Fining people for going to Cuba

I’ve been to Cuba as part of a humanitarian/religious group, last summer. We were hosted, but we reimbursed them for everything; quite frankly, you are NOT going to be able to be supported, especially not in any style remotely near to that which you are likely accustomed, not out of their pockets.

Here’s a note on the Cuban economy for you: there are essentially three currencies in use. First, there are Pesos, the official, older currency. Pesos are worthless. 20 Pesos (this was when I was there) came to one dollar. Second, there are American dollars. Don’t be fooled by what the laws say; American dollars are the most important currency in Cuba. There are Cuban dollars as well, but these are really just fake American dollars. The only reason that they are worth anything is because they are held up by the dollar economy.

Finally, the worst part: There are certain “Dollar Stores” where you can only buy items using American dollars. Here you can buy appliances, food that isn’t sufficiently provided in your rations (which are simply ridiculous), and lots of other little baubles, plastic stuff, what have you… sneakers, that kind of thing. Many important items are ONLY on sale here - cooking oil and other foods. Buying food here is a necessity unless you are very good at rationing things out. Here’s the catch, though: items on sale for dollars cost the same amount in Cuba that they would in the US. Not so bad, until you realize that the average Cuban makes the equivalent of somewhere between ten and thirty American dollars in a MONTH.

The short story is, Dollar Stores are absolutely essential, but hideously expensive.

Freedom of movement is unquestionably considered a civil right under international human rights law and the US Constitution. The Supreme Court held in Kent v. Dulles 357 U.S. 116 (1958)

See also Regan v. Wald, 468 U.S. 222 (1984); Zemel v. Rusk, 381 U.S. 1 (1965); Aptheker v. Secretary of State, 378 U.S. 500 (1964).

I traveled to Cuba via Mexico in 1998 and 2000. Both times my passports was stamped on entry and exit with a small stamp that does not say Cuba. I suspect the Cuban government no longer refrains from stamping American passports. Every time I have encountered someone who claimed their passport was not stamped, an examination turned up the same inconspicuous stamps.

Both times I clearly indicated on my US Customs form that I had visited Cuba and was never questioned. The law is almost never enforced. Under the Clinton administration, there was a large increase in the number of Treasury Department licenses granted for educational purposes and whatnot. The Bush administration has threatened to reverse this policy.

If music is what you want, you’re best off staying in Habana. I was disappointed on my second trip to find very little music outside of Habana. Even during the well-known Santiago Carnaval, nearly all the music in the streets was recorded.

Poverty can be depressing, but Cuba is by far the least depressing developing country I have visited. The Cuban are open, sincere, friendly and have an amazing spirit and sense of solidarity. You can find better beaches at a cheaper price in other parts of the Caribbean as well as more music. I didn’t understand why the regular tourists I saw (mostly Europeans) decided to visit. The only reason for me to go was the Cuban people.

Sad thing is, the best way to have ended the regime in Cuba would have been to allow tourism. Levi’s helped kill the USSR, and would have done the same in Cuba if the US goverment had ever gotten their head out of their asses.