Earlier this month, on June 4, 2019, the Trump Administration announced further restrictions on travel to Cuba, immediately halting cruise ship arrivals and some other forms of travel. Edward Piegza, founder of Classic Journeys, explains the latest rules on the new restrictions.
Why should I care about the new Cuba Travel Restrictions?
Edward Piegza (EP): On Tuesday, June 4, 2019, the Trump administration announced new rules about people-to-people and cruise travel to Cuba. These will affect most Americans traveling to Cuba. If you have plans for such a trip—or have been thinking about making them—you may naturally be confused. Here’s a summary of the changes to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations and the Export Administration Regulations announced by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) (the section at the Department of the Treasury that regulates the trade and travel embargo to Cuba and which issues licenses for travel to Cuba) and the Commerce Department, respectively.
Can I travel legally to Cuba with Classic Journeys on its People-to-People programs?
EP: Yes, indeed. Your travel to Cuba on Classic Journeys’ People-to-People programs is 100 percent legal because our programs fall under OFAC’s ‘grandfather’ clause. OFAC considers the grandfather clause to apply when a People-to-People organization like Classic Journeys had completed a travel-related transaction prior to June 5, 2019, in connection with a particular departure date, even if, prior to June 5, 2019, you as a traveler had not yet reserved your trip. In other words, because we had already reserved our hotel accommodations for our People-to-People trips in Cuba prior to June 5, 2019, your travel to Cuba on our People-to-People programs is grandfathered in as completely legal.
How do the new regulations affect People-to-People travel?
EP: OFAC has allowed U.S. organizations whose people-to-people programs in Cuba fall under a ‘grandfather’ clause, such as those operated by Classic Journeys, to proceed with those programs through the end of 2019.
So, what is a qualifying ‘travel-related transaction’ that allows Classic Journeys’ People-to-People programs to Cuba to be legal under the grandfather clause?
EP: The qualifying “travel-related transaction” that needs to have been completed prior to June 5 could be, for example: having made a reservation for an accommodation (whether or not paid for) or booking and paying for transportation. These are just two examples and are not meant to be exhaustive. In the case of Classic Journeys, our close relationships with local people in Cuba mean that we already had our hotel reservations confirmed prior to June 5.
What People-to-People programs and dates are legal with Classic Journeys under the new regulations?
EP: All three of our People-to-People programs (Long Weekend in Havana, Cuba for Families: Havana and the Viñales Valley, and Havana Cienfuegos & Trinidad) and all of their departure dates for 2019 are 100 percent legal.
Can you still fly to Cuba legally on commercial air flights?
EP: Commercial air flights are not affected by the changes. Note that your airline will ask you at the time of ticketing to select from a listing of the type of license under which you are traveling to Cuba legally. Your first choice option for the license will be a “people-to-people” exchange with the “grandfather clause” a.k.a. referencing the fact that your People-to-People organization—Classic Journeys—has made its arrangements prior to June 5, 2019. If that option is not available, you can select “educational activities” (so long as there is no mention of a degree requirement). If the airline you are considering does not have one of these options right now, they are likely playing catch up with the new regulations; so you can check back with them in a few days or try one of the many other airlines with commercial flights from the U.S. to Cuba.
How do the new regulations affect cruise travel to Cuba?
EP: The changes have immediately ended travel to Cuba by U.S.-flagged cruise ships or foreign-flagged cruise ships departing from U.S. ports. The Commerce Department has not included a “grandfather” clause to allow cruises that have already been scheduled, and for which passengers have already made arrangements. If you have a paid a deposit or final payment for cruise travel to Cuba, you should contact your cruise company for a refund.
What about private aircraft and boats; can they travel legally to Cuba?
EP: No. The authorization for private vessels and private aircraft (such as private fishing boats and private sailboats, and corporate or private jets) is revoked.
How will the changes under President Trump affect the people of Cuba?
EP: We’ve made so many wonderful friends in Cuba and seen the lives of the Cuban people change for the better during recent years. So, of course, we’re concerned about what it will mean to their prosperity and general welfare with the enaction of these new travel regulations. The Cubans have been through so much in the last 60 years. They’ve always managed to bear their hardships with grace and warm solidarity in their families and communities.
One known feature of the new regulations is that they will cap remittances—the money that can be sent to Cubans from friends and family members in the U.S.— at $1,000 per person every three months. In a country where the median monthly salary is just $32, you can only imagine how a reduction in remittance income will impact everyday life. In addition, travel had become a major source of income for Cubans, as well, so any reduction in that resource will echo throughout the country in a way for the people who can least afford it and whom we and our government want to help.
We choose guarded optimism.
We are approaching Cuba as we always have—with care, enthusiasm, and with pride in the fact that legal travel for Americans to Cuba has changed the lives of our American guests and the everyday local Cubans they’ve met, in overwhelmingly positive ways. You can still travel to Cuba legally with Classic Journeys. We like to think of this way of travel as an informal version of ‘Voice of America’ with boots on the ground… yours in fact, as you communicate a positive story of the American people to local Cuban people. We urge you to hold fast to your plans. And if you’ve been hesitating to plan a Cuba trip, you know now that you can, and we encourage you to do so.