HAPPY NEW YEAR, Everybody! I hope you all had fabulous Christmas and Holiday Seasons—even those of you who seriously believe that the best thing for the people of Cuba is to continue supporting the Embargo.
Things have calmed down a bit in the world of news about Cuba, but there will be a lot more stuff happening from now on, just under the radar. In past years, you had to make a serious effort to follow what was going on there. It was difficult to separate reality from BS. As I mentioned earlier, President Obama’s first steps towards Normalization should not have come as a surprise to those who who have been paying attention.
One of the most interesting things about Cuba is that there continues to be a wide range of predictions from Cuba experts about what lies ahead. There is no consensus. I hesitate to put myself in the “expert” category, but I try to read the opinions of a variety of experts. I’ve been to Cuba twice in the past two months. I receive email from friends there on a regular basis. So having said that, I am going to offer my 2015 predictions about our nearby neighbor.
1–Fidel Castro will pass on. He has surprised just about everybody by surviving this long. He had a series of abdominal surgeries in the last decade, and every time he appears in public or on the front page of Cuban newspapers, he seems to look closer to the end.
After he dies, there will be celebrations in Miami, but many times smaller than if he died a decade ago. In Cuba, there will be large memorials celebrating his life. Although many Cubans eventually came to despise his authoritarian rule and heavy-handedness, they also believed that if he had not been so ruthless, Cuba today would probably still be controlled by the United States. Cuban Nationalism (i.e., love of their country and its independence) has always been even more important to most Cubans than their political system.
2.–The Embargo will continue in place, while the Normalization process will move forward. The Embargo is not the same as Normalization of Relations. The Embargo could have been easily ended through Executive Order by any American President up through Bill Clinton. In a gutless, purely political move, Clinton transferred the power to end the Embargo to Congress. A very small, disproportionate number of Cuban-American Senators and Representatives have managed to trade favors to move into powerful positions, where they continue to manipulate America’s foreign policy (much to the embarrassment of those who understand this phenomenon).
The good news is that the Embargo will become increasingly less relevant. It has complicated travel and trade between our countries in the past decades, but there have always been ways to get around it. For example, in spite of condemning other countries who trade with Cuba, the U.S. currently is #4 on the list of countries that export to Cuba (mostly food).
Another example is the so-called “Travel Ban.” There have always been ways for Americans to legally travel to Cuba. There are many travel companies who have taken groups there, and will take even more this year. These companies travel on Specific Licenses, which involve 50-page applications and thousands of dollars in fees. The main problem is that tour prices have been very expensive, and they will soon cost even more because of current increased interest and demand. The U.S. government suggests Americans travel on “People-to-People” programs, which usually are highly structured and provide little free time. Ironically, almost all contact in these programs is with Cubans who have been approved by the Cuban government. Go figure!
Individuals and small groups have always been able to travel legally on General Licenses. These are self-generated by individual travelers and small-group leaders. There is no requirement to obtain permission from the U.S. Government. The guidelines are vague and contradicting. Apparently the most important part of these various guidelines is that you not travel to Cuba as a tourist. SO DON’T GO AS A TOURIST! You can go and research tourism, but for God’s sake–don’t go as a tourist! (Most tourists don’t like to be called “tourists” anyway, so this isn’t a problem.) For several reasons, it is easier to travel on a General License through Mexico or Canada. However, six of my eight expeditions have flown from Miami.
Another option (which has never made any sense to me) is to visit Cuba “illegally” by traveling through Mexico, Canada, or another third country. I have talked with people who have paid for airline tickets using money orders (harder to trace), asked Cuban and Mexican customs agents to not stamp their passports, downloaded photos of Cuba into a easily-hidden flash drive or camera card, and lied to customs agents about countries they visited when they arrived back in the United States. DON’T DO THIS—not because it is dangerous or because you could be fined or imprisoned. Don’t do it because it is a hassle, and completely unnecessary.
I’m not getting very far with my list, so I’ll continue it with future posts.
Once again, Happy New Year to everybody!