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Ok. Let’s take a deep breathe before I begin my thesis. It has been a shocking week for all involved in Cuba/US relations. After witnessing a silver lining in the cloud of Cuba/US relations (2014 to 2016), the skies have grown dark once again with our current administration, who to be honest, has brought a dark cloud over several issues in US and abroad. Cuba is not exempt from the twisted narratives of the Trumpocalypse. I will remain hopeful for Cuba travel and keeping a close eye as events unfold. Let us begin.

6 reasons

Last year, it seemed that our Facebook feeds were filled with images of friends who finally made the leap to the elusive island. Maybe somewhere in your mind, you’ve been thinking “Dammit, I wish I could have gone during the good window”, when Obama and Raul Castro were shaking hands. We suspect somewhere inside, you’re also thinking, “but all this Trump ranting? Travel warning? Hurricane Irma? Well, maybe now is not the right time…”. STOP. Well, don’t cancel just yet.

Here are 6 reasons you should keep your plans to visit Cuba,
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(1) Because You Don’t Fall for Trump Propaganda

The past few days have seen a mass hysteria on the dangers of Cuba. First we begin with paying our respects to all those diplomats affected this mysterious case of “sonic attacks”. The symptoms are very real, and the health of a few has been compromised. The fact of the matter is that no US tourist has been affected. Many experts believe the travel warning placed upon Cuba was a premature move, considering that a drastic label of this nature is reserved for war-torn countries, such as Sudan and Afghanistan. Cuba remains to be one of the safest countries in the world. Please remember that this same administration attempted to pass two travel bans due to the “terrorism” of Muslims in the US, and the absurd pitch of putting up “the wall” to keep out the “murdering rapists” of Mexico. This is the same administration that is launching a red siren to the tune of “Cuba is dangerous” for all Americans. Most of it is attributed to political gains from a few buddies in Trumps circle (is this any different from his other agendas?). Please read between the lines. At the same time, we should pay close attention as investigations and new details reveal themselves, and not make any rushed decisions. Now is not the time to diminish our embassies. Now is the time to actually maintain them, and walk through this terrain carefully together. At least until we discover a little more on the case.

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(2) Because it is STILL Legal

This is one of the biggest questions I face from friends interested to visit. “Can I still travel to Cuba?”. The answer is YES. Trumps speech in Miami June 2017 confused many people with confrontational rhetoric, but the regulation changes were not that drastic. Under Obama days, OFAC had issued general licenses within the 12 categories of authorized travel for many travel-related transactions to, from, or within Cuba that previously required a specific license. The general license freed up travelers to self-certify their own travel purpose. It looks like Group People-to-People will remain protected while Individual People-to-People will be killed. The new announcement requires that you now “must be accompanied by an employee, consultant, or agent of the sponsoring organization, who will ensure that each traveler maintains a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities”. There’s a few other granular changes, but for questions on arranging your next trip, please email at jauretsi@gmail.com.

One of the biggest restrictions announced was that Americans will soon be forbidden from staying at Military-owned hotels in Cuba. The State Department will be publishing a list of entities with which direct transactions generally will not be permitted. Based on the July 25, 2017 OFAC update, “the announced changes do not take effect until the new regulations are issued”. This means that until OFAC releases the list of “no-go places”, that Americans are not beholden to this rule yet, providing they have a receipt, or email confirmation of the hotel reservation prior to the exact day that the new regulation is announced. When is this big day? Nobody knows because several positions in the new State Department is not hired yet. Personally speaking, I recommend the homestays at private B&B’s anyways which are a more of an authentic Cuban experience. So if this one new rule makes you jittery, just stick to home rentals, in which case you will be supporting a Cuban entrepreneur anyways… which brings me to my next point…

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(3) Because You’ll Help the Cuban People During a Tough Time

Although Havana was brushed by Irma, the big city bounced back very fast. Businesses are up and running, eager to receive visitors (as evidenced in this CET video). Cuba’s independent business owners, aka “cuentapropistas” are some of the most exciting places to visit, from home-run restaurants to creative bars tucked inside an old mansion, to private art studios. Mainstream media keeps posting various images of Havana drowning in ocean water (which of course were eye-catching images directly after the storm hit), but the truth of the matter is, the streets are now cleaned, Centro Havana is cleared, and the Malecon is re-opened. Visiting Cuba can mean helping an economy who needs a new kick, similar to New York City needing tourism post 9-11. Empower yourself with an enriching trip, and you will also empower a local Cuban with your dollars. Recent trip cancellations due to Irma fears have hurt many business-owners. I have personally seen the city of Havana bounce back fruitfully, and can concur, BUSINESS IS OPEN.

About the other cities east-side? Yes, admittedly, Irma wrecked tons of homes that are still trying to pick up the pieces. Consider it this way. Wouldn’t it be great to take a vacation, learn about Cuban history, engage in civil society, and *ALSO* help out a country recently affected by the storm? If you desire to visit Cuba for enjoyment, just fly directly into Havana, stay in “casa particulares” (aka B&B’s), and eat at Paladars (Home Restaurants). And if you wish to add a little hurricane relief to your trip, bring an extra suitcase of toiletries, supplies, or medicine. This is a good list to start with. Remember that Jetblue charges $35 for the second suitcase, and then $100 for the 3rd suitcase.  If you visit Cuba for a long weekend, perhaps just pack a bag of light sundresses, or thin dress shirts, which allows you to utilize suitcase number #2 or #3 as your “donations” suitcase. If you choose to bring a donations suitcase, please leave a comment below to activate pick up at your hotel or home rental upon arrival. I can deliver the stuff to the most affected cities during our relief mission October 25-30th. You see? Instant karma. And a fun trip. For the adventuring soul, if you prefer to roll up your sleeves to help first-hand, join me on this relief mission, and sign up at CubaOne, which The New Cuba is proud to partner with. Whichever level you decide, just know that if you choose the Havana experience only, that you will STILL be helping out a country in great need of American dollars (and global patronage too).

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(4) Because You are Curious about the History

Let’s think beyond the “trend” of Cuba for just a minute. Let’s discuss the lessons of history. This is where the Educational purpose in Cuba can be so enriching. Cuba can be a very fascinating place to visit whether you heavily agree or disagree with the current system. The history of Cuba is wildly complex, from Spain to Russia to US to Venezuela relations. It is a nation that has screamed for sovereignty for hundreds of years. There is much context to explore, deep historical perspective, various narratives, opposing viewpoints, and final decisions that have brought Cuba to the state it exists today. It is not something to be summarized in a quick blog post. To add to that point, since we carry so much influence with our nearby neighbor in the Caribbean, wouldn’t it be wiser to actually visit the island as American citizens? To gain knowledge as we vote for our leaders on this one topic. Visit for yourself, stay at Cubans houses, patron their businesses, ask lots of questions, and develop your own truth. The US holds a major key (not all the keys, but a major key) to affecting the future of this country stuck in its own narrative for various centuries.

Before you enter, read lots of objective books, then ask what the Revolution was all about, ask what it achieved, ask where it failed, but just ask. Learn what is fact. Learn what is propaganda. And learn the dangers of twisting these things around. This extends beyond Cuba travel, so I speak to the hungry globe-trotter, who can make educated conclusions of their own. We can all learn a thing or two about revolutions, the promises, the shortcomings, the things we wish for, and the societies we create for ourselves. Dig deep, and I promise you, Cuba will be an awakening experience that will shift your mindset.

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(5) Because Cuba is one of the Safest Countries

The American media has fallen into a fear-mongering spiral the last few days about Cuba. However, if you were to ask any tourist visiting the country right now, chances are they would all say they feel very safe walking the streets of Cuba, any time, any day.  If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who has recently returned. It is important to note that there is indeed American diplomats from the Cuban embassy whose health was affected, most likely from within their own residencies (with 1 incident in a hotel that a diplomat resided in temporarily). Nobody else from the hotel, not one person, has reported damages — adding more to the bizarre-ness of it all. These isolated incidents in Havana Diplomatic residencies do not warrant a nation-wide travel warning.

Investigations are ongoing, and experts are baffled on both sides. It is not logical that Cuba’s motive was to hurt Americans, when in facts, the last two years witnessed the warming of relations, and potential trade which the struggling economy needed. From a pragmatic level, the small nation of Cuba is sinking into economic crisis (no longer funded by Venezuela like a few years back), and was just beginning to reap rewards from the US normalization talks. More importantly, who benefits from this abrupt downsizing of embassies?

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(Cuban Lung Cancer Vaccine Could Come to the US)

Despite our difference in ideologies, both countries were beginning to exist in a space where we explored common concerns (environmental protection, drug trafficking, medical advances, etc) with agencies from both nations working together after 55 years of estrangement. Clearly, something shady is afoot and the theories are plenty (with a great new analysis in Washington Post)… but who is the culprit? Cuba denies any involvement. Tillerson wants fast answers. Frustration abounds. Fact-checking website Snopes.com recently wrote a report on the concept of a sonic weapon which further muddies matters. I am not claiming this is a conspiracy theory because real people were affected. I am simply stating that nobody fully understands the breadth of what these attacks truly are. Who, what, where, when, and how — it all seems to be on the table for investigation. To listen to a more level-headed perspective on the matter, travel expert Collin Laverty offered his thoughts to BBC this past week

This week alone, the US has expelled 60% of its diplomats from Cuba (understandably with the concern for their protection). Things went from bad to worse. Immediately, several Cuban diplomats from the Washington DC consular were kicked out of the US. Also, America has stopped issuing visas for Cubans on the island to visit America. Coupled with the already difficult reality that Raul Castro has hurt entrepreneur spirit by freezing “cuentapropista” licenses in August 2017, it is ultimately the Cuban dreamer who suffers the most in this treacherous ego battle between Cuba and US.

In the past, Cuba does indeed own some faults in the grand scheme of things, but I am ashamed as an American that our current US President has handled this fragile diplomatic moment like a “bull-in-a-china-shop”. Cuba is not full of killers out to get you. In fact, nobody even knows who the villains are yet. Just ponder on the ways that Trump has handled some foreign incidents and diplomacy, and I ask you to consider that maybe this new travel warning is a bit overblown. Time will reveal any impending dangers if they truly do exist (or not), and after weighing the facts based on evidence, then it would make sense to issue a travel warning (or not).

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The fact of the matter is (and I repeat)… that NO TOURISTS have been harmed, and Cuba remains one of the safest countries in the world to visit. I will even venture to say that as an American, I am shook at the recent shoot-outs ranging from Ft Lauderdale airport (Jan 2017) to the Vegas massacre this week, with 527 injured and 59 dead. I happen to frequent both cities, and the idea I could have walked into either gunfire is all too real for me, as most grieving Americans can relate to. The combination of easy access to guns mixed with how easily the mentally disturbed can purchase them is something I struggle with as an American citizen. Cuba has zero gun culture regarding residents owning arms. Gun ownership is a right reserved for the military only (which opens up another topic not related to this post). In essence, you will never read about a shoot-out in Cuba, or even the slightest “stick-up” moment with a tourist. Now tell me, which country seems safer right now?

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(6) Because of Recent Flight Deals

Now that we have addressed the safety standards, let’s move on to the pragmatic reasons to continue planning your trip to Cuba. Flight Deals. While Mr. Tillerson was issuing the Travel Warning, it was United Airlines who added another route to Cuba this week ($277 roundtrip). Jetblue and Alaska Airlines both have deals as low as $300-ish to Cuba from LA and New York. For those wishing to visit the Caribbean during high-season to avoid that freezing winter back home, take a look at flight deals from American brands who have remained supportive and loyal to the warming of relations. Think JetBlue, Alaska Airlines, United, and American Airlines. If you want to compare/contrast prices, Kayak is now offering this service as well. Contrary to all the scary stuff you’ve been reading the last 72 hours, American brands are remaining loyal to this budding relationship with Cuba, so don’t give up just yet. May we recommend Havana Film Festival or the Jazz Festival this December?

It is possible that when all this bad news dies down, the prices will eventually skyrocket back up on the day Americans can finally travel worry-free, but for those pioneers who pave the way to filling up these empty seats for now, you will be rewarded with hard-to-beat deals to the Caribbean. You’ll also be part of history by keeping this slow US heart beat alive and pumping towards a more stable, healthy renewal with the Cuban people.

That’s about it. For now. The news seems to be unfolding at lightning speed before our eyes. Nobody in the US/Cuba space believed it was possible to regress 10 years in literally less than 1 week. Until any further announcements are given by a very hasty US administration, book your trips now. The one trend we’ve noticed is that when US Gov alters the Cuba travel laws, usually any traveler who reserved a flight or hotel/home in advance of the announcement is “grandfathered” into the previous laws. And right now, it is *STILL* legal to visit Cuba. This may be your last window to experience a life-changing trip before the US draws in even darker clouds, and if we totally push Cuba away once again. Hoping for the best.

For now. Resist. Engage. Visit. Educate yourself. Stay Awake.

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(Film Still: Esteban Insausti’s “Long Distance,” starring Zulema Clares)

This is an an old blog post I never got to publish, and it is mostly ripped off from The New York Times, but given the new American policy shift, I feel it’s an important article to take out of drafts and publish into the ether. The struggle for Cuban filmmakers may take a turn if Obama opens American financial channels (namely crowd-sourcing sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter) to help fund Cuban resident filmmakers.

United States government dedicates millions of dollars each year to programs intended to promote civil society and democracy, yet cuban Filmmakers who are telling everyday life stories through their films, are cut off from this flow of American money. Currently, there is no way for a Cuban filmmaker to access American capital to tell these stories.

Case in point: Cuban filmmaker Miguel Coyula raised $5,200 on Indiegogo for his independent film but the funds were frozen.

“It’s absurd that we are in the 21st century, and we have no legal framework for independent producers,” said the director Esteban Insausti, whose 2010 feature, “Long Distance,” explores emigration and the trauma of separation. Cuban government does its part in hampering filmmakers, keeping politically provocative movies out of theaters, not recognizing private production companies, and making it hard for filmmakers to obtain permits for, say, filming on the street.

Indiegogo suspended the campaign in August and froze the money after determining that transferring funds to Cuba or a Cuban resident would violate the United States’ economic embargo.

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“It was like someone pulling the rug from under your feet,” said Mr. Coyula, who spoke in English by phone from Havana. “That was when I realized I was really on my own, that making a movie in Cuba is hard because both the Cuban government makes it difficult, and the American government makes it difficult.”

Another barrier for Cuban filmmakers are Film grants. Disqualified from grants from American institutions, crowd funding was the next logical option get films made. “Blue Heart,” which will use newsreels, animé and fiction to tell the story of a failed experiment to create a perfect revolutionary through genetic engineering, will cost about $30,000 to make, he said.

Here is the first 5 minutes of the film:

Another person who attempted to aid filmmakers, Ubaldo Huerta, a Cuban technology expert who lives in Barcelona, shut down Yagruma in February 2013 (a crowdfunding platform specifically for Cuban projects). He shut it down a little more than a year after he started it. Paypal issues were involved.

It is these same restrictions that also prevent Americans from investing in Cuban movies and prohibit Americans from making most films on the island.

Read the rest of the article at The New York Times / Cuban Filmmakers

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(Film Still: “Conducta,” starring Armando Valdés Freire, center, and directed by Ernesto Daranas) Courtesy of HAVANA FILM FESTIVAL NEW YORK

NOTE: Filmmaker Miguel Coyula says if you’d like to help him make his film, email him directly to: migcoyula@hotmail.com

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Raul Castro has been announcing reforms the last 2 years (although they are still bureaucratic and not easy to follow through on). First it was allowing for property sales, then entrepreneurship was offered. Todays latest announcement is about the freedom to travel.. one of Cuba’s biggest issues.

According to NY Times:

The Cuban government announced on Tuesday that it would terminate the exit visa requirement by Jan. 14, possibly letting many more Cubans depart for vacations, or forever, with only a passport and a visa from the country where they plan to go.

Cuba’s doctors, scientists and other professionals, who have long faced tight restrictions on movement, might be held back as well because the new policy includes a caveat allowing the government to limit departures to “preserve the human capital created by the Revolution.”

According to blogger Yoani, the cost of a Cuban passport will nearly double, to just over $100. And yet, the new migration law also gives Cubans latitude to stay abroad longer, letting them remain outside the country for two years, and possibly longer, before losing their rights to property and benefits like health care — an increase from 11 months under the current policy.

Could this be another 93 Rafter exodus (approx 30,000 cubans headed to US shores on rafts), except this one will have a flock of local Cubans scrambling to leave? Countries like Mexico and Spain are bracing themselves for further Cuban residents looking for a new life.

If anything, it will allow for a more circular flow back and forth with Cubans now. Because the new law will let Cubans live abroad for two years, they could obtain American legal residency, which takes at least a year, without giving up their rights in Cuba.

To read the entire story, visit Cuba Lifts Much Reviled Rule, The Exit Visa published for The New York Times.

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Here’s an inspiring video with Ryan Lochte’s Cuban mother on raising one of the greatest U.S. Olympic swimmers. Represent Represent!
Note: His favorite meal is still bistec empanizado y croquetas.

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Finally, the topic of Cuba is front and center this week, gracing the Economist cover as well as a special report produced by CNBC. The Economist opens with a piece called The Castro’s, Cuba, and America: On The Read Towards Capitalism.

For more articles, here’s a link to their Special Report section on Cuba — 7 meaty reports on Cuban issues today (read here).

Also, another TV special aired this week talking “Capitalism in Cuba” as well. CNBC reports: “For decades, Cuba has been known as a forbidden country. It’s also a hidden treasure that if opened, could provide a massive boom to U.S. companies, many of which are ready, willing and, in some cases, already doing business with Cuba. CNBC’s Michelle Caruso-Cabrera has more”. The special aired last night. Watch the trailer video here CNBC.com.

For better or worse, the change is happening! It’s time to move out of this 50 year coma. Why am I encouraging you all to get informed on the state of Cuba today? Because it’s good to know the score on Cuba/US relations, and inevitably, it will be up to our US President (election year, anyone?) to make some very fresh new decisions on this delicate matter.

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(The proposed Che Geuvara monument for Galway)

Dear editors,
As a victim of Che Guevara’s atrocities, as a historian, and as a Cuban of Irish descent, I am deeply disturbed by the fact that the city of Galway is planning to erect a monument to Ernesto “Che” Guevara. I don’t mind one bit if those behind this monstrous project want to believe lies — that’s their right in a truly free society — but it would be wrong to allow their abysmal ignorance or willful blindness to stand unchallenged.

These are the words written by Yale Professor Carlos Eire, author of Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy, which won the National Book Award in 2003. He wrote this letter and submitted it to the Irish Times in response to plans by the city of Galway to erect a statue honoring Che Guevara. The Times demurred, but it was published in the Galway Advertiser, and Professor Eire has given National Review permission to reprint it.

He goes on to compare Che to Irelands Oliver Cromwell’s sketchy history too. “If Galway wants to honor Che with a monument” writes Carlos, “it should also build one for Cromwell, right next to it. It’s only fair.” Read the whole letter in the National Review.

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