Posted on Sunday, 08.07.11
U.S. company suspends Cuba tours
By Juan Tamayo
One of the first travel companies to jump into the Cuba trips allowed by
a new Obama administration policy has suspended the tours amid questions
that trouble both opponents and supporters of increased travel to the
The luxury travel firm Abercrombie & Kent advertised its tours for
non-Cuban Americans, which included salsa dancing and rum-laced mojitos,
under the "people to people" travel policy unveiled Jan. 28.
It quickly sold out 13 tours organized in conjunction with the
Foundation for Caribbean Studies, holder of one of the licenses to
organize people to people trips issued by the U.S. Treasury Department's
Office of Foreign Assets Controls (OFAC).
But an OFAC statement on July 25 pointed at problems with A&K's
arrangement with the Foundation, and sparked questions about the
As a result of the OFAC statement, the company "suspended all
Cuba-related travel bookings until it can ensure it is fully compliant
with this new guidance," A&K media relations manager Jean Fawcett wrote
in an email to El Nuevo Herald.
People to people travel started under President Clinton to allow
non-Cuban U.S. residents to engage in "meaningful interaction" with
everyday Cubans in "support of their desire to freely determine their
country's future.'' Cuban Americans travel for family reunifications,
but all tourist visits are illegal.
The Bush administration shut people-to-people travel amid widespread
complaints that Americans were engaging in thinly disguised tourism, and
President Barack Obama reopened it Jan. 28.
Without naming names, OFAC's July statement noted that companies that do
not have a license to organize Cuba trips cannot use another firm's
license. Fawcett confirmed A&K does not have an OFAC license.
OFAC guidelines also indicate that it prefers, but does not require,
that its people-to-people licenses go to entities experienced in such
trips, and ban one enterprise from holding licenses for both people to
people and regular Cuba travel, known as a "travel service provider" or
The Foundation for Caribbean Studies was registered only 11 days after
Obama reopened the people to people travel, according to business
records reviewed by El Nuevo Herald.
Its web site includes no telephone number or location, and its pages on
travel to countries other than Cuba, such as Haiti, appear to be copied
from United Nations web pages.
The records list two addresses, including one in a Newport Beach,
Calif., building used by three companies that offer "virtual office"
services, such as mail drops and telephone answering services.
The other address is listed in real estate records as a residence in
nearby Newport Coast owned by Michael and Lisa Zuccato. Michael Zuccato
is president of Cuba Travel Services, a licensed TSP with offices in
California and South Florida.
The foundation's business records list its president as Margaret Alice
Zuccato. There was not immediate way of determining the relationship
between her and Michael Zuccato.
A CTS employee in Newport Beach told El Nuevo Herald that Michael
Zuccato could not be reached because he was in Havana. Margaret Zuccato
also could not be located for comment on this story.
A Treasury Department spokesperson said she could not say whether OFAC
would allow close relatives to hold both TSP and people-to-people
licenses because the U.S. agency handles each approval on a case-by-case
The foundation's agreement with A&K came under scrutiny last month after
South Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen complained to OFAC
that some of the companies in the people-to-people travel business were
giving the misimpression that tourist travel to Cuba is now allowed.
Cuban Americans in the U.S. Congress generally oppose the
people-to-people travel, arguing that most of the money spent goes to
the Cuban government. Cuba's military controls virtually all tourist hotels.
But the OFAC decision to issue a people-to-people license to the
foundation also frustrated some supporters of increased U.S. travel to Cuba.
They argue that OFAC should have been careful in issuing the first
people-to-people licenses, in order to avert scandals that would provide
easy ammunition to opponents of Cuba travel.
"Clearly it would be wise to err on the side of respected, established
institutions with real experience in organizing foreign educational
travel," said Robert Muse, a Washington lawyer who closely follows U.S.
regulations on travel to Cuba.
"Such an approach would protect the people-to-people program from
criticism and allow it to achieve its potential for better U.S.-Cuba
relations," Muse noted in an email to El Nuevo Herald.
Instead, he added, "it would be extraordinary, if true, that an
organization with no history, and therefore no experience in organizing
foreign educational travel, was granted one of the very first licenses
for people-to-people travel to Cuba."