It has really been nice relaxing this weekend visiting with old friends, lamenting about the totally absurd situation Cuba and the U.S. is stuck in. Our countries have been close allies in the past, and we will be in the future. For now, government “leaders” and diplomats on both sides sound like spoiled 7-year-old children. Thank goodness the citizens of both countries generally like each other and usually get along just fine.
This evening I met with the three students who have been living in Mexico. They contacted me last month about visiting Cuba for about ten days. I explained to them about traveling to Cuba on a general license—in this case an A11-565 (academic). I explained that a general license is basically a declaration by an American that the individual believes he or she is qualified to travel to Cuba. That written statement and a downloadable travel affidavit are all that have been necessary for me for the past ten years. On the other hand, a Specific License is one that is obtained by groups such as a university or commercial tour company. I’ve heard that the application is about 50 pages in length and the fees can be significant. The main problem with a Specific License is that it needs to be renewed every year or two, and it can be rescinded. A few large organizations such as GlobalExchange.org continue to offer travel programs on general licenses, as do smaller, less formal groups. Each traveler is technically traveling as an individual, but the organization collects the money, makes arrangements, and pays for major services (hotels, tours, etc.).
The students told me they really enjoyed visiting Cuba, and may return soon. Since they are fluent in Spanish, I encouraged them to consider bringing their own groups of Americans researching life in Cuba. I believe it is critically important for more Americans to visit here. Even though the U.S. government discourages unlicensed travel, it actually encourages licensed travel that emphasizes interacting with the locals.
After dinner we walked back to where I had been staying to say “good-bye” to my older friend. The women stayed with him for a few days when they first arrived in Cuba about ten days ago. They will be returning to their studies in Mexico tomorrow, while I will be leaving Havana for the Isle of Youth.