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You Can't Go to Cuba Again ... Again

“The right to depart from and re-enter one’s country should be viewed

as an intrinsic part of what it means to be a citizen of our democratic republic.”

~ Jeffrey Kahn in the UCLA Law Review

“Oh nooo, I can’t go to Cuba, again ?”

Photo: Dan Hubig © 2019

The old expression of “the more things change, the more they stay the same” comes to mind when looking at the new Trump administration pronouncement rolling back Obama’s recent rapprochement with Cuba. This June, Steve Mnuchin roused his Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) out of its torpor to issue a terse Federal blurb:

“This administration has made a strategic decision to reverse the loosening

of sanctions and other restrictions on the Cuban regime. These actions

will keep U.S. dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence,

and security services.”

For further information on this exciting topic, see the Federal Register.

Or, it can be an exciting topic if you actually want to travel to Cuba, or trade with Cuba, or own a steamship line, or you want to sue the Cuban government, or any number of other itches that have to do with our old pain-in-the-ass neighbor, so near, yet so far, Republica de Cuba.

Now to Edith and Archie, going to Cuba might look like a regulatory nightmare full of government scrutiny to be avoided when seeking that Caribbean vacation paradise that they’d saved for. Wisely, they’ll probably opt for the Dominican Republic, Mexico, the Bahamas etc. to get their dose of blue water, white sand, and a pink umbrella on their mojito. A ’55 Chevy? Forget it, Archie would rather go to the classic car show at the coliseum.

Photo: Dan Hubig  © 2019

Admittedly, as of June 4, 2019, Carnival Cruises is going to have to find some docks other than Havana’s to crash into, and there’s going to be some extra boxes to check if you decide to fly Southwest or United into Fidel’s Cloud Cuckoo Land. But friends, let me tell you, going to Cuba is still easy as pie. The official government warnings and sanctions look ominous and threatening, but in reality, they’re more like a house with a "bad dog" sign enforced with a snarling Pekinese (John “Santamouth” Bolton notwithstanding.).

OFAC is the blunt instrument in charge of enforcement of the United States’ foreign economic policies. They are the ones whom ICE sends the reports to when a U.S. citizen violates U.S. travel sanctions. Do you know how many citizens have actually ever been tried and found guilty of flaunting the Federal government’s rules for going to Cuba without license? Virtually none, that’s how many. Careful! A stern threatening letter of reproach may appear in your mailbox.

Perhaps I’m a little harsh in implying that OFAC is a do-nothing agency; after all, they do have their hands full blocking Muslims and tracing weird Russian money that seems to be always trying to leak into the USA. But I can assure you, the last thing OFAC wants is an actual court trial that challenges their restrictions for a U.S. citizen to travel to a foreign country. It would be expensive and time consuming, and there could be horrible consequences if a court case against Federal travel rules were lost. What? A U.S. citizen may travel unrestricted to countries who are mad at Uncle Sam? Can’t have that.

So you, potential traveler to Cuba, what to do? I know you want to see where Hemingway blustered about, where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls in the Ambos Mundos Hotel. You want to buy some Upmann’s cigars and ride around town in a lemon-shaped rickshaw watching the poor people smile for the Yuma cameras, listen to some Guantanamera (aka Cuanta Ramera?) sung by an ebony man with a gold tooth.

Photo: Dan Hubig © 2019

Okay, here’s what you do.

Rather than get aboard one of America’s floating geriatric ghettos, which, sadly, again cannot dock in Cuba, you need to simply book your visit through what are now called "gateway" cities. Try Toronto or Mexico City. Do the “broken voyage” thing: have a couple of days in one of those places then bounce on down to Havana. When you go through the customs line, they won’t even stamp your passport, so Uncle Sam’s not the wiser when you return. More importantly, he doesn’t really care.

Photo: Dan Hubig © 2019

The other alternative that Washington D.C. doesn’t really care about is … just go on a "general license" and lie about it. (Who’s gonna check?) So many things these days in our Executive Branch are run on lies, what’s one more from an upstanding citizen like yourself? "General license", you know — you’re on a people-to-people mission, you work for a relief organization, you’re a “citizen journalist “ (who isn’t?), you’re bringing tee shirts, band aids, ibuprofen, and Tums to the disenfranchised. You’re a hero! Let Uncle Sausage know what a good ambassador of dissent you really are. When they see our iPhones, they will revolt!

On a more general note, one can only wonder at the fixated sappiness of John Bolton’s angry Pekinese behavior toward the Republic of Cuba. Arf ,arf ! Cuba has been suffering under the whip of the United States’ irrational policies for almost seventy years. Does he or Donald Trump really think that keeping our battalions of aging hordes out of Habana Vieja with their walkers and dollars is going to change the minds of the Comités de Defensa de la Revolución in Vedado and Miramar?

What other country gives you a birthday cake every year and free beer on Sundays?

Socialismo o muerte!


Bob Simmons © 2019

Bob Simmons is a (re)tired broadcaster, concert promoter, photographer, voice actor, artiste manqué, who believes facts have a liberal bias. He is presently working on a film called The Poster Boys. He lives in Austin and has no pets or plants. His motto is, “Pray for a secular future.”


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