Sunday, January 11, 2009

U.S. citizens may travel to Cuba

On January 6 I blogged about archives at the Hemingway Museum at Finca Vigia in Havana becoming available digitally to researchers. I speculated that "Papa" and Jack Kerouac may have conversed by letter, and I said I'd look into the process for accessing the archives.

I wasn't able to find the information online, but I did find the museum's website; however, it was entirely in Spanish, which I do not read or speak. Undaunted, I sent an e-mail in English. Ada Rosa Alfonso, director of the museum, wrote me back promptly and said that the archives are only available at Finca Vigia, meaning that one would have to travel to Havana and access the materials in person. Also, a researcher would need to request permission in advance, with the request including an official letter from the researcher's institution and including the research proposal, goals, etc.

The second part - institutional sponsorship and a research proposal - would not be too difficult to orchestrate for many researchers. The first part - travel to Cuba - is a topic fraught with myth.

I have long been functioning under the impression that a U.S. citizen may not travel to Cuba. After doing some research at the U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control, I have discovered that, indeed, there are a number of situations in which a U.S. citizen may travel to Cuba. They are as follows (quoting directly from an OFAC document):

The following travelers are authorized, under OFAC general license, to engage in travel transactions while in Cuba:
• Journalists and supporting broadcasting or technical personnel (regularly employed in that capacity by a news reporting organization and traveling for journalistic activities).
• Official government travelers (traveling on official business).
• Members of international organizations of which the United States is also a member (traveling on official business).
• Full-time professionals whose travel transactions are directly related to professional research in their professional areas, provided that their research 1) is of a noncommercial, academic nature; 2) comprises a full work schedule in Cuba; and 3) has a substantial likelihood of public dissemination.
• Full-time professionals whose travel transactions are directly related to attendance at professional meetings or conferences in Cuba organized by an international professional organization, institution, or association that regularly sponsors such meetings or conferences in other countries. The organization, institution, or association sponsoring the meeting or conference may not be headquartered in the United States unless it has been specifically licensed to sponsor the meeting. The purpose of the meeting or conference cannot be the promotion of tourism in Cuba or other commercial activities involving Cuba, or to foster production of any bio-technological products.
• Travelers who have received specific licenses from OFAC prior to going. Specific licenses are described below.

The document then lists the following specific licenses:

• To visit immediate family members in Cuba
• For educational institutions
• For religious organizations
• Other specific licenses (humanitarian projects, freelance journalism, professional research and meetings, religious activities, public performances, athletic or other competitions, etc.)

In a nutshell, there are any number of avenues for a U.S. citizen to travel to Cuba, although traveling there for "vacation" is not one of them.

I'd love to go, but the cost and logistics currently outweigh my desire. Maybe that will change at some point.

In the meantime, now we all know that travel to Cuba by a U.S. citizen is quite possible. And we all know about yet another wonderful government agency - the U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control - that's improving our lives through regulation.


John McAuliff said...

For more information about the Hemingway archives, go to the US partner

The research license is a general license, meaning that no application is necessary. You just have to be able after the fact to justify your purpose if you buy your ticket to Cuba in a third country. If you buy it in the US from a Travel Service Provider, they will require an evidence that you qualify.

The reality is that some 120,000 Americans go every year without a license. Very few are caught. Those who are caught are subject to a fine, but if they ask for a hearing, the process grinds to a halt.

Once Barack Obama becomes President, regulations and enforcement are likely to change.

He could immediately authorize general licenses for twelve categories of non-tourist travel, including family, education, humanitarian, religious, cultural, sports and "support for the Cuban people"--and do away with the Travel Service Provider obstacle.

Help us convince him to do that at

John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development

Rick Dale, author of The Beat Handbook said...


Thanks for the extra information/clarification.


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