Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Americans in Cuba?

Aerial view of Havana
Will it be possible for Americans to travel to Cuba legally? Two bills have been introduced into the United States Senate and House of Representatives that proposes to lift the travel ban. What I did not know until today is that Cuba is the ONLY country where Americans cannot travel (legally). We can go to North Korea, Burma, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia or Iran. But we can't go to Cuba, 90 miles off the coast of Florida. There is strong bi-partisan support so that it very likely that this bill could pass. Here's hoping.

Famed Poet, Blas Jiménez, Dies in Santo Domingo

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes, of course we Americans can travel to Iran, N Korea, Burma, or anywhere else in the world. That's because there are no substantial number of expatriate Iranians, North Koreans, and Burmese that VOTE and hold the balance of power in a swing state -- duuhh, Florida -- and also substantial votes in others -- for instance, New Jersey. Our president is over making nice in China ("Red China" we used to say), which is at LEAST as oppressive as Cuba. Politics suck.

Garçon Stupide said...

I'd no idea such a ban existed.

Anonymous said...

The Republicans will filibuster this and keep it bottled up in committee to please the right wingers who still support this silly ban. It is easy to say politics suck but politics also determine the quality of our lives and the freedoms which we enjoy.

Anonymous said...

As much as I dream of going to Cuba, if it at all becomes possible, it will be a blessing and curse. America will totally spoil all of it's charm. And Cuba will NEVER be the same.... just saying...

Anonymous said...

Yes, it will change - that's inevitable. Yes, there's a lot of charm in Cuba - but also a lot of poverty. The challenge will be for the government to manage the change in a way that it benefits the people and not just those in power. Latin American countries have a relatively poor record in that regard. Cuba might - just might - be able to change the mold. They do some things very well - almost all the children receive pretty decent free education. However, it comes at significant cost to their freedom of speech and movement. AND, it's probably even less fun being gay and living in Cuba than in the DR.

The younger generations of Cuban-Americans heavily support a change in our policy towards Cuba. Let's hope Barack has the balls to really push for this one. I wonder why he doesn't just fly to Havana, spend a day with the Castro brothers, and get it over with. It worked for Nixon and China.

George in SF

Anonymous said...

@ George in SF
Co-signing much of what you've written. However, I've read that gay now have some sanctioned rights in Cuba. Mariela Castro, the president's daughter, is a leading advocate. http://www.towleroad.com/2009/01/mariela-castro.html
The DR, to the contrary appears to be heading in the opposite direction. The newly ratified constitution will probably worsen things.

I haven't been to Cuba -yet, but will visit one day soon, even if that means I'll be fined or jailed. Not because I'm sympathetic to socialist movements (I am). Not because I expect to meet hot men (I got one). Rather because I resent be forbidden to travel where my coins will take me.

MSorbet

Anonymous said...

MSorbet:
Thanks for the comments. I too would like to go to Cuba - sooner rather than later. I agree - the men would provide a nice diversion, but I would be going in order to hunt down as much of their fabulous music as possible.

Being Canadian, it will be much easier for me because nothing will show in my American passport. But as an American also, I would urge you not to do anything that might give you a record with Homeland Security in this day and age. This attitude is regrettable but I think necessary.

An alternative might be to add a few days to your next trip to the DR and buy an RT ticket in Santo Domingo. There are several flights from Las Americas and Herrera to Santiago de Cuba and Havana, although they are not as cheap as one might hope. I believe Cuban immigration will not stamp your American passport if you ask them not to. The airline will be able to tell you if this practice is still in effect.

As for American policy, I hope Barack has his priorities something like this:
1. Health insurance and health care reform
2. Economy, energy, and climate change
3. Repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell and Defense of Marriage Act (I hope the preamble says something like - "In order to really defend the institution of marriage, we are going to make it available to ALL our people.")
4. Open up ties with Cuba. A good strategy might be to wait until he's re-elected, then do it regardless of the political consequences because he'd have no more elections to lose.

Good luck on your Cuban adventures!

George in SF

Anonymous said...

@ George in SF
Ditto on your time table for Prez Obama's agenda. My prayer is that the GLBT community doesn't disrail the process by abandoning him before the politics of change have time to bear fruit. It seems like the majority of the comments on Towleroad & Queerty are anti-Obama.

Regarding a Cuban sidetrip via Santo Domingo: Even though Cuban authorities gratefully won't stamp the American passport, how does one explain the the additional exit....entry stamps created by DR's immigrations? Thanks for any suggestions.

MSorbet

Anonymous said...

Good point, MSorbet. I hadn't considered that, but I wonder if the Dominican officials might be as accomodating as the Cubans if asked (i.e. not stamping the passport.

Anthony, might you have any G2 on Dominican customa attitudes about this? Have any of your guests or friends d tried it?

George in SF

Anonymous said...

You don't want the immigration officer in the DR to stamp your passport as you leave for Cuba or when you come back? That's easy!
Just slip a $20 in your passport when you hand it over and tell him/her you would prefer not to have it stamped because you are going to Cuba. He/She will smile, take the $20, and wish you a safe trip. They all know the deal. And, no, your passport will not be stamped in Cuba. They know the deal, too!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info. That's good to know, although I guess we'll have to budget an extra $80 for "customs clearance" (four times).

George in SF

Anonymous said...

Actually, it's not customs, it's immigration.

John K said...

Anthony, Americans can legally travel to Cuba, especially if you qualify under one of the visa categories, but you cannot spend any American money. That will get you arrested. It also means that Cuba can charge a premium if you try to buy Cuban convertible pesos in US dollars, which is why many people who've gone there took euros (as I did) or Canadian dollars. Free travel to Cuba should definitely occur, and Cuba must also change some of its policies as well, especially the surtax on American dollars. It's going to happen sooner rather than later, which is why I urge any American who has the opportunity to go to do so BEFORE the floodgates. It will not be the same under any circumstances.

Anonymous said...

It is only legal for Americans to go in very limited circumstances. It requires application and approval of the U. S. government which can take a lengthy amount of time. If you choose to go [which I won't] via a third country, be sure it is not a country that let's U.S. Immigration monitor flights to Cuba. Canada, the Bahamas and Jamaica are some who permit our agents to monitor and meet flights arriving from Cuba.

Anonymous said...

Unquestionably, a bribe to an immigrations official is illegal, even in the DR. Have Dominican authorities ever prosecuted anyone for offering one to obscure a trip to Cuba? I would not want to be forbidden to travel to DR too.

MSorbet

p.s.
LOL, my word verification is gailest

Anonymous said...

Having been to Cuba several times, the government has a very strict building codes and sign codes in place especially in la Habana Vieja area which would be similar to the Colonial Zone in SD. You can't just put up a large sign anywhere you please advertising your restaurant, hair salon, or whatever. Government officials will come and ask you to take it down in no uncertain terms. You don't see the mess of signs that contaminate the Colonial Zone. That said, I agree with John K. that you should try to visit Cuba before the floodgates open and the expected hordes of tourists from the USA take over the country along with Burger King, Pizza Hut,
KFC, McDonalds, and all the others.

Anonymous said...

What does MSorbet think weighs more on a Dominican immigration officer's mind: a U.S. citizen travelling illegaly to Cuba or a
crisp, US $20.00 bill in his/her pocket? This one is a no-brainer!

Anonymous said...

@ John K &/or Anonymous Sun Nov 22, 09:16:00 AM
I definitely hope to visit Cuba b4 it is ruined by 21st century commercialism. Did either of you travel via Santo Domingo? If so, did you get stamped when leaving/re-entering the DR? If not, did you need to offer $$ to the Dominican immigrations official or was a verbal request sufficient? Thanks for your feedback.

MSorbet

Anonymous said...

Go to www.treas.gov and in the SEARCH space write CUBA or CUBA TRAVEL if you want to go legally. There is a long list of applications pertaining to different groups or reasons for which the Treasury Dept. will grant a permit. The Treasury Dept. is in charge only because they do not want you to spend U.S. dollars in Cuba, so they will make it difficult for you to go, but who knows, maybe you'll get lucky!
From Puerto Rico,
Rafael
PS..I have friends who have gone by SD and they just smile at the immigrations officer, ask them nicely not to stamp their passport, and tip them $20.00. This is what I have been told. Of course, I would never do this myself....

Anonymous said...

I am a little confused. If an
American is visiting Santo Domingo and while there decides to visit another island or country[not Cuba] when that American left SDQ would not the stamp only indicate that he left the DR and not his destination and the same on the return. That would mean that the passport would only indicate that a trip was taken from SDQ to another country. I don't see how the passport stamp would indicate to anyone that a trip had been taken to Cuba. Of Course, the Cubans are very happy not to stamp the passport........some help me out on this....

John K said...

Dear Anonymous, I flew to Havana directly from Miami. I went with an educators' and artists' group, based out of the Center for Cuban Studies in New York, which regularly organizes trips to Cuba. I had to apply for a general license, which did not take a long to time to get. The main thing we were told was not to spend American money there, because the US--not Cuba--has been known to prosecute Americans caught doing so. While there I did run across some Dominicans, and a number of Europeans. On the flight from Miami, the man sitting next to one of my fellow travelers said that he travels *every week.* Whether or not this was true I can't say, since I didn't hear it, but he made this comment before the current US administration lifted the travel restrictions for Cuban family members, so go figure.

One small thing I'll add and which I mentioned to Anthony is that Cuba was very expensive compared to the DR. VERY. Since the convertible pesos are stronger than the dollar, and since the government strictly regulates (and owns) most hotels, many restaurants, etc., they can set artificially high prices. Several members of my group nearly ran out of money because of the prices, and the horrible thing is you cannot use American-issued credit cards to get money, because of US laws. You can buy a Canadian money card, or just carry enough money to convert.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous Sun Nov 22, 05:29:00 PM

Here's the scenario: A U.S. citizen travels from JFK to SDQ Jan 1, 2010. He receives a dated DR arrival stamp. Then on Jan 4, 2010 this U.S. citizen travels to Havana. Before departing SDQ, assuming no bribe is involved, he receives a DR departure stamp. He can safely assume that Cuban authorities won't stamp his passport. However, upon his return to SDQ from Havana on Jan 8, 2010 he gets another DR entry stamp. Before he flies back to the States on Jan 12, 2010, he receives another DR departure stamp. Upon his arrival at JFK, the U.S. immigrations official fingers through his passport, notices that from Jan 4 through Jan 8 the passport holder was not in the DR. How does he explain his absence?
I travel quite a lot. Often when I've been out of the U.S. for a long period and/or visited multiple countries, I'm asked lots of questions and my passport is given a close look.

MSorbet

Anonymous said...

To Anon (Nov 22, 5:29 PM):

From the USA....
Arrived in DR: Oct. 1 (entrance stamped)
Left the DR: Oct. 5 (exit stamped)
Arrived in DR: Oct 20 (entrance stamped)
Left the DR: Oct. 25 (exit stamped

When you arrive back in the USA, an immigration official could see that you were out of the DR from Oct.5 to 20 with NO entrance or exit stamp from any other country.
Where did you go that immigration officers from that country did not stamp your passport? Hmmm....??

But, in reality, I think we are taking this waaay too far. If you want to go to Cuba, go. Immigration
officials in the U.S. are more concerned with the passport being real or fake. They have very long lines to attend to, are very overworked, and do not have the
time, energy, or desire to check every little detail concerning where you have or have not been in
your travels.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 11/23 7:41am
Your point istaken about immigration being busy, but I have to wonder if they might not take a second and a third look. Not necessarily with Cuba in mind. They might, for instance, wonder if you had gone to Yemen for some bootcamp training. You're not prohibited from travelling to Yemen. All I'm saying is US Immigration and DHS could get a little nasty and before you know it you're on the travel watch list.
George in SF.

Anonymous said...

I would love to visit Cuba, like so many have stated here, however,not until the travel band is lifted and it is legal to visit that country.I know it must be a beauty country with upbeat music and beautiful people.One day I hope to be able to before I leave this world for a better place, if that is possible.I feel it is unwise to take your U.S.Passport and go there from Santo Domingo because if your caught then your in deep do-do..U.S.immigration is no one to mess with, they can make your life hell,so therefor I suggest everyone too use good judgement.

Anonymous said...

@George in SF
Once again, we've on the same page. However, there's no need to travel to a "rouge" nation to raise eye brows. On different occasions, I've been given the 20+ questions routine to justisfy (a) a trip which included visits to 3 neighboring countries in Central America, (b) a vacation to different parts of Southeast Asia and (c) a holiday where I went to a few countries in Europe & North Africa. Following my explanations, I was sent to have my bags x-rayed, then manually searched. No matter how hard I try to understand that the officials are "just doing their jobs", I find the experience offensive. Try to get drugs or contraband thru immigrations/customs? Is it possible that they think I look that criminal minded and/or stupid? To "get even" with them, I routinely travel with a gallon sized zip-lock bag filled with condoms & lube in each of my suitcases. LOL. Who knows, maybe I'm already on the watch list. Screw them if they can't take a joke. Beyond focusing on security in the aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. under g.w.bush became xenophobic in a way that seeks to virtually imprison its citizens to the 50 states and favored allies.

MSorbet

Anonymous said...

This has been very interesting reading. I have met may people who have gone to Cuba on numerous occasions, from DR, Canada and Mexico and never have they addressed this stamped passport issue. I would not want to play with immigration baby. Post 9/11 I was stopped and interrogated every time I re-entered the US (not fun). A kind agent informed me that I was on the watch list, and I had to write a letter of explanation to be removed. So I really would think twice about doing this. As lax and over worked they may be, you can possibly get that diligent worker that will notice the stamps, or lack thereof and.... YOU DON'T WANT IT!!

Anonymous said...

I visit the DR often so my passport is filled with entry and departure stamps from the DR. Twice this has caused me to be pulled aside upon reentry into the U.S. with lots of questions about the purpose of my trip, where I stayed, what I did, etc.......I assume that they may think I am involved in drugs....fortunately I am not.