The recent hullabaloo concerning the vacation of Beyonce Knowles and Jay-Z in Cuba has disturbed an apparent wasp nest of critics & hardliners in South Florida. Yet, the list of US stars who have visited Cuba in recent years is mind bogglingly long, including such celebrities as; Jack Nicholson, Woody Harrelson, Danny Glover, Stewart Copeland, Benicio del Toro, Bill Murray, Sean Penn, James Caan, Bonnie Raitt, Montell Jordan, Michael Franti, Amy Ray & Emily Saliers (Indigo Girls) and countless other American singers, musicians, actors, sports stars and celebrities have visited Cuba.
So why can all these fellow Americans visit Cuba yet you can’t? It’s probably more your belief you “can’t” than actual rules that prohibit your trip these days. If your trip is associated with academic research of any type, you automatically qualify for what is known as a “general license”. The general license is also known as the “paperless” permit to visit Cuba. It is called this because American visitors to Cuba who are traveling for academic reasons do not need to pursue any specific permit from the United States Treasury Department (OFAC) so long as they document their trip and, it be for a demonstrable academic reason. Obviously, if you are visiting Cuba to add Cuba related content to your blog or you decide to write an unpublished paper outlining your trip, then this falls under “academic” and as such requires no license. In fact, thousands of Americans are visiting Cuba for research purposes, one could easily consider any trip to any nation as research, right?
On the other hand, there are the people-to-people permits, recently brought into the spotlight due to the fact that Beyonce Knowles and Jay-Z visited Cuba under the auspices of such a license. The Cuba People-to-People license must include contact with the Cuban population (pretty difficult not to do that right?) and spending time at cultural venues, listening to Cuban music or wandering around the Old Town of Havana. Probably sounds great to you? What else would you want to do? I mean a few Mojitos and Cuban Rum is not prohibited on these trips, neither are Cuban Cigars as Jay-Z proudly showed us in the press photos during his visit. So, was the Beyonce and Jay-Z´s visit the Obama administrations way of telling us that basically any American can visit the island if they mix into their trip some of the things we all do on vacation anyway? Sightseeing, listening to music and meeting the locals? It could be that the high profile visit of this star couple and the fact that they are personal friends of both Barack and Michelle Obama, may not be mere coincidence. The visit to Cuba of this couple has undoubtedly generated more publicity than all of the previous US celebrities who have visited the island in recent years. After all, does anybody remember when Bill Murray visited the island?
As more Americans are deciding to visit Cuba either through General License qualification or people-to-people trips, it’s becoming obvious that the stigma surrounding such a trip is losing ground. Also, what constitutes academic research is so broad that, presumably, almost anyone can qualify, so long as they make their research known to at least one other person…
Yes, it would appear that “travel to Cuba” and “American” can now be pronounced in the same sentence without much fanfare. The caveat is, these days, no McCarthy hearings or FBI visit will follow your trip.
So, unless your Beyonce or Jay-Z, it’s quite probable that you have little to worry about, providing you adhere to the aforementioned tremendously vague guidelines.