Do you want to travel to Cuba but believe you are not allowed by the U.S. government? Well, do not despair!
The official position of the United States government is that you CAN travel to the island but you cannot spend any money while you are there.
“Any person subject to U.S. jurisdiction determined to have traveled to Cuba without an OFAC general or specific license is presumed to have engaged in prohibited travel-related transactions. In order to overcome this presumption, any traveler who claims to have been fully hosted or fully sponsored or not to have engaged in any travel-related transactions may be asked by Federal enforcement agencies to provide a signed explanatory statement, accompanied by any relevant supporting documentation. Fully hosted travelers are also prohibited from providing any services to Cuba or to Cuban nationals.”
The U.S. Treasury’s Office of ForeignAssets Control presumes that you are guilty of spending money in Cuba, if you go. Thus,
“This presumption may be rebutted by a statement signed by the traveler providing specific supporting documentation that no transactions were engaged in by the traveler or on the traveler’s behalf by any other person….The statement shall also provide a day-to-day account of financial transactions entered into on behalf of the traveler by the host or sponsor, including but not limited to visa fees, room and board, local or international transportation costs and Cuban airport departure taxes. In the case of pleasure craft calling on Cuban marinas, the statement shall also address related refueling costs, mooring fees, club membership fees, provisions, cruising permits, local land transportation, and departure fees…Travelers… shall also provide appropriate supporting documentation demonstrating that they were fully hosted or fully sponsored, such as an original signed statement from their sponsor or host, specific to that traveler, confirming that the travel was fully hosted or fully sponsored and the reasons for the travel.” (Federal Register, May 18, 1998)
Now, you might conclude, well, if I cannot take any money then I cannot travel to Cuba. No quite.
The United States government allows U.S. residents to send money to Cuba. Yes, you can send up to $100 US dollars per month. In fact, you can send as much as $1200 per year.
U.S. persons aged 18 or older may send to the household of any individual in Cuba or to a Cuban national in a third country “individual-to-household” cash remittances of up to $300 per household in any consecutive three-month period, provided that no member of the household is a senior-level Cuban government or senior-level Cuban communist party official. (See: <http://www.ustreas.gov/ page 4)
You see, US law says that your money, up to $1200 annually, can travel to the island but you cannot accompany it. Your money has to travel unaccompanied – by itself – through a lonely financial wire. You can go to the island as well but without the security of money in your pocket. Of course, very few people dare to arrive to another country with not a single cent on them.
What could you do then?
First, you need to separate yourself from your money. You could donate up to $1200 per year to a Cuban family in the island. Getting in touch with a Cuban family should not be difficult. Then you could arrange to send the family $1200. Western Union is set up to do it, although they are somewhat expensive. If you find a family and you decide to send the money, then you might need to coordinate with the Cuban family so that they agree to send you a letter inviting you to Cuba. They could send a copy of the invitation to the US Interests Section in Havana. Once you work out the dates. Then your are almost there. It would be useful to send a copy of the letter of invitation, stating that you will be the “host of a Cuban family” to the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the Treasury Department.
Second, since you are going to be “fully hosted” by a Cuban family you cannot fly to Cuba directly from the US.. Why not? Because rightwing Cuban exiles came up with that idea, and the US Treasury enforces it. However, you can fly to Miami and from there to the Bahamas and then to Cuba. There are other routes and the Internet can provide alternative routes.
Once in Cuba the Cuban family should pick you up at the airport and you could stay, say, for a week in the island. You could stay in the Cuban family’s home or a modest hotel. You will have room, board, transportation, a new family and you will see Cuba. Of course, the Cuban family will have to pay for everything using the very dollars that you sent them. before. U.S. law does not say how the Cubans should spend the dollars that they received from abroad. Nopt yet, anyway.
You might even see your dollars but do not even touch them – that would be illegal. Nor can the Cubans give you some dollars as a gift because if you accept them, you will be violating US law. So let the Cubans handle all the dow (they are called “fulas” in Cuba).
Third, you should remember that the US government assumes that you will try to sneak some money in your way to Cuba. In other words, the US Treasury assumes that you are guilty of spending dollars; so you have to prove your innocence. So it would be useful for you to get a notary public before you depart from Cuba so that you will have proof that you had absolutely not a single penny when you went to the island. The Western Union wire that you sent to the Cuban family would be useful to prove that the Cubans that got the money from you had the means to support you. And they also had the incentive to have you over in Cuba, all expenses paid. After all, they expect you to send them more money the following year.
So, as you can see. You can respect the spirit and the letter of US law. Moreover, you will feel that you have received a benefit from your contribution to a needy Cuban family. You don’t want them to think that they can get free lunches from Americans who simply send them money and don’t get anything in return. Yes, going to Cuba in such a manner could teach those Cubans the value of the US dollar which is the first step in welcoming you, and later, democracy to the island.
Nelson Valdes is a professor of sociology specializing in Latin America at the University of New Mexico. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org