The letters represent a more than tenfold increase
in crackdown efforts from the previous quarter.
have only rarely been collected in the past; enforcement under
the Clinton administration, which encouraged growth in people-to-people
contact, was lax. The House bill passed in late July would
stop the collection of such fines entirely by denying the
Treasury Department money to enforce the travel ban.
the letters have ignited an increasingly angry feud between
Americans who believe the long U.S. economic embargo on Cuba
has failed and that engagement now is a better choice, and
those who argue that tourism to Cuba and the dollars it brings
prop up Fidel Castro's regime.
on the beach and snapping your fingers for another mojito
doesn't build democracy," argues Dennis Hayes, executive
vice president of the anti-Castro Cuban American National
Foundation and a strong supporter of the travel ban.
are a good window on the world for Cubans who need one,"
says Grooms Cowal. "I don't see the distinction between
purposeful [U.S.-licensed] travel and tourist travel. Both
bring people together."
heart of the dispute is a key question: If a million U.S.
tourists a year descended on the island--the estimate put
forward by the International Trade Commission if the travel
ban were lifted--how would they spend their time? In the all-inclusive
beach resorts of Varadero, enjoying the kind of trip the Cuban
government promotes? Or staying in privately owned bed-and-breakfasts,
eating at in-home family restaurants and spending time chatting
with average Cubans?
Callinan's travel companions, who was on his second illegal
trip to the island, said he is convinced that Americans would
find Cuba's people and unique culture a bigger draw than its
new golf courses and five-star resorts.
do everything we can for the people when we're here,"
said the retired sea captain, who flew to the island through
the Bahamas. "We take private cabs. We stay in private
homes. We eat at the paladares," Cuba's private restaurants.
for big spenders
tourist buildup, however, is focused on the other kind of
traveler, the one willing to pay $180 a night for a beachfront
hotel room, rent a vintage 1956 Chevy and driver for $90 a
day or charter a yacht for marlin fishing.
which attracted 1.8 million tourists last year and hopes to
hit 2 million this year, is trying to double its number of
hotel rooms by 2005. By 2010, Cuba expects the U.S. travel
ban will be lifted and at least 6
million tourists a year will make their way to Cuba, mainly
from the United States, Canada, Europe and Latin America.
is boosting the number of cruise ship docks in Old Havana
from two to five and expects to receive 100,000 cruise passengers
this year, up from 76,000 last year. Three or four 18-hole
golf courses are in development--the island now has just one--and
Cuba expects to start its own tournament circuit after 2003,
said Roberto Marty, a tourist ministry spokesman. A water
theme park is planned for Varadero, the island's top beach
government has not done much so far to update or expand its
marinas because most of its Canadian, Latin and European tourists
find the distances too far to sail. But with an estimated
600,000 yachts moored along the U.S. Gulf Coast, "if
just 10 percent of those came, it would mean we'd have to
multiply our marinas by 10," Marty said.
the island welcomes U.S. tourists, legal and illegal. "For
us they're all legal," Marty says. "We don't discriminate."
year grossed $2 billion from tourism, making it the island's
biggest industry, ahead of sugar exports at $500 million.
hotels and travel agencies also are preparing for the day
the travel ban is lifted, though many acknowledge that may
be years away.
U.S. airlines already are jockeying for routes to Cuba, and
Federal Aviation Administration officials have been down to
look at facilities. United, American and Continental planes
routinely fly to Havana, rented out to charter companies authorized
to fly to the island from Miami, New York and Los Angeles.
Cooper, whose Gulfstream International Airlines has operated
charter service from Miami to Havana since 1991, says his
office gets "lots and lots and lots of calls" from
U.S. travelers eager to head south.
seems to be growing," he says. "For a lot of people,
Cuba would certainly be the next place on their list"
if the travel ban is lifted.
Copyright Š 2001, Chicago Tribune
Back to Index
August 9, 2001
Fight Cuba Travel Crackdown
Art Heitzer (414) 273-1040, ext. 12, email@example.com
Liza Gavieres (212) 614-6470, firstname.lastname@example.org
Administration's crackdown on travel by Americans to Cuba
is being challenged by a Cuba travel "Wall of Lawyers"
being organized by the National Lawyers Guild, the Center
for Constitutional Rights, and Global Exchange. The three
organizations have long opposed any travel restrictions on
travel to Cuba, asserting U.S. citizens have a constitutional
right to travel to other countries, learn and exchange ideas.
with President Bush's vow to crack down on those who visit
Cuba illegally ``to the fullest extent with a view toward
preventing unlicensed and excessive travel,'' the Office of
Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Treasury Department
has recently escalated its efforts and sent out hundreds of
letters threatening to fine Americans for
travelling to Cuba and spending money without a license.
irony is that Bush's apparent payoff to an influential group
of Cuban Americans who helped him become President and still
support the embargo, is not supported by most Americans, nor
even by most Cuban Americans," commented NLG Cuba Subcommittee
Chair Art Heitzer. "It is an extreme policy which even
the Republican-run House of Representatives has twice repudiated
by voting to cut off funds, most recently on July 25th."
Heitzer added, "There is also good reason to believe
that Cuban Americans
in practice are the largest-scale violators of the U.S. embargo
by sending hundreds of millions of dollars 'illegally' to
relatives and friends in Cuba and frequently violating the
U.S. prohibition against going there more than once a year
and only for 'family emergencies' -- yet they rarely receive
OFAC warnings or fines." Of the 200,000 visitors from
the US visited Cuba last year, 120,000 were Cuban Americans,
and tens of thousands of other US citizens went without any
also cited a recent poll by an institute of Florida International
University which surveyed Cuban American opinion in Miami-Dade,
showing a majority support freedom of travel to Cuba, which
is consistent with other surveys of Cuban Americans and the
overall U.S. population nationally. "We agree with the
majority of Cuban Americans even in Miami who now favor unrestricted
US travel to Cuba. We are not asking for equal enforcement,
but an end to this restriction on the freedom of US citizens
and residents to travel to Cuba freely, and we will do our
best to protect those who are being harassed or fined."
explained that there are several types of letters Cuba travelers
may receive from OFAC. Usually the first letter states that
specific information is "required," without informing
the recipients of their rights, such as to remain silent or
to seek legal counsel. The second letter is a "pre-penalty
notice" proposing to assess a fine in an amount which
averages $7,500 but can be $100,000 or more. Heitzer urged
all letter recipients to immediately contact the NLG for further
information regarding their rights, and how to obtain legal
counsel, at: www.nlg.org.
Back to Index
The New York Times
August 5, 2001, Sunday, Late Edition - Final
Not for Eating, But Eating Can Be Fun
MARIAN BURROS is a food columnist for The New YorkTimes.
Want to go to my mother's restaurant?"
is the only city I have ever visited where going out to dinner
sometimes takes on the cloak and dagger trappings of meeting
with dissidents in Miramar. Tourists are often approached
on the streets around mealtime by local Touts asking, sotto
voce, if they would like to try the marvelous food at certain
restaurants. These restaurants pay the touts a fee for every
customer they bring to the door.
the exchanges between tout and tourist are quick, because
the ubiquitous police are ready to swoop down. But on our
first afternoon in Havana, on a weeklong trip in February,
a middle-aged couple who spoke impeccable English started
what seemed like a friendly conversation with me and my two
traveling companions before suggesting an excellent restaurant.
because we had previous plans and, in our naivete, suggested
they tell us the name of the restaurant so we could try it
the next evening. No, they said, because they would make nothing
if they did not show up with us.
countries choosing a restaurant based on information from
a stranger on the street doesn't seem like a smart idea. In
Cuba your chances of getting a decent meal at one of these
often illegal private restaurants are better than what you
will find in most state-run establishments, where the service
tends to be indifferent and the food often barely edible.
But it is best to stick with the private restaurants, called
paladares, that are recommended by guidebooks and local guides,
rather than those touted by someone on the street.
1995 it has been legal to run restaurants in private homes,
and they spring up daily. These restaurants are heavily taxed
by the state and subject to rigorous restrictions as to size
and menu, restrictions that are generally observed in the
breach, and they continue to flourish. They are a way for
Cubans to earn dollars and make a much better living than
they otherwise would.
case, tourists don't go to Cuba to eat (or to shop). The food
supply is limited and there are not a lot of good cooks. Generally
simple is best. But prices are low ($15 to $20 for dinner),
service is pleasant, and wine -- mostly Chilean and Spanish,
perfectly drinkable -- and beer are always available. If,
like everybody else, you go to Cuba for reasons other than
the food, even the meals can be fascinating. And eating in
paladares provides an opportunity to visit neighborhoods in
Havana you would be unlikely to see on a tour and visit homes
that would not otherwise be open to tourists. Some of the
houses are so large and elaborately furnished that you will
marvel at these signs of financial success in an otherwise
very poor country.
the paladares we tried, La Cocina de Lilliam and La Guarida,
are a cut above the rest, and very popular; both require reservations.
The food in all these restaurants reflects Spanish and African
influences. There are no hot spices; garlic and onions are
the seasonings of choice.
Cocina de Lilliam
the most beautiful garden restaurants in Havana, La Cocina
also has some of the best food. Lilliam Dominquez, a former
dress designer, is the cook; her husband, Luis Ulloa, a former
chemical engineer, is the manager. They have lived in the
65-year-old house since 1987 and have turned the grounds into
a lush, romantically lighted garden where diners sit on comfortable
when we arrived, some of the items on the menu were gone --
tourists seem to dine early -- but we still had a very satisfactory
meal. We began with a savory dish of garbanzo beans and ham
with red and green peppers and onions. Salads are generally
tomatoes and cucumber but here they added beets; the tomatoes
were ripe and juicy.
breast with fresh pineapple was moist and flavorful; the ropa
vieja, a traditional Cuban dish, literally "old clothes,"
which we had nowhere else, was well prepared with onions and
peppers. Traditionally it is made with beef simmered so long
it falls into shreds, but because paladares are not permitted
to serve beef (it is reserved for state-run
restaurants), this was made with lamb. The snapper, served
often in Cuba, was nicely done here; even the mashed potatoes
were creamy and moist.
cheese is frequently served with guava paste but here there
was an excellent guava puree instead. The chocolate ice cream
was another good choice. The house has been lovingly and tastefully
furnished and if you ask you will be given a tour.
long flights of poorly lighted stairs in an old beauty of
a building is the most famous of Havana's paladares. La Guarida
was the setting for several scenes in the Oscar-nominated
Cuban film "Fresa y Chocolate." Housed in what was
once a three-room apartment, the restaurant looks like a set
design because it is.
arranged bits and pieces -- a stained-glass screen, pictures
of movie stars, an enamel sink filled with plants, tables
lighted with dripping red candles - together create an ambience
that recalls the Havana of the 1920's.
we were there the diners included members of the Spanish royal
family, who had a room to themselves; glamorous young Cuban
girls in slip dresses with older men and, at the end of the
evening, a group of prosperous Cubans, the men in heavy gold
bracelets and chains.
a look inside this fabulous Old Havana building, with its
marble walls and floors, its grandly decorated facade and
30-foot ceilings, all just short of crumbling, tells you a
lot about the magnificence of parts of the city pre-Castro
and its present state.
was endlessly intriguing and even if the food was incidental,
there were some things to admire: a delicious mix of eggplant
caviar with red pepper coulis, nicely fried squid, pleasant
gazpacho, well fried sweet potato slices and a tasty dish
of red snapper with white wine sauce.
behind an iron gate is a quirky little place called Gringo
Viejo, featuring a large movie poster of the Old Gringo himself,
Gregory Peck. Don't ask; just eat. Done up in plastic vines,
colored lights and vast quantities of stained glass, the place
looks like a speakeasy. And Gringo Viejo has good food.
off with another wonderfully seasoned dish of garbanzos that
included chorizo and ham, tomato, green peppers and onions.
A fricasseed chicken dish with ham and olive had delightful
undertones of red wine. A flavorful, if somewhat salty, piece
of smoked ham came in a sauce of almonds, olives, capers and
red wine. Moros y cristianos (Moors and Christians), the famous
black beans and rice dish of Cuba, was well seasoned with
onion and diced green pepper. French fries were hot and crispy.
The guava and white cheese was particularly good and the flan
had just the right amount of sweetness and creamy texture.
the plates of unripe pink tomatoes that were, on request,
replaced with red ones, Dona Maricela has much to recommend
it beyond its setting in yet another grand old house with
granite floors and high ceilings. There was a good reason
that it was more expensively furnished than any of the other
private homes in which we had eaten: we were told that it
belongs to the widow of a Spanish industrialist. Several Spanish-speaking
families were having lunch, although I only got a shrug when
I asked if they were Cuban.
fried chicharrones -- pork rinds -- were very crisp and greaseless.
There were two well-done variations on red snapper, one served
with shrimp, the other in a sauce of tomatoes, onions and
green peppers. The chicken asado, oven baked and tender, tasted
the way chicken used to before chickens were raised in factories.
The lamb steak was nicely seasoned and tender.
with its deeply caramel flavor, was the best we had and a
dish of candied grapefruit with white cheese was a pleasant
change from guava.
of Capitolio, Julio Echevarria, a professor and lawyer, found
That feeding some 100 people a day in his home provided a
far better living than teaching or practicing law.
arrived at noon for lunch, young children were scrubbing the
tile out side the 1925 house that would be right at home in
Southern California, and putting the finishing touches on
the morning cleanup. We were served the simplest food: generous
portions of nicely grilled lobster tail seasoned with butter,
salt and pepper; a crispy smoky pork chop; shrimp in tomato,
red pepper and onion sauce and a pickled salad of cabbage,
carrots and tomatoes. Sometimes the restaurant serves barbecued
lamb and rabbit but neither was on the menu the day we were
said that he had inherited the house from his grandmother.
Clearly his was once a family of means. La Casa
the misspelled chicken cordon bleau, which is served with
ketchup at La Casa. Instead admire the paladar for what it
does best: provide a peek at a modish 1950's house with its
expansive use of glass, lush tropical plantings and an indoor-outdoor
patio with waterfalls and pools in which turtles drowse contentedly.
It is a wonderful example of the "new" Cuban architecture
in a neighborhood called Nuevo Vedado, filled with similar
in 1957 by the grandparents of the present owners, La Casa
is thriving. Though Silvia Cardoso Sanchez, the mother of
one of the restaurant's owners, says that the family regrets
its loss of privacy,
they are not complaining.
is friendly and warm; there is a pleasant hum of conversation,
almost all of it from Spanish-speaking tourists and some locals.
The food is predictable and unexciting; stick with the savory
grilled fish, fine black beans and rice, and a rather nice
These restaurants are licensed by the government but owned
privately. They serve wine, beer and other hard liquor, including
Cuba's famous mojito -- rum, lime, sugar, mint and soda. A
three-course meal is between $15 and $20. Smoking is permitted
but was not offensive. Unless otherwise noted, restaurants
are open every day. In summer some may close a bit earlier.
de Lilliam, 1311 Calle 48, between 13 and 15, (53) 29-6514;
Lunch from noon to 3 p.m., dinner from 7 to 10; closed Saturday.
318 Concordia, between Gervasio and Escobar, (53) 62-4940;
7 p.m. to midnight.
Gringo Viejo, 454e Calle 21, between E and F, (53) 32-6150;
noon to 11 p.m.; closed Sunday. Dona Maricela, 310 Calle 48,
between 13 and 15, (53) 30-1342; noon to midnight.
Capitolio, 1159 Calle 13, between 16 and 18, (53) 3-4947;
noon to midnight. La Casa, 865 Calle 30; (53) 81-7000; noon
Back to Index
The New York Times
5, 2001, Sunday, Late Edition - Final
Two Sides of Cuba's West
CAREY GOLDBERG; CAREY GOLDBERG is chief of the New
England bureau of The Times.
we went, down past the fluorescent fishes, down past the waving
corals, down past a monster what-the-heck-is-that? fish, down
to a rounded tunnel at about 45 feet, down and through the
tunnel and out the other side.
for people who don't know how to scuba dive, huh? Of course,
we were clinging for dear life to the reassuring hands of
our dive guide the whole time, but the point remains: we were
spent no precious vacation hours in scuba certification courses
before entering this world of wonders and marvels. We had
simply made one inadvertently brilliant decision: to try diving
Stephen Lines, and I had decided to get in some beach time
while in the west of Cuba last February, and had chosen the
resort of Maria La Gorda in part for its comical name -- Fat
Maria -- and in part for its geographic appeal. It lies on
the tip of the very westernmost finger of the island, the
Peninsula de Guanahacabibes, at least a five-hour drive from
Havana, bordered by a large nature preserve that promised
a welcome change from the endless farms and towns we had been
old days, we read, the remote area used to be frequented by
pirates, and Fat Maria was a buxom madam who ran the local
hospitality for them. Maria La Gorda would have been a little
difficult to find if we had relied solely on the map. But
every time we entered a little town where roads converged
and signs were lacking, townspeople on the streets would point
us on helpfully or shout "No" if we made a wrong
turn. The fire-engine red of our rented jeep screamed "Tourist!"
but such eager aid made us feel much less sheepish, and even
rather glad to stand out.
approach to Maria La Gorda was nearly an hour of long, straight
road crossed occasionally by crews of crabs, and we arrived
at the resort's gates hoping desperately that there would
be a room. We lucked out, but
having seen how isolated and small the place is (40 rooms),
it now seems foolhardy to arrive without reservations.
we were fortunate to get was one of the better ones, facing
the water, air-conditioned, decorated in light colors and
worthy of a "nice" anywhere in the Caribbean. Only,
just about anywhere else in the Caribbean it would have gone
for at least $200 a night. Here (perhaps thanks to some lingering
Marxist idea of a fair price?) it was just $40 a night, plus
another $20 each day for decent buffet meals.
when we wandered over to the dive center that we began to
suspect we had stumbled into a deeply serious diving milieu.
A young German couple was ordering a 30-dive package, and
a chalkboard listed as many possible dive programs as a luncheonette
our plans to just hang out and snorkel seemed hopelessly misplaced.
But what could we do? I had only ever tried a 15-minute tourist
dive, and Stephen had never dived at all. You needed a weeklong
certification course to be able to do any real diving, didn't
you? Not, I'm happy to say, in Cuba. And especially not if
you're in the Capable hands of the master of the center's
dive masters, Osvaldo Noriega. A dashing Yul Brynner type,
though much more gregarious than a typical Brynner character,
Mr. Noriega can explain the basics of diving technique in
Chinese, English, Spanish and the Russian he learned as a
pilot-in-training in the former Soviet Union. Probably Swahili,
too. He also has a gift for "baptizing" new divers,
as he puts it. After Teaching us the basics, he took Stephen
and me down for our first, relatively Shallow dive and held
us tightly by the hand for most of it, constantly asking with
gestures whether we were all right and keeping a close eye
on everything we did. By the end of that first dive, we were
even feeling confident enough to practice taking our regulators
out of our mouths underwater and reinserting them.
amazing -- the unearned, unexpected gift of 40 luxurious minutes
in the alien glory of the underwater world, in an area that
(who knew?) divers consider among the best around, packed
with great sites near shore and even blessed with rare black
on two more half-day dives in our two days at Maria La Gorda,
Going a bit deeper each time and always closely supervised
by Mr. Noriega or one of his team of three other dive masters.
That brief trip through the tunnel was the culminating moment
of our final dive, and seemed one of those calculated risks
a guide sometimes takes to elevate a client's experience from
superb to over-the-top. Thank goodness, is all I can say,
that Cuba goes its own way in some things, and is not yet
afflicted by that wet-blanket word, "liability."
not perfect among the other clients who shared the boat with
us out the few hundred yards to where we dived. The 30-dive
German wife was stung on the cheek by a jellyfish, and another
client found that his flotation vest kept inflating unless
he held its valve with his hand the whole time.
was an interesting boatload -- we were the only Americans,
as we found repeatedly wherever we went in Cuba, and the rest
were a varied bunch of French, Canadian, Estonian and miscellaneous.
Enough spoke common languages that, when the rum drinks came
out on the trips back to shore, the boat became a very convivial
place. The only thing lacking was a Cuban presence, other
than the dive masters: Cuba practices what some call a kind
of tourism apartheid, and sadly, Cubans may not visit Maria
La Gorda, we were told.
who comes to Maria La Gorda dives. The snorkeling is beyond
excellent as well, though near shore it is more about gorgeous
fish than exciting coral. And a simple hike out to the set
of low sea cliffs that mark the very end of the point offers
all kinds of curious sights, from strange chunks of coral
to jungle-style vegetation. But it did seem as if going to
the resort and not diving - especially when "initiation"
dives were so possible -- would have been like going to Paris
time in Maria La Gorda was about the alien exotica of the
deep, our time in the town of Vinales, our other main stop
in western Cuba, about a four-hour drive east, was about domestic
exotica. That is, for all the charm of the Vinales region,
with its jutting mogotes, or hills, rolling tobacco farmland
and gigantic caves, its greatest charm for us was the at-home
feeling we got from staying with Oscar Jaime Rodriguez in
is the proprietor of a casa particular, or private house,
a type of tourist lodging that can now be found in a number
of places around Cuba, including Havana and Trinidad. In effect,
enterprising Cubans who pay a hefty fee to the government
are now at liberty to rent out rooms or sections of their
houses to dollar-paying tourists.
of us who will always be exchange students at heart, nothing
Could be better. At Mr. Jaime's house, where we stayed three
nights, we had our own moderate-size, simply furnished but
comfortable room and a bathroom with a shower on the upper
story, with a separate entrance. But we were surrounded by
a friendly extended family living in a multigenerational compound,
and could feel a bit as if we were part of its life instead
of like strangers hermetically sealed away in a hotel.
mornings, we would be awakened by a cacophony of rooster calls
and the heartily amplified songs being sung in the school
across the street. We could see how Mr. Jaime filtered the
family's water through a great cup-shaped chunk of stone;
we could hear, one morning, how he slaughtered a pig, and
later, see how he carved it up. We could eat hearty breakfasts
of eggs and toast and homemade mango juice as family members
came and went in the compound.
of all, there was time to sit at the table with Mr. Jaime,
a man both solid and jolly, with the kind of warm and welcoming
presence that inspires immediate trust, and just talk. Or
consult: Where to go next? What is it like here, or there?
own particular agenda: Where is the rock climbing? Mr. Jaime's
house is the unofficial base for a group of rock enthusiasts
who have been developing virgin climbing routes on the mogotes
around Vinales. The clever routes snake through caves and
caverns and up cliff faces, enough of them to occupy an expert
climber for days, though most were too hard for an inexpert
climber still struggling with her fear. My favorite part about
the routes was that most started on the far side of some fields
owned by a leather-skinned farmer, Raul, who looked tough
but was so kind that he treated us to two fresh coconuts,
lopped open with his machete.
Jaime's house, it did help to have some college-level Spanish.
One poor monolingual guest had written in the house guest
book something like: "Oscar seems like he has so much
to say; if only I could understand him!"
non-Spanish speakers would inevitably feel at home. And Mr.
Jaime, a high school teacher by profession, was one of the
few Cubans we met who understood just how slowly and clearly
one needs to speak to a linguistically challenged guest.
that Cuban authorities remain ambivalent about the casa particular
phenomenon, often slapping the proprietors with new rules
and charges. It seems a pity. It is human contact that makes
a trip capture the heart; it was the warmth of Mr. Noriega,
the dive instructor, and Mr. Jaime, the host of all hosts,
that made Cuba more than just another pleasurable Caribbean
destination for me.
asked afterward how the trip went, inquiring tremulously whether
it wasn't illegal to go to Cuba. There are plenty of legal
ways visit Cuba, I responded, and it was the echoes of the
warmth of the people made me add, "And you've just got
to go!" Got a license?
United States law requires a license from the Treasury Department
to travel to Cuba, but it is primarily limited to journalists
and those engaged in government business or cultural exchanges.
General tourism and business travel are not allowed. If a
license is awarded, a passport and visa are required. Information:
Office of Foreign Assets Control, (202) 622-2480, fax(202)
622-1657; www.ustreas.gov/ofac .
in Cuba by Americans is limited, and credit cards issued in
the United States cannot be used.
Where to Stay
Phone service to Cuba is very poor, and the chances of getting
through are very doubtful.
particular (private home) of Oscar Jaime Rodriguez and Leida
Robaina Altega, is at Adela Azcui 43, Vinales, (53-8) 93381.
They charge $20 a night for a room, $4 each for breakfast.
Dinner also is available. It is fine to show up without calling:
if this private house doesn't have room, there are plenty
of others in the area.
La Gorda Hotel, (53-82) 78131, fax (53-82) 78077, charges
$40 a night for a two people or $25 for a single with breakfast,
up to $80 for two with three meals a day.
costs $35 a dive, $55 for two dives, and $70 for a full-day
outing. Packages are available, up to $400 for 20 dives.
Back to Index
|The New York Times
August 5, 2001, Sunday, Late Edition - Final
Bush administration showing willingness to enforce law on visiting
By FRANK BRUNI
Few of the tens of thousands of Americans who every year break the
law by visiting Cuba ever hear a peep from the federal government,
whose prosecution of a Treasury Department prohibition against
spending tourist dollars there is scattershot at best.
to administration officials, lawyers and travel agents who
arrange trips to Cuba, examples of that ban being enforced
have multiplied this year and could become more prevalent
in the wake of an announced crackdown by President Bush several
observed a marked increase, over the last five to six months,
in the number of phone calls and inquiries we get," said
Nancy Chang, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights
in Manhattan, which does legal advocacy work for Americans
facing fines for going to Cuba.
travelers usually call the center after receiving letters
from the Treasury Department threatening them with penalties,
typically about $7,500. About a month ago, when the number
of cases that the center was working on reached 400, it stopped
from the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the arm of the
Treasury Department that enforces the restriction, show that
the number of letters sent to Americans it suspects of violating
that ban has been rising markedly. In 2000, the last year
of the Clinton administration, OFAC sent 188 letters, according
to Tasia Scolinos, a spokeswoman for the agency.
May 4 and July 18 this year, she said, it sent 443 letters.
That still represents a fraction of the Americans who violate
the restriction. Although the United States government has
no estimates for how many Americans visit Cuba illegally,
an analysis of figures from the Cuban government suggests
that perhaps 40,000 to 50,000 did so last year.
soil is not actually off-limits to Americans. But the Treasury
Department forbids United States citizens to spend money there
without authorization, effectively barring tourist travel.
Even prepaid tours
booked in another country are illegal without authorization.
On paper, although not in practice, a violation can lead to
a fine of up to $55,000.
violators could also face criminal prosecution and a fine
of up to
$250,000 and 10 years in prison.
Department permits Americans to spend money in Cuba if they
are traveling there for such reasons as academic excursions,
cultural exchanges, religious missions, journalistic ventures
and visits to relatives. In all but those last two cases,
a license authorizing the trip is required.
operators have become more savvy about -- and more successful
at -- sending groups under these auspices. Such travelers
can fly directly to Cuba from the United States on charters
from New York, Los Angeles and Miami.
greater number of tourists go without authorization, traveling
Through the Bahamas, Canada or Mexico. Cuban authorities do
not stamp these travelers' passports, making it difficult
for American officials to determine if an American has been
that American officials catch offenders is by watching for
tourists who arrive in the Bahamas or Canada on flights from
Cuba and then proceed directly to a connecting flight to the
United States. A Brooklyn woman who was recently threatened
with a fine said that she was caught that way. The woman,
who insisted on anonymity, said that a United States Customs
agent in Montreal had stopped her, said he knew she had been
to Cuba and took down her name and address.
later, she got a letter from the Office of Foreign Assets
Control requesting information about how much money she had
spent in Cuba, which is usually the prelude to a fine. The
Center for Constitutional Rights is handling her case.
said that although OFAC typically assesses travelers with
a $7,500 fine, it often accepts a payment of between $700
and $2,500. Travelers can try to avoid paying a fine by exercising
their right to request a hearing; lawyers and Cuba experts
said that the agency, short on personnel, had not actually
held such a hearing in 10 years.
officials said that that could change. When President Bush
announced his crackdown, which critics attribute to his desire
for good political relations with Cuban-American leaders in
southern Florida, he said he would devote more resources to
enforcement of the ban. Even so, some lawyers and other experts
said that Americans traveling to Cuba without authorization
would still probably be playing a game of odds that was decidedly
in their favor.
Note from Cubalinda: Don't fail to see our response at the end of the
article. There was no immediate response from the journalist.
Friday, August 3, 2001
U.S. clamps down on defiant travelers to Cuba
BY TIM JOHNSON
-- U.S. citizens who defy restrictions on travel to Cuba increasingly
are returning stateside to find an unexpected souvenir: A
letter from the feds demanding they pay $7,500 or so in fines.
of such penalty letters has suddenly spiked, and unsuspecting
U.S. travelers are yelping in surprise at the potential cost
of their travels.
``I think it's very stupid,'' said Donna, a 64-year-old retired
social worker in Chicago who asked that her last name not
be used. After a bike trip to Cuba, she got notice in June
that the Treasury Department plans to
levy $7,650 in fines against her. ``They should leave people
like me alone who do no harm.''
4 to July 30, a division of the U.S. Treasury Department that
monitors travel to Cuba sent out 443 letters seeking average
fines of $7,500 -- a sharp increase from the 74 letters mailed
from Jan. 3 to May 3. Those receiving penalty letters include
New York City high school students and teachers, scuba divers,
cyclists, a Massachusetts bird watcher, a Santeria buff from
the Pacific Northwest -- a panoply of Americans intrigued
by the tropical communist bastion of President Fidel Castro
and willing to wriggle under the legal trip wire. Interest
in Cuba has surged despite -- or perhaps because of -- a longstanding
law that forbids U.S. citizens from spending money on the
restrictions are now in roiling waters as the White House
and Congress veer in sharply different directions on policy
toward Cuba. Staking out a hard line, President Bush pledged
July 13 to detect and punish those who visit Cuba illegally
``to the fullest extent with a view toward preventing unlicensed
and excessive travel . . . ''
of the U.S. House, meanwhile, wants to facilitate travel to
Cuba. On a 240-186 vote, the House on July 26 denied the executive
branch any funds to enforce the travel restrictions. The measure
now heads to the
Senate, where observers say it could pass in the autumn.
to Author from Cubalinda.com
Thank you for your article on measures taken against travelers
to Cuba. I saw the version published in the Miami Herald yesterday.
is any way to follow up your article with advice to these
travelers, it can be found on my website www.cubalinda.com
by clicking "General Info" (home page) and "Special
Info for U.S. Citizens." There is a
link here to a page of the website of the National Lawyers
Guild with form letters for response to OFAC and advice on
getting legal help from the Guild and from the Center for
Constitutional Rights. This could be of value to the woman
names Donna whom you quoted.
Beveridge Consultants Limited/
Cubalinda.com Inter-Active Travel
Back to Index
Thursday July 26 6:07 PM ET
Bush Faces Tough Choice on Easing Cuba Sanctions
By Vicki Allen
(Reuters) - With more Americans skirting the law and making
their way to Cuba's beaches, lawmakers and analysts say President
Bush faces a political dilemma over whether to ease 40-year-old
the communist-led island.
who hold the majority in the Senate on Thursday said they
will follow up on a vote by the Republican-led House of Representatives
to repeal the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba, and are
pushing other measure to relax the trade embargo such as easing
restrictions on sales of food and medicine.
think we will prevail on this issue this year, and whether
he signs it or not, that's up to President Bush,'' said Sen.
Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat who has pushed to ease
the standoff with the island nation 90 miles off Florida.
Democratic leader Tom Daschle, of South Dakota, said it was
important to make ``this incremental move'' to lift the travel
ban, and that he expected the Senate to act on it.
just sense that there is a growing momentum behind taking
small actions like this,'' Daschle told reporters.
a broad rollback of sanctions to clear Congress this year,
and such a move likely would meet a swift veto by Bush, analysts
and lawmakers said.
backers of full repeal picked up a few votes in the House
over last year, the measure failed on Wednesday 227-201.
HOUSE DIGS IN
modest step to lift the travel ban passed 240-186, with 67
Republicans and 172 Democrats backing it.
House immediately said it would not accept any easing of sanctions
which the influential Cuban exile community says must stay
in place to punish Fidel Castro's government.
president thinks it's important to send a strong message against
oppression in Cuba, and that is not a measure that the president
would support,'' White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said
of Wednesday's House action.
growing sentiment in Congress to offer Americans a chance
to see Cuba for themselves and perhaps exert some influence
during the aging Castro's remaining time in power, analysts
said Bush's position might be hard to maintain.
be forced to agree to a fairly small step, such as lifting
travel restrictions or easing restrictions on food and medicine
sales to Cuba, they said.
Republican leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, a staunch supporter
of the trade sanctions, said the Senate may have to bow to
reality and agree with the House to lift at least the travel
ban portion of the sanctions.
I've always opposed is just lifting the sanctions. People
are traveling there now," Lott told Reuters.
the embargo could deal a setback for re-election hopes of
both Bush, and his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, in the
state where outcomes can be swayed by the Cuban community
centered around Miami. " With Florida remaining in play,
they must re-elect Jeb for George's re-election," said
an analyst at an economic institution who asked not to be
identified. "Bush's challenge is now he appears to be
doing more for the people of south Florida than for the country
show support for an end to the travel ban, with some of the
strongest support from a few conservative Republicans who
argue the ban infringes on the rights of U.S. citizens.
should be free to travel wherever they want," conservative
Republican Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who sponsored the travel
ban repeal in the House, said during the floor debate on Wednesday.
we've done is erect our own Berlin Wall preventing the free
travel of Americans," said Rep. William Delahunt, a Massachusetts
Democrat. "It's time to tear the wall down."
current restrictions, U.S. citizens must get a license from
the Treasury Department to travel to Cuba, and these are limited
to journalists, academics, government officials and people
on humanitarian missions. But Americans are finding ways to
reach Cuba by traveling through third countries, with an estimated
200,000 visiting there in 1999, up from about 120,000 the
said in addition to lifting the travel ban, he will push to
ease restrictions on shipping and allow direct financing and
other measures that enable U.S. companies to sell food and
medicine to Cuba. Congress and former President Bill Clinton
agreed to lift the embargo on food and medicine, but Dorgan
complained that Republicans made last minute changes that
rendered the agreement virtually meaningless.