Several months ago, bureaucratic red tape and/or political harassment caused delays in the renewal of licenses for most travel companies taking Americans to Cuba. Now it looks like that logjam has been broken. Companies such as Insight Cuba and National Geographic Expeditions recently received license renewals. They have returned to their earlier frantic pace of signing up U.S. citizens to visit Cuba—the Twilight Zone of the Caribbean, and of American foreign policy.
These companies feature programs that require mandatory participation in a “full schedule of educational exchange activities.” According to Laura Bly, writing in USA Today, regulations have been tightened, and the U.S. Treasury Department “now requires U.S. companies to provide a sample itinerary, assign a representative to each tour, and explain how the exchanges would ‘enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society, and/or help promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities.’”
As with most U.S. policies involving Cuba, these new requirements will likely be counterproductive to U.S. interests. The additional representative with each tour will cost the travel company more money. These costs will be passed on to individual travelers, who have shown they are willing to pay almost any amount to legally travel to Cuba. (Many tours are booked up through next summer.) The additional representative will need an extra hotel room in Cuba, along with other various expenses, and these costs will be directly or indirectly paid to the Cuban government.
It is truly ironic, humorous, and pathetic, that U.S. policies supposedly put in place to bring down the Castro regime, consistently prop it up instead. OFAC—the Office of Foreign Assets Control, a division of the Treasury Department—has the thankless job of interpreting and enforcing over 80 pages of regulations involving Cuba travel—regulations that continue to evolve and change. Just like the IRS (which likewise has to interpret and enforce irrational tax laws), OFAC is doing its best to perform its duties while fending off incredible pressures from clueless congressmen who want laws interpreted in a particular way. Many seem to have no knowledge of Cuba or U.S. foreign policy. They just know that if they vote as requested by certain Cuban-American congressmen or senators, in return they will get support for their local bridge to nowhere, or other similar pork-barrel project.
But at least our congress is consistent—consistently disgusting, and consistently dysfunctional, no matter what the issue.