American tour companies poised to offer Cuba trips this summer
American companies this summer should legally be able to offer
"people-to-people" cultural tours to Cuba to anyone.
By Ellen Creager
Detroit Free Press
The door to Cuba has been slammed shut so long, it's hard to recognize
But it is.
American tour companies this summer should be able to legally offer
"people-to-people" cultural trips to Cuba to anyone.
Due to a slight easing in U.S. travel restrictions that have been in
place for 48 years, these trips will showcase culture and interactions
with Cuban artists and citizens.
"They still don't want people going for an inclusive resort beach
vacation — that goes against the spirit of the regulations because it's
propping up the regime and doesn't benefit regular people," says Tom
Popper, CEO of the tour company Insight Cuba. "But Cuba has so much more
to offer than the beaches."
Insight Cuba and other vendors are awaiting licenses so they can start
offering trips. Insight Cuba (www.insightcuba.com) has planned 115 trips
of three, seven or eight nights to run by April 2012, but it can't offer
a thing until the license comes through.
Departures are from Miami, on charter aircraft. Havana is only 30
minutes by air.
The embargo against Cuba has been in force since 1963. Until 1977,
virtually no American could visit. That was later softened so people
with family there, religious groups or academic researchers could visit.
Even people to people cultural trips were allowed briefly from 2000-03
under a Clinton administration program.
"We had a license, and we operated these absolutely legal, incredibly
rich programs," Popper says. But then the Bush administration shut them
down for the next seven years. Insight Cuba shut down, too.
Now, the people-to-people exemption is reopening.
Of course, Americans have been sneaking into Cuba for years through
third countries. But if you're caught, you can be fined.
"It's estimated that 200,000 Americans travel to Cuba illegally every
year through Mexico or Canada," says Popper. "But most travelers don't
want to take that kind of risk. So this is an incredible opportunity to
go to Cuba. We don't know how long it will be open."