It seems like a day doesn’t go by without news of changes in Cuban-American relations. After significant thawing of the relationship between the two countries, the airlines are fighting over the right to operate dozens of daily flights between the US and Cuba. Hotel chains like Marriott and Starwood are scrambling to start relationships with hoteliers in Cuba and cellular providers like Verizon are signing roaming agreements so American customers can use their cell phones in Cuba.
Just a few days before President Obama is scheduled to visit Cuba, the US government has again relaxed restrictions to make it easier on people traveling back and forth between the two countries:
The Obama administration announced Tuesday that it would allow individuals to travel to Cuba for “people to people” educational trips and lift limits on the use of American dollars in transactions with Cuba, wiping away stiff restrictions on travel and commerce as President Obama prepares to make a trip to Havana next week.
What does that functionally mean? Well, the embargo will actually stay in place (since Congress refuses to lift it). But, the Executive branch is effectively saying they won’t enforce the embargo even if American individuals aren’t traveling for one of the stated “allowable” purposes.
The freeing up of currency is also interesting:
As part of the action on Tuesday, the Treasury Department, which enforces the embargo through its Office of Foreign Assets Control, said it would allow so-called U-turn transactions, in which money from Cuba or a Cuban citizen can be cleared through a United States bank and transferred back in dollars. They would also allow American banks to process dollar-denominated transactions from Cuba, and to open accounts for Cubans that they could use to receive payment in the United States and send money back to Cuba.
But United States banks may still worry about being penalized, now or in the future, for touching such transactions, said Carlos M. Gutierrez, the Havana-born secretary of commerce under President George W. Bush, who is a convert to Mr. Obama’s policy change and will make the trip next week.
It remains to be seen what will actually happen with currency transactions of this nature. While I’m sure the lack of clarity will cause many to remain on the sidelines, I imagine there will be folks who take advantage of the changes.
Should You Go To Cuba?
As the lines between “legal” and “illegal” continue to blur on individual travel to Cuba, I definitely ponder if now is the right time to go. I’d like to experience Cuba before there are a bunch of McDonald’s and Holiday Inns dotting the landscape. And yet, questions abound, like “will my cell phone work”?
I’m cautious at this point because the embargo hasn’t officially been lifted. A change in the political party occupying the White House could significantly roll back some of these measures. I think I’ll hang out on the sidelines a little bit longer.
I am curious, however. Have conditions changed enough to encourage you to book a trip to Cuba?
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