I just finished reviewing an article published today in “It’s All Politics—Political News From NPR.” The Title is “As U.S.-Cuba Relations Thaw, Here’s What You Can And Can’t Do.” It reminded me that numerous articles have been written that are misleading, only partially true, or downright incorrect. In past articles I’ve referred to poorly-researchd, non-fact-checked articles in well-respected publications such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. This is not just my opinion—most of the travelers on my recent expeditions as well as other recent travelers would probably agree. Most of us who have been traveling to Cuba for decades have noticed the subtle and not-so-subtle changes. We don’t necessarily agonize over the widespread misinformation; we just want to encourage future travelers to read a wide variety of articles written by authors with various points of view, especially those who have visited Cuba on numerous occasions over many years. Readers should consider if an author has an obvious bias. (For example, if you read that “dissidents are being thrown into prisons merely for speaking up about the government,” be aware of a serious political bias. When you read that “All Cubans strive to maintain Fidel’s ideals for The Revolution,” be aware that these are the beliefs of only a small, mostly-older minority of the population.
In my opinion, most Cubans and knowledgeable Americans wish that both governments would just get out of the way and let things rapidly evolve. Right after the Revolution, Cuba needed a strong central government in order to survive repeated military and economic attacks by the world’s strongest superpower. Now, hopefully, that threat is much less, and Cubans living on the island and abroad will continue the process of re-building Cuba into a thriving nation, in spite of continued meddling by both governments. This should be the goal of well-meaning, supportive Americans, and this is how individual American visitors can help: Travel there, have fun, spend money (especially in direct people-to-people transactions), enjoy the music & the beaches, meet locals, tell your friends about your travels, and return. (Many Canadians return every winter, year after year.) In contrast to the many hopeless causes around the world, Cuba represents a country with a bright future. I believe it will thrive. I think it will change more for the better in the next 10 years than China has over the past 40 years.
So getting back to the NPR article: Here are the main points, FOLLOWED BY MY INTERPRETATION IN CAPS:
Four things that have gotten easier about doing business with Cuba:
Travel from the U.S. to Cuba
Travel is still limited to 12 authorized categories, including educational, religious and humanitarian work. But would-be travelers are now on the honor system to say which category they fall in. And beginning in September, permission was extended to close relatives in many of the categories. EVERYBODY HAS ALWAYS FITTED INTO ONE OF THE CATEGORIES. MOST GO AS “RESEARCHERS. THEY ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE “TOURISTS,” BUT THEY CAN RESEARCH TOURISM, OR ANYTHING ELSE. THIS IS NOT BEING “SNEAKY” OR DECEPTIVE—IT IS THE LAW, AND IT WAS APPARENTLY PURPOSELY WRITTEN TO BE VAGUE AND ALL-INCLUSIVE. THOSE WHO TRAVELED LEGALLY HAVE ALWAYS BEEN ON THE “HONOR SYSTEM.” ALSO, RELATIVES COULD ALWAYS TRAVEL TO CUBA (IF THE CUBAN GOVERNMENT ALOWED THEM TO).
Using your cellphone
Verizon Wireless now offers international calling service to Americans traveling in Cuba. YES, BUT IT IS CHEAPER TO JUST RENT A CUBAN CELL PHONE ONCE YOU GET THERE. YOU CAN DIRECT-DIAL THE U.S., AND RECEIVE CALLS DIRECTLY FROM HOME.
Cuban nationals are now permitted to receive unlimited amounts of money from the U.S. Before September, remittances were limited to $2,000 per quarter. NOBODY EVER PAID ANY ATTENTION TO THESE LIMITS BEFORE. BUT I GUESS IT’S NICE FOR U.S. GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS TO GET SOME CREDIT FOR FINALLY MOVING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION.
Cigars, rum and other souvenirs
Visitors to Cuba can now bring up to $400 in merchandise home, including up to $100 worth of tobacco and alcohol. TRAVELERS HAVE CUSTOMARILY (no pun intended) IGNORED THESE RESTRICTIONS IN THE PAST. OVER THE PAST DECADE, MANY TIMES I’VE WITNESSED CUBAN-AMERICANS COMING THROUGH CUSTOMS IN MIAMI WITH BOXES OF CIGARS AND BOTTLES OF RUM PARTIALLY VISIBLE IN THEIR CARRY-ON LUGGAGE! ALTHOUGH I DIDN’T OFFICIALLY ENCOURAGE IT, MANY (IF NOT MOST) OF THE TRAVELERS ON MY EARLIER EXPEDITIONS BROUGHT BACK THESE ITEMS. TODAY, NOTHING HAS REALLY CHANGED, BUT U.S. GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS CAN FEEL GOOD THAT THEY ARE NOW “ALLOWING” THESE ITEMS THROUGH CHANGES IN THE TRAVEL REGULATIONS. WOO-HOO!!!
And here are four things that haven’t:
U.S. and Cuban negotiators have yet to strike a civil aviation agreement, opening the door to regularly scheduled commercial air service. Charter flights, however, are available. YOU ALWAYS COULD (AND STILL CAN) FLY ON COMMERCIAL FLIGHTS FROM MEXICO, CANADO, AND OTHER COUNTRIES. CURRENT SO-CALLED “CHARTER” FLIGHTS COST ABOUT THREE TIMES WHAT THEY SHOULD TO FLY COMPARABLE DISTANCES. EXTRA BAGGAGE COSTS ARE OUTRAGEOUS, AND TRAVELERS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE AT THE AIRPORT 3-4 HOURS PRIOR TO DEPARTURE. THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT YOU WOULD EXPECT WHEN BUREAUCRATIC GOVERNMENT AGENCIES FROM BOTH COUNTRIES GET INVOLVED. TODAY, MOST CHARTERS FLY FROM MIAMI, BUT THERE ARE NOW NON-STOP FLIGHTS FROM TAMPA, FT. LAUDERDALE, NEW YORK CITY, HOUSTON, LOS ANGELES, AND OTHER CITIES. THERE ARE ALSO CHARTER FLIGHTS TO 4-5 OTHER CUBAN CITIES, IN ADDITION TO HAVANA. I SUSPECT THAT CHARTER COMPANIES ARE VERY CONCERNED ABOUT THE PROSPECT OF REGULAR COMMERCIAL FLIGHTS. THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLARS INVOLVED, AND NOBODY KNOWS HOW THIS WILL BE DIVIDED UP IN THE NEAR FUTURE. IF PAST HISTORY IS ANY INDICATION, FUTURE PROFITS WILL BE DETERMINED BY HOW MUCH CERTAIN KEY INDIVIDUALS ARE CURRENTLY BEING PAID OFF.
Hiring Cuban employees
The U.S. government has allowed American companies in various categories (e.g., export, travel, telecommunications, education) to open offices in Cuba and hire Cuban nationals. Hiring is still generally restricted, however, by the Cuban government.I BELIEVE ONE OF THE KEYS TO THE NEW CUBAN ECONOMY IS DIRECT CONTACT WITH, AND DIRECT PAYMENT TO CUBANS BY AMERICANS, AS WE RENT BED-AND-BREAKFAST ROOMS, HIRE DRIVERS WITH CARS, AND EAT IN NEW IN-HOME RESTAURANTS, CALLED “PALLADARES.”
The U.S. government has cleared the way for passenger and cargo vessels to travel directly to and from Cuba. However, international cargo vessels from third countries that stop in Cuba are barred from U.S. ports for six months. THESE LAWS WERE CREATED BY BUREAUCRATIC GOVERNMENT LAWYERS WHO THRIVED ON WRITING THOUSANDS OF PAGES OF MEAN-SPIRITED LAWS. IN REALITY, THESE REGULATIONS MADE LIFE VERY DIFFICULT FOR EVERYDAY CUBANS WITHOUT AFFECTING THE LIVES OF CUBA’S COMMUNIST LEADERS. IT WILL TAKE TIME TO UNWIND THEM. HOWEVER, IT WILL BE A HUGE TIPPING POINT WHEN SHIPS CAN FINALLY BRING CARGO AND PASSENGERS DIRECTLY FROM THE U.S. TO CUBA, CUTTING COSTS BY HUGE AMOUNTS. THESE SHIPMENTS WERE SUPPOSED TO START SEVERAL MONTHS AGO. HOPEFULLY THEY WILL START SOON. THIS WILL ALSO DRASTICALLY AFFECT CHARTER AIRLINES AND EVENTUALLY U.S. COMMERCIAL AIRLINES. AS YOU CAN IMAGINE–GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS WITH INSIDE KNOWLEDGE OF THE DETAILS AND DATES WHEN THESE NEW LAWS WILL GO INTO AFFECT CAN PARLAY THIS KNOWLEDGE INTO HUGE PAYOFFS BY PRIVATE COMPANIES. I BELIEVE THIS IS WHY THERE IS SO MUCH UNCERTAINTY IN THIS AREA. IF A C.E.O. GUESSES THE WRONG START DATE ON A PARTICULAR PROJECT, IT COULD MEAN BANKRUPTCY INSTEAD OF A THRIVING BILLION-DOLLAR COMPANY.
Using credit cards
The Treasury Department has paved the way for Americans traveling in Cuba to use credit cards, but most banks have not yet jumped into the business. CUBAN BUSINESSES WOULD LOVE TO ACCEPT AMERICAN CREDIT CARDS. SO FAR, THE U.S. GOVERNMENT PROHIBITS AMERICAN BANKS FROM REIMBURSING CUBAN VENDORS. MASTERCARD WAS ORIGINALLY REPORTED TO BE ACCEPTED IN CUBA BACK ON MARCH 1ST, BUT SO FAR, NOT SO. ACTUALLY, MASTERCARDS ARE ACCEPTED THROUGHOUT CUBA, BUT THEY HAVE TO BE ISSUED FROM BANKS CHARTERED IN CANADA, MEXICO, OR ANY OTHER COUNTRY IN THE WORLD.
Now that you have read my interpretation, you can better understand the full article by clicking on the link below. This is why you should be skeptical reading various articles by “journalists” with very narrow views and limited experience IN CUBA, as well as those articles written by obviously-biased authors.