Flouting ban, Americans sneak into
12 September 2007
Despite the United States’ embargo
on Cuba, thousands of US nationals are
traveling to Cuba with many of them
doing so just for the thrill of it.
Reports say that some Americans are
sneaking into Cuba while Fidel Castro
is still alive, fearing that the US
government could lift the travel ban
once he is dead, paving the way for
profound changes in Cuba.
In fact, traveling to Cuba is not
illegal for Americans, but provisions
of the Trading with the Enemy Act
prohibit spending money in Cuba
without authorization. If caught,
unauthorized US tourists can face
civil fines of up to US$55,000, though
many settle for smaller amounts.
Since January 2006, 19 Americans have
paid fines for sneaking into Cuba,
including four people involved in
making Oliver Stone’s documentary
about Castro, titled Comandante.
Fellow filmmaker Michael Moore is now
being investigated for filming
Sicko without permission in Cuba.
In 2004, US President George W Bush
limited educational and religious
travel and reduced trips by Americans
with family to the island to once
every three years.
The US Treasury Department issued
40,308 licenses for family travel in
2006, almost all to Cuban Americans,
and the Cuban government counts these
travelers as Cubans, not as Americans.
Separately, Cuba said 20,100 Americans
visited the country through June 2007,
almost all presumably without US
Other than family members, the US
government granted permission 491
times for people involved in
religious, educational, and
humanitarian projects. Some other
Americans – including journalists and
politicians – can go to Cuba without
licenses, though few do so.
According to Cuban authorities, about
37,000 Americans not of Cuban origin
came to Cuba in 2006 – down from over
84,500 Americans it reported in 2003,
before the latest restrictions.
The American Society of Travel Agents
recently estimated that nearly 1.8
million Americans would visit in the
first three years following an end to
the travel ban.
Some Americans sail to Cuba, but most
fly through Canada, Mexico, the
Bahamas or Jamaica. Cuban tourist
cards can be bought at third-country
airports, and customs officials
usually stamp only these loose-leaf
visas, not the permanent pages of US
However, traveling to Cuba is not that
easy. The internet website Travelocity
recently agreed to pay $182,750 in
fines for booking nearly 1,500 flights
between the United States and Cuba
from 1998 to 2004. The company says it
fixed technical glitches and no longer
lets such trips go through.