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Comment from 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 observes.

Laurie Goering. Published November 7, 2001 in the Chicago Tribune.

HAVANA -- 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.

"Thank goodness you're back home where it's safe!" she said.

I had 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 watch out.

What constitutes a safe place in the world is changing fast.

For five 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.

We were beyond the reach of Cold War rhetoric, nuclear weapons, Arab terrorists. In Rio's warm sunshine, all that seemed a world away.

No more. 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.

Still, that once-safe corner of the world doesn't seem so safe anymore.

Somebody 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.

Even here 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.

And when 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

"It's OK, it's OK," somebody said finally. "We're in Havana!"

In some 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.

While 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.

On the 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.

A few Cuban quirks may make Havana a particularly safe place.

Foreign 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.

The island's 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.

Copyright Š 2001, Chicago Tribune

Friday, September 07, 2001
Press Release and letter from Senator Dorgan

Note from
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.


I am both surprised and disappointed by the actions the Treasury Department has now taken against American citizens who have traveled in Cuba.

I personally 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.

It is 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.

In any 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.

Today 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.

2) Abandon 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.

In summary, 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.

The law 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.

And it 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.

- END -

August 17, 2001
The Honorable Paul O'Neill
The Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20220

Dear Mr. Secretary:

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.

As you 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.

Until 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.

It seems 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.

Again, 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 this fall.


Byron L. Dorgan
United States Senator

Back to Index

Cubalinda comment: 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, 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.

End the Cuba embargo now Esquire; New York; Sep 2001; Walter Russell Mead;


In 1962, 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.

1994 was 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 than new
ones being built, Cubans used to say that you could calculate the date when all of Havana would disappear.

Cathedral 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 Depression.

The country was on the verge of total collapse.

You don't 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.

In 1994, 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 excellent.

And the 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 there.

Several 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.

Result: Because of Miami, Castro nets more money from his enemies than from most of his state-run economy.

Second, 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.

Third-and 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.

For the 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.

In the 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?

A good 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.

And this is roughly where Cuba is today. The worst is over, and they know it.

None of 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.

Miami-meaning 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.

That's 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.

The Cuban 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.

Therefore 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.

Beyond 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.

While 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.

So if 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 Cuba?

The first 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 the comer.

Second, 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.

The last 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.

Besides 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.

It also 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.

The dirty 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.

During 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 than ever.

The American 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.

What jolted 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.

Although 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.

Helms-Burton 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.

Add to 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.

At the 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.

With the 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 drugs across
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 United States.

Ensuring 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.

It appears 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 the world.

How this 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:

1) The 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.

4) Guantanamo, a U. S. naval base in eastern Cuba that the American military no longer needs, should be returned to Cuba.

The Miami 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.

A Cuba 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.

The 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.

Additionally, 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 offer.

Ultimately, 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.

A Cuba 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 to Miami.

But this 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.

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Sen. Byron 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.

Sen. Byron 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.

"There 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, on Friday.

A Treasury 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."

Dorgan 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.

Dorgan 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.

"I 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.

If that 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.

But legislation 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 exiles.

"Most 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.

Calzon 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.

And he 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.

"I 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 there."

But others suggest allowing Americans to travel to Cuba might hasten the island's transformation to democracy and indicidual rights.

"Today, 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."

Bush administration sources said Friday that the White House supports maintaining the regulations against the Castro regime now in place, including the travel ban.

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Chicago Tribune

Cuba readies for fall of U.S. ban on visits Relaxed embargo would jolt tourism
By Laurie Goering Tribune foreign correspondent

August 14, 2001

HAVANA -- 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. tourism.

"I 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."

Callinan 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.

That doesn't 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 be difficult.

But as 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 it begins.

"The 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."

According 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 the Bahamas.

Recent travel crackdown

The Bush 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.

Such fines 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.

Still, 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.

"Lying 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.

But "tourists 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."

At the 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?

One of 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.

"We 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.

Looking for big spenders

Cuba's 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.

The island, 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.

The island 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 resort.

Cuba's 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.

For now, the island welcomes U.S. tourists, legal and illegal. "For us they're all legal," Marty says. "We don't discriminate."

Cuba last year grossed $2 billion from tourism, making it the island's biggest industry, ahead of sugar exports at $500 million.

Preparations in U.S.

U.S. airlines, hotels and travel agencies also are preparing for the day the travel ban is lifted, though many acknowledge that may be years away.

Most major 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.

Thomas 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.

"Interest 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

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August 9, 2001

Lawyers Fight Cuba Travel Crackdown

Contact: Art Heitzer (414) 273-1040, ext. 12,
             Anna Liza Gavieres (212) 614-6470,

The Bush 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.

Coinciding 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.

"The 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 US license.

Heitzer 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."

Heitzer 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:

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The New York Times
August 5, 2001, Sunday, Late Edition - Final

Havana's Not for Eating, But Eating Can Be Fun

MARIAN BURROS is a food columnist for The New YorkTimes.

PSSST! Want to go to my mother's restaurant?"

Havana 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.

Most of 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.

We demurred 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.

In other 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.

Since 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.

In any 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.

Two of 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.

La Cocina de Lilliam

One of 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 wrought-iron chairs.

By 9:30, 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.

A chicken 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.

White 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.

La Guarida

Up three 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.

Artistically 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.

The night 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.

Having 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.

The scene 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.

Restaurante Gringo Viejo

Hidden 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.

We started 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.

Doņa Maricela

Despite 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.

The freshly 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.

The flan, 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.

Restaurante Capitolio

The owner 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.

When we 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 there.

Mr. Echevarria said that he had inherited the house from his grandmother. Clearly his was once a family of means. La Casa

Ignore 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 houses.

Built 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.

The service 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 flan.

Bill of fare
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. Call ahead.

La Cocina 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.

La Guarida, 318 Concordia, between Gervasio and Escobar, (53) 62-4940; 7 p.m. to midnight.

Restaurante 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.

Restaurante Capitolio, 1159 Calle 13, between 16 and 18, (53) 3-4947; noon to midnight. La Casa, 865 Calle 30; (53) 81-7000; noon to midnight.


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The New York Times

August 5, 2001, Sunday, Late Edition - Final

Exploring Two Sides of Cuba's West

By CAREY GOLDBERG; CAREY GOLDBERG is chief of the New England bureau of The Times.

DOWN 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.

Not bad 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 total neophytes.

We had 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 in Cuba.

My companion, 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 driving past.

In the 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.

The final 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.

The room 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.

It was 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 lists sandwiches.

Suddenly, 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.

It seemed 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 coral.

We went 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."

All was 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.

But it 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.

Not everyone 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 and fasting.

If our 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 Vinales.

Mr. Jaime 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.

For those 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.

In the 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.

And best 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?

And our 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.

At Mr. 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!"

But even 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.

I've read 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.

Friends 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; .

Spending 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.

The casa 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.

Maria 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.

Diving costs $35 a dive, $55 for two dives, and $70 for a full-day outing. Packages are available, up to $400 for 20 dives.


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The New York Times

August 5, 2001, Sunday, Late Edition - Final

Bush administration showing willingness to enforce law on visiting Cuba


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.

But according 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 weeks ago.

"We've 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.

These 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 accepting more.

Figures 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.

Between 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.

Cuban 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.

Theoretically, violators could also face criminal prosecution and a fine of up to $250,000 and 10 years in prison.

The Treasury 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.

And tour 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.

But a 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 to Cuba.

One way 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.

Weeks 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.

Ms. Chang 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.

But administration 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

Miami Herald

U.S. clamps down on defiant travelers to Cuba


WASHINGTON -- 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.

The number 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.''

From May 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 island.

The travel 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 . . . ''

A majority 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.

Response to Author from

Dear Mr. Johnson,
Thank you for your article on measures taken against travelers to Cuba. I saw the version published in the Miami Herald yesterday.

If there is any way to follow up your article with advice to these travelers, it can be found on my website 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.

Cordial greetings,

Philip Agee, Director
Beveridge Consultants Limited/ Inter-Active Travel

Back to Index

Thursday July 26 6:07 PM ET

Bush Faces Tough Choice on Easing Cuba Sanctions

By Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (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 sanctions on
the communist-led island.

Democrats 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.

"I 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.

Senate 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.

"I just sense that there is a growing momentum behind taking small actions like this,'' Daschle told reporters.

Few expect 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.

While backers of full repeal picked up a few votes in the House over last year, the measure failed on Wednesday 227-201.


The more modest step to lift the travel ban passed 240-186, with 67 Republicans and 172 Democrats backing it.

The White 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.

"The 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.

But with 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.

He may 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.

Even Senate 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.

"What I've always opposed is just lifting the sanctions. People are traveling there now," Lott told Reuters.

But relaxing 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 in general."

Polls 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.

"Americans 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.

"What 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."

Under 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 previous year.

Dorgan 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.

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