On March 21, Barack Obama will be the first president since Calvin Coolidge to visit Cuba. Hopefully Obama’s visit will be more successful than Calvin Coolidge’s. Quick history recap- in 1928 Coolidge visited Cuba in an effort to lower growing US sugar tariffs that were hurting the Cuban economy. Years later this plan turned into a failure, and taxes on imported sugars increased, which hurt the Cuban economy and fueled distrust of the United States. But this is only a small piece of a puzzle that has placed the relationship between these two countries on the rocks for the past 150 years, and has perhaps been above all things, puzzling.
Today, citizens of Cuba face challenges and quality-of-life issues that would surprise many in America. They are denied their freedom of speech as well as the right to assembly, and it is incredibly difficult to make a proper living. With these challenges one might expect to receive bitterness and sadness from local residents, but that has not been my experience. On my first trip to Cuba, I was impressed with the integrity and beautiful spirit of everyone I met. Cubans are very proud people and cherish their rich culture and way of life, even with its economic and civil rights limitations.
Obama plans on visiting Cuba March 23rd and 24th to highlight the progress of liberty, expression and possibilities of ordinary Cubans. It is said that he is the most popular politician on the island, even more popular than President Raul Castro, whom he will meet during this visit (they first met during a summit in Panama last year).
The United States recently restored diplomatic relations by lifting the ban on travel and allowing more commerce. The US government has also made changes in policies to allow for more travel between the two countries by restoring 110 direct flights slots between the two countries each day! Consequently, the number of Americans traveling to Cuba has increased by 54%, and the number is still climbing.
The travel ban lift does not yet allow for US citizens to travel to Cuba for tourist purposes. So unfortunately, you can’t legally spend your vacation in Cuba doing nothing but sipping mojitos. Visits to Cuba are legal, provided travel falls under any of the following twelve categories.
· Family visits
· Official business of the U.S. Government
· Professional research and meetings
· Religious activities
· Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions and exhibitions
· Support for Cuban people
· Humanitarian projects
· Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutions,
· Exportation, importation of transmission of information or information materials
· Certain authorized export transaction
Zoom Vacations offers a legal person-to-person cultural exchange tour to Cuba, that falls within these 12 categories. Join us in Cuba this New Years!