In a reversal of the Obama administration’s historic effort to normalize US-Cuba relations, on June 16 President Trump announced his new, antagonistic policy—which includes restrictions on the abilities of US citizens to freely visit the island. As Trump’s Treasury Department drafts the new regulations on travel to, and in, Cuba, The Nation asked four leading veterans of the travel-to-Cuba movement to comment on the new restrictions and their impact on the rights of US travelers and Cuban society at large. The participants include:
- Christopher Baker, a photojournalist and leading guide for National Geographic Expeditions, as well as a popular guide for motorcycle and photography tours to Cuba. His books include the Moon Cuba guidebook, Mi Moto Fidel: Motorcycling Through Castro’s Cuba, and Cuba Classics: A Celebration of Vintage American Automobiles.
- Bob Guild, vice president of Marazul Tours, Inc., founded in 1979 and one of the original Cuba travel agencies. He is also a coordinator of the new professional travel association RESPECT—Responsible and Ethical Cuba Travel.
- Collin Laverty, founder and president of Cuba Educational Travel, one of the leading travel providers of cultural and people-to-people tours (including The Nation magazine’s) to the island. With its mission “to connect the people of the United States and Cuba,” CET has also facilitated the travel of Cuban dance troupes, hip-hop artists, students, and entrepreneurs to the United States.
- Sandra Levinson, a founder and executive director of the Center for Cuban Studies in New York. Since 1973, the center has organized hundreds of professional tours to Cuba oriented toward artistic, cultural, and sociopolitical interaction.
Peter Kornbluh: In one way or another, you are all pioneers of, and participants in, the evolution of travel to Cuba over many years. After decades of travel bans, what was most important about this past year, after President Obama’s history-making decisions to authorize direct commercial air flights and cruise ships and allow individual US citizens to visit the island on self-designated “people to people” and educational trips?
CL: Finally, there was a sense of normalcy in traveling to Cuba! Americans finally felt like it was OK, normal, and legal to book a flight and go. That psychological element has had a tremendous impact on how many people actually visit the island. President Obama led by example when he visited Cuba last year with his whole family. He sent a message that we should visit, engage, and make friends as well.
CB: It’s hard to underestimate the impact of Obama’s travel opening. First, the increase in the volume of US citizens in Havana—the prime destination for Americans—was noticeable, including for the first time the arrival of a significant body of African-American travelers and younger independent travelers, including spring-breakers. There’s no doubt this has been a godsend for Cuba’s burgeoning private entrepreneurs, notably owners of private-room rentals, but also artists and, of course, owners of convertible classic cars.