Cuba Travel Guide
The Onion couldn't have known how expertly it'd predict the future when it released this video about a storm heading for Texas that instead slammed into "this big landmass to the south of us."
Of course, Ike has already crushed Cuba, another country that most Americans don't know much about. At least four people died there as a result of the storm, even as the government ordered massive evacuations. (Amazingly, no one died when Gustav steamrolled the island.)
The storm is now headed for the Gulf Coast, and two Texas-based airlines are watching it closely. Southwest is still operating its full, normal schedule; American Airlines is doing the same, though it's waiving ticket change fees on certain routes.
· Ike Kills Four in Cuba, Takes Aim at US, Mexico [AP, via Google]
· Hurricane Ike [NHC]
· Southwest's Ike Updates [Official Site]
· American's Ike Updates [Official Site]
· Hurricanes coverage [Jaunted]
While the rest of the world enjoys famous golf courses and lovely beaches, most Americans are stuck dreaming of the day they'll be able to visit Cuba legally. We met a couple a few weeks back that made their illegal trip to Havana via a stop in the Bahamas, but Windsor, Ontario hopes to become the gateway to the forbidden island.
Starting December 18, Sunwing Airlines, which is like the Allegiant Air of Canada, will offer flights to Varadero, Cuba from Windsor Airport, about a 20-minute drive from downtown Detroit. And the airport manager is rolling out the welcome mat for Cuba-bound Americans:
On average, about 50 percent or more of passengers flying to Cuba from Canada are from the US. Given our unique geographic position near Metro Detroit, we're expecting at least that.
Another option will soon be Sunwing service out of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, just north of Michigan's UP. Of course, these new flights just add to Sunwing's existing Cuba route network, though they do make it even easier for Americans to skirt Treasury Department rules.
So Americans may be playing less golf, but that doesn't mean it's not a big, ahem, driver of tourism. And now that Fidel's on the way out--and Raul's in charge--at least a dozen golf-and-resort projects are underway around Cuba.
Seems the reason golf never caught on was Castro's taste in sports, though he did once play a game with Che Guevara, above:
Mr. Castro built a state-sponsored sports machine that produced world-famous boxers and baseball players, killer volleyball spikers and fleet-footed runners. But Mr. Castro was never keen on golfers, whose sport reeked of money and Yankee imperialism.
Today, there's only one nine-hole course in the capital, simply called the Havana Golf Club. Thanks to a pricey greens fee of 20 Cuban convertible pesos ($18) it draws more tourists than locals, and soccer great Diego Maradona has been spotted on the links. Also worth a trip is Varadero beach, where one 18-hole course is already open, and another resort is in the works.
[Photo: Alberto Korda]
Fidel Castro announced overnight that he'd be stepping down as president of Cuba. After taking power in 1959, he's been the only leader the island has known and a continuous scourge to American presidents from Kennedy to Bush 2. Fidel's 76-year-old brother Raul will almost certainly take over the presidency.
That said, don't start planning your Cuban beach getaway just yet. (If you're American, that is.) President Bush, on a trip to Rwanda, isn't even pretending to be excited by this move:
Eventually, this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections--and I mean free, and I mean fair--not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers try to foist off as true democracy.
We'll put away the sunscreen for now. Even American presidential contender Barack Obama, who's said he wants to change policy toward the island, won't go so far as to end the embargo. Fidel's resignation, then, has us wondering what comes not next week but in the next few years.
Will a cascade of power swaps destabilize Cuba, making it unappealing to even European tourists? Or will the nation finally welcome US tourists, who'll be gagging to make the short hop south from Miami to enjoy the once-forbidden island? And maybe more importantly than can we go, when will we be able to visit legally?
· Fidel Castro Resigns as Cuba's President [AP, via Miami Herald]
· Is the Embargo Hurting the United States, Too? [Jaunted]
· Travel Ban Not Stopping Cuba Tourists [Jaunted]
· Can US Citizens Travel to Cuba? [Jaunted]
[Photo: jim snapper]
Strangely enough, some of the presidential candidates have taken up the issue of reopening trade and travel with Cuba. These candidates--Barack Obama and Ron Paul among them--may have an unlikely ally in Jude Law, who spent Christmas in Cuba with ex-wife Sadie Frost and his kids, taking salsa lessons.
We read that Law was actually influenced in his decision by one of our favorite "guilty pleasure" movies, "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights." By that logic, now that we've seen "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" we should be buying our tickets to South Dakota any day now.
Customs and Border Protection officers in Florida spend so much time searching passengers coming back from Cuba they may be missing actual threats to the country, says the Government Accountability Office. A report from the agency today says one in five passengers arriving in the States from Cuba are given intensive inspections, despite the fact that most of them have visited the island legally. (On average, customs officers put just three percent of international arrivals through the wringer.)
All the attention on enforcing the embargo on Cuba, says the GAO, keeps agents from other important work:
[Customs and Border Protection] data and interviews with agency officials suggest that the secondary inspections of Cuba arrivals at the airport may strain CBP's ability to carry out its mission of keeping terrorists, criminals and other inadmissible aliens from entering the country.
The report notwithstanding, the US State Department says that enforcing the embargo remains a priority. President Bush actually tightened sanctions on Cuba in 2004, but presidential hopefuls Ron Paul and Chris Dodd have both said they'd work to end the embargo if elected. Until then, Americans are stuck sneaking to the island and hoping they won't get caught coming home.
· GAO Report on Embargo Enforcement [Official Site]
· Report Finds US Agencies Distracted by Focus on Cuba [NYT]
· Can US Citizens Travel to Cuba? [Jaunted]
While some Democratic presidential candidates have been discussing the US ban on travel to Cuba, a bunch of tourists are ignoring the talk and visiting the island. The trip may not be legal but that doesn't seem to bother the thousands of Americans--including Michael Moore--who risk big fines to check out Fidel's country.
In fact, one tourist says that's the point:
The fact that you're not supposed to be there, that was the top for me...You just don't know what Cuba will be like after Castro's gone.
The American Society of Travel Agents--a group that admittedly has an interest in more tourists--says millions of Americans would visit Cuba if restrictions were lifted. Would that ever happen? It might: Barack Obama says he wants to relax travel rules, and Chris Dodd says he'll end the US-Cuba embargo outright.
Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore is under investigation by the U.S. Treasury Department for taking ailing September 11 rescue workers to Cuba for a segment in his upcoming health-care documentary SiCKO. SiCKO, coincidentally, premieres May 19 at the Cannes Film Festival and debuts in U.S. theaters June 29.
The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control recently informed Moore that it was conducting a civil investigation for possible violations of the U.S. trade embargo restricting travel to Cuba.
According to Moore's website, he considers this incident an attack by the Bush Administration on his newest controversial film.
However, what is far more pertinent to us is the question of U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba. According to the U.S. government:
The Regulations require that persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction be licensed to engage in any travel-related transactions related to travel to, from, and within Cuba. Transactions related to tourist travel are not licensable. Travelers who fail to comply with Department of Treasury regulations will face civil penalties and criminal prosecution upon return to the United States.
Underneath the restrictions section the document states that licenses are granted to "journalists and supporting broadcasting or technical personnel".
Castro / Festivals / Cuba Travel / → All Tags
Rumors are swirling today that Fidel Castro is no longer on death's door and could even return to lead Cuba.
Is it a coincidence that Castro's alleged phoenix like radio appearance coincides with the 9th Habano Cigar Festival, taking place in the Havana Convention Centre from February 26 to March 2? Doubt it.
Raul Castro, the current number one in Cuba, is rumored to dislike cigars--the horror.
This year's festival will launch a new line of cigars for the island's signature Cohiba brand known as Maduro 5 or Mature 5, which are finished with a wrapper leaf that has been aged five years. Wrapper leaves represent the final stage of cigar-making and are essential to how well a cigar burns.
Participants include Havana cigar smokers from Russia, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Japan, China and England who are scheduled to visit tobacco plantations and cigar factories in the island, but there are no known celebrity attendees to generate cigar buzz. Luckily, it looks like Fidel will handle the buzz generation all on his own, thank you very much.
It's not enough to be a beauty queen these days. Now pretty ladies are becoming super-sexy international women of danger and intrigue, ideally coming ot the big screen soon. You're not making it any easier for guys to pick you up with this behavior, ladies.
Miss Czech Republic 1999, Helena Houdova, spent her recent trip to Cuba photographing the conditions of poor and sick in the Havana slums. Four days into her trip, Houdova and her friend were arrested and detained by the secret police. Houdova hid her camera's memory card inside her bra and claimed that she had erased the pictures.
After about twelve hours of being questioned about their guide, with the secret police repeatedly demanding they admit to "counterrevolutionary activities", Houdova and her friend were released . The photos she took are now being exhibited at the Langhans Gallery in Prague.
This story combines many of our favorite things: Models, digital cameras, and handcuffs. Where can we send her next?
· Pluck and Luck Save Smuggled Photos [Prague Post]
Books / Museums / → All Tags
Finca Vigia (Lookout Farm), the Havana-area compound where Hemingway lived from 1939 to 1961, is falling apart, with an estimated restoration cost of $3 million. Even though the house isn't on American soil, Finca Vigia is nevertheless on the National Trust's 2005 list of most endangered structures. To date the U.S. government has nixed any substantial material or financial help from American conservationists: by the government's lights a restoration would be promoting tourism, which is forbidden by the trade embargo against Cuba, rather than pursuing an educational or humanitarian goal, which is not.
· Embargo hampering restoration effort of Hemingway villa in Cuba [Sun-Sentinal, via Hit & Run]
· Hemingway Preservation Foundation [Official site]