Cuba - A New Day
by John Bascombe on Wednesday, December 24, 2014
It has recently been announced that one of the longest and most bitter embargoes imposed on a country is about to lifted by the United States from Cuba. After 54 years, this embargo instead of forcing the departure of the Castro dictatorship had reinforced it. The Cuban government deftly managed to blame the economic woes and suffering of Cuba on the embargo imposed by its northern neighbor. Now, thanks to various parties including Pope Frances, Cuba and the United States have begun to thaw their icy relationship in the hopes of starting a new era of cooperation and understanding. American tourist will be one of the first groups of people to benefit from this monumental moment in American history.
Since the American embargo was created, it hasn't been illegal (technically) to travel to Cuba but there was a catch: American citizens were not allowed to spend any money while there—including airfare or airport taxes which eliminated flying as a travel possibility. Imagine travelling to another country but not being able to spend any money—you're ATM card is useless here. Well, as you can see this eliminated any practical possibility of travel to this country only 90 miles from the Florida shore. Up to now, there have been trips that were exempted from this travel ban such as cultural or educational exchanges as well as the newer "people to people" trips organized by authorized travel agencies. But traveling to Cuba legally has been more trouble than it is worth for most people since the time necessary to receive a visa from Cuban authorities could take anywhere from six months to a year.
Exceptionally, Americans, under risk of prosecution and jail, have made the trip to the island by way of a third country like Canada, Mexico or Spain. To aid Americans in facilitating their trip, the Cuban authorities never stamped pass ports and visas were always affixed to a form and not to the passport. Unlike people visiting the country with official recognition, clandestine tourist could enjoy recreational activities like going to the beach, scuba diving or enjoying a solitary hike in the mountains. Their fellow travelers visiting on an official visit were required to adhere to a tightly controlled schedule of activities and meetings required to comply with the State Departments requirements on travel to Cuba.
Today, with the revision to travel guidelines still to be made clear, the US government has said that while it will not eliminate travel restrictions completely, it has implied that they will be broadly reworded so that just about any trip may be considered for official recognition. Short term and long term study abroad opportunities will surely be considered an educational activity that will be permitted under this new program. Best of all, visitors will now be permitted to return to the States with souvenirs and prized Cuban cigars. Up to now, legal American visitors to Cuba are only allowed to bring back cultural material like art, books, films and CDs.
Undoubtedly, this change in policy is good for Cuba, America and the rest of the world. Considering what has happened in other countries, Cuba and its people will benefit greatly from necessary foreign investment and the freedoms that come from opening up to the world without restrictions. What we should all be concerned about though, is how this influx of money will change the landscape of the largest and one of the most underdeveloped of the Caribbean islands.
A country frozen in time will suddenly be launched into the 21st century at warp speed and the awkward charm that so clearly identifies this country is in danger of disappearing forever. It is up to the United States and Cuba to make a transition that will benefit the people of Cuba as quickly as possible while preserving its heritage that has been earned with the sweat, ingenuity and sacrifice of the people that have lived through these oppressive times.
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