Over the years I’ve written many times about travelling to Cuba.
I have recommended what kind of currency to take. I have talked about not using credit cards or other financial instruments cleared through banks in the United States. I have, for the same reason, told people to make sure the supplementary health coverage they buy is not from an American based company.
Now just about every piece of advice I have written about Cuba over the past decade is on the verge of being undone.
The vast impact the changes that have come into effect through the recent Cuban initiatives undertaken by the Obama administration in the United States cannot be overstated.
Given the speeches by many of the Republican politicians running to become nominee for the upcoming election, these could all be reversed if any one of them were to become president. But like the proverbial genie in the bottle, some of these changes will be difficult to stuff back in the storage closet of 50 year old policies.
For years I have warned travelers to make sure they had no credit cards, travelers cheques, or other forms of financial exchange if they, in any way, were cleared through a United States financial institution. These may all soon be totally acceptable.
Part of the Obama initiative has been to allow locations in that country to begin the facilitation of programs that would accommodate processing payments and receivables through US banks going forward.
This will be a major boon to the Cuban economy since they will then be able to do business with foreign countries who were reluctant to deal with transactions in Cuban currency. The US greenback is till the exchange of choice around the world, and Cuba can soon become a part of that worldwide club.
Mexican and Caribbean winter cruises are extremely popular. But until now none of the cruise lines included Cuba in their itineraries because of the US policy that restricted the ships who did from US entry because of security restrictions.
It seems this too is about to change.
Not only will US cruise ships be able to dock in Cuba’s biggest port in Havana, but a regular ferry service from the mainland to the island may be approved in the very near future.
This will have a dramatic effect on United States citizen visits to Cuba. And while the restrictions on ordinary citizens, as opposed to those going on official or cultural visits, still stands, the manner in which the Obama administration opened the doors to travel has made the ban effectively unenforceable.
It is now an honour system in which any United States citizen can go in for the presumed cultural or educational experience, which is vague unto itself, and keep a record of their activities for 5 years. However, they would not have to submit them to government authorities unless specifically requested.
It has been generally acknowledged that any serious management of these so-called restrictions would be a virtual impossibility.
In the past, not only were Americans generally restricted from travel to Cuba, those that did wish to go there had to apply in advance for permission. From this point on they are free to travel to Cuba as they like, noting the above mentioned ‘requirements’.
Many Canadians, who have favoured Cuba for the past half century have expressed fears that the island will be overrun with Americans, changing the relative sanctity of the island, as well as the attractive vacation pricing the island has offered, compared to many other sun destination.
While the prices are certain to rise with increased demand, the current tourist plant is not capable of handling greater volumes of visitors at the present time.
There will be a long build up period before that is likely to change, but already both the Starwood and Marriott chains are waiting for the final go ahead to establish their brands in that future potentially booming destination for them.
There are a number of other changes that will have little effect from a Canadian perspective, but will be significant for the Cuban economy.
Ordinary mail service, which we take for granted, has not been available for Americans wanting to communicate with contacts in Cuba, family or business.
A trial run of regular mail service is taking place now, which may lead to a complete reversal of policy here as well.
Another major reversal allows Cuban citizens who work in the US, or selling future services to them, will be able to be paid in US dollars.
They will be able to open US bank accounts and exercise personal and business commerce through these accounts.
Finally the great pastime for both Americans and Cubans is the sport of baseball. Until now for any Cuban player who wanted to play professional ball in the United States, they had to abandon their home country completely.
While many believe that most Cuban citizens may be anxious want to abandon the relative poverty of their country for the perceived wealth of the United States, family and other ties are often much stronger.
The administration is currently working on a plan that would allow the best players in Cuba to join American ball clubs, while still keeping their citizenship.
As many of these new policies become entrenched over the coming months, they may not be easy to repeal. But depending on who is elected to the United States presidency this year, could have a dramatic impact on whether these kinds of policies find expansion or retraction.
Some of these changes I have designated in this article may take time to be fully implemented, so Canadians should check themselves for updates before travelling to Cuba.
In this week’s podcast show I starting at 7:30 Am Tuesday morning April 5, I will highlight as many of these as I can.