Legal travel to Cuba still possible, just more difficult

Local News

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Teo Leonard of Apollo Beach traveled to Cuba 30 years ago. His wife has never been. He was looking forward to taking her on a cruise to the communist country.

“I’m a boat guy, I’m a rum guy, I’m a cigar guy and it just made sense for my wife and I to go to Cuba and take a little break and check out the culture and the history,” said Leonard.

This week, the U.S. Department of State halted all cruises to Cuba. The State Department says this is a response to Cuban interference in Venezuela and the continued oppression of the Cuban people by their own regime.

Leonard and his wife just wanted to go and check things out.

“We had the plans, we were supposed to leave July 13,” Leonard said. “After we had​​​​​​​ already paid we found out we aren’t going to Cuba anymore, we are now going to Mexico and Nassau.” 

Now his cruise line is offering a refund and Leonard is canceling the trip and taking his money back.

“They’ve offered either a 50 percent onboard credit for the stateroom fee or we could get a refund and we opted to get a refund,” he said. “We live in paradise, this is absolutely beautiful here. It doesn’t make sense to be on a ship and pay all that money for cocktails and go to Nassau.”

AAA Auto Club South says so far they are not seeing any drop in prices, or large incentives being offered by cruise lines to fill vacant cabins.

There are still legal methods to travel to Cuba, despite the cancellation of the cruises.

Frank Reno has been taking tour groups to Cuba from Tampa for years and says his license from the U.S. Government will still allow him to do that.

This week, the State Department eliminated the “People to People” exemption that thousands of Americans began using to travel to Cuba after President Obama eased travel restrictions. But, Americans can still legally go to Cuba under 11 other categories.

Those categories include:

  • Family visits
  • Official business for the US government
  • Foreign government and certain intergovernmental organizations,
  • Journalism
  • Professional research
  • Religious activities
  • Public performances
  • Support for the Cuban people
  • Humanitarian projects
  • Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes,
  • Exportation, importation or transmission of information or informational materials certain export transactions educational activities

However, Frank Reno says Americans must be able to document what they did during their trip and prove it applied to one of the 11 allowed categories when they return to the United States.

“The one impression I have is that the enforcement is going to be a lot stiffer, everything is going to be a lot more scrutinized,” Reno said. “It must be a full-time schedule, no recreational activities during the day and assuming you return to the U.S., you better have good records of what you did while you were there.”

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