Visiting Cuba as an American will become even more difficult starting tomorrow.
Different philosophies on Cuba
In 2015, President Obama lifted many restrictions in place between the US and Cuba, which eventually led to US airlines being able to add commercial flights between the two countries for the first time in decades.
For a moment it looked like Cuba would become a new tourist hotspot for Americans, though as anyone who has visited can attest to, they weren’t really set up to handle the influx of American tourism.
When Trump took office, he took a very different approach towards Cuba than Obama did, and he has been increasing restrictions on travel to Cuba.
How visiting Cuba works
Officially Americans haven’t been able to visit Cuba as tourists, even under Obama. Rather the US operated under a “wink wink nudge nudge” system. Basically you had to select one of about a dozen reasons for visiting Cuba, ranging from “support of the Cuban people” to “people-to-people interactions.”
I suspect a lot of people have been comfortable with that precisely because the spirit of the policy seemed to be to open up Cuba.
When you traveled to Cuba you were asked at check-in for which reason you were visiting, but that was about it. So while there was technically a list of things you should do, I’d guess that a vast majority of people didn’t necessarily follow them too closely.
New restrictions on Cuba travel
Trump has been adding restrictions on Cuba travel, and is now adding yet another restriction.
As of June 5, 2019, the US is banning group people-to-people travel to Cuba, which has been one of the most popular ways people have traveled to Cuba. This means that those who completed at least one travel-related transaction (like booking a flight) will be grandfathered under the old rules, while starting tomorrow the new rules will apply.
As the Treasury Secretary describes the motivation for these changes:
“Cuba continues to play a destabilizing role in the Western Hemisphere, providing a communist foothold in the region and propping up U.S. adversaries in places like Venezuela and Nicaragua by fomenting instability, undermining the rule of law, and suppressing democratic processes. This Administration has made a strategic decision to reverse the loosening of sanctions and other restrictions on the Cuban regime. These actions will help to keep U.S. dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence, and security services.”
With these changes, cruise ships from the US will be banned from visiting Cuba, and organized tour groups that license US citizens to travel to Cuba will also be stopped.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given that we’ve seen more and more policies implemented that restrict travel to Cuba. This is yet another policy change, though is especially significant, since this is the policy under which many people traveled to Cuba.
The one thing that confuses me is why the US is cutting Cuba travel little by little. I’m not saying I agree with their policy, but if they’re going to try to prevent people from traveling to Cuba, then why not add all of these restrictions at once?
Frankly I’m surprised we haven’t seen more US airlines cut flights to Cuba, and I have to wonder if they’ll do so soon, as the number of US visitors to Cuba continues to decrease.