For the past two days, I’ve been participating in the US-Cuba congress RESPECT (Responsible Ethical Cuba Travel) in Havana. This is the largest US-based organization (150 members from travel service providers and airlines to lawyers and non-profits) dedicated to promoting responsible travel to the island. The 17 founding principles incorporate standard responsible/ethical travel suggestions based on Cuban priorities for sustainable development in tourism. While I’m not in agreement with all the policies being pursued here as regards tourism (golf courses, really?!), RESPECT co-founder Bob Guild explained at Day Two of the congress that RESPECT is not a policing organization, but aims to get all the players on the same page and encourage others to put into practice as many of the principles as possible.
There must have been over two centuries of US travel to Cuba experience in that conference room when the news broke about the Trump administration’s decision to cease issuing visas for Cubans, effective immediately and until further notice, which is going to incense Cuban families everywhere and cripple academic-scientific exchange between the two countries. The Donald’s knees must be sore from so much gratuitous blowing of Marco Rubio. At the same time, the State Department issued a travel warning for US citizens and residents to Cuba based on health issues that some diplomats are having of undetermined origin, and that the press and Rex Tillerson have called “acoustic attacks.” The FBI found there was absolutely NO BASIS for this accusation after an extensive investigation with full cooperation on the ground from Cuban authorities. Over 500,000 US people have traveled to Cuba in the past couple of years and there is not one reported case of this auditory illness among visitors. End result? US travel to Cuba is still fully legal under the categories established by President Obama (these cannot be changed again with an executive order) and Cuba is not hazardous to your health. Here is the official press release from RESPECT:
For Immediate Release
Contact: Bob Guild, 1-201-755-0217
US Travel Association Opposes Trump Administration’s Cuba Travel Warning and Pullout of Embassy Staff
September 30, 2017, Havana, Cuba – Meeting here, RESPECT, the largest association of US organizers of travel to Cuba unanimously rejected the Trump Administration’s Cuba travel warning and its decision to withdraw diplomatic staff from its Havana embassy.
The reaction came in response to Washington’s announcement that it is withdrawing 60 percent of non-emergency staff from the US Embassy in Havana and is warning US citizens to avoid travel to Cuba. The justification for both is unexplained health problems that 21 Havana-based US diplomats have reported.
In addition, unidentified US officials said the US Consulate in Havana would suspend issuing US visas to Cubans, indefinitely. The US Embassy will continue to provide emergency services to US citizens in Cuba.
“Based on the evidence thus far and the fact that the State Department says no other US citizens have been affected, we believe that its decision is unwarranted, and are continuing to organize travel to Cuba and encourage others to do so,” said Bob Guild, RESPECT Co-Coordinator and Vice President of Marazul Charters. He also stressed that US citizens and residents can legally travel to Cuba under US law, and that the State Department advisory in no way prohibits US persons from traveling to the island.
RESPECT is joined by US commercial airlines and others in the travel industry who have publically expressed their intention to continue Cuba travel. Gail Reed, RESPECT Co-Coordinator and MEDICC Founder, noted
“Cuba remains a very safe destination for US travelers.”
The US Foreign Service Association, the powerful union that represents US diplomats around the world, also opposes any decision to withdraw US diplomats from Cuba. Association President Barbara Stephenson says “We have to remain on the field and in the game.”
The US complaint about the health issues originated almost a year ago during the Obama Administration when the two governments were working toward rapprochement. As acknowledged by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Cuban government responded immediately and initiated an investigation, inviting the US government to cooperate.
At the invitation of Cuban authorities, the FBI went to Havana seeking evidence of what the US described as “sonic attacks” resulting in hearing loss and other symptoms. However, its agents found no devices or other evidence to explain the mystery.
None of the 500,000 US visitors to Cuba this year have reported similar health issues. Tillerson said this week, “We have no reports that private US citizens have been affected…”.
Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, speaking at the UN this month, reiterated that Cuba takes very seriously the protection of all diplomats in its country and would never cause them harm or allow others to do so, in accordance with the 1961 Vienna Convention. He also urged the US authorities to work more closely and effectively with the ongoing Cuban investigation, a point he raised again during his meeting with Tillerson this week.
Replying to the US move to reduce its diplomatic personnel in Havana, Josefina Vidal, Director General for US Affairs at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, called the decision precipitous and said it will affect bilateral relations and cooperation in areas of mutual interest. She noted that Cuba had urged the US not to politicize the matter and insisted that Cuba needed the active cooperation of US authorities to arrive at a definitive conclusion.
“We fear that such hasty action by the Trump Administration, independent of scientific evidence, may be motivated by politics rather than concerns for health and wellbeing,” said Walter Turner, RESPECT Co-Coordinator and President of Global Exchange. “Thus, once again we encourage all US visitors to continue to travel to Cuba.”
RESPECT (Responsible Ethical Cuba Travel) is a 150-member US professional association of non-profit entities, travel agencies, tour operators and other travel service providers dedicated to practicing and promoting ethical and socially responsible travel to Cuba. Founded in December 2016 on the anniversary of the opening announced by the US and Cuban presidents, RESPECT held a two-day meeting at the Meliá Cohíba Hotel in Havana this week, where its members hammered out a 2017 Action Plan to implement its 17 principles. These include ways US travel organizations and travelers can contribute to protecting Cuba’s environment as it adapts to climate change, commit to non-exploitative relations with all Cubans and respect the country’s cultural heritage and expressions. The Association also defends the right of all US citizens and residents to travel to Cuba, and advocates lifting all US government travel restrictions to the island.
12 responses to “Cuba Travel from US – Legal and with RESPECT”
The US panics and sends warnings over nothing. They have also issued an travel advisory for our state in Mexico (Quintana Roo) but really, there is more violent crime in Orlando Florida than here!
Hi Ailis. So right about violence in the USA vs other places that are continually demonized (ie Latin America). In my opinion, this isn’t panic, this is politics. Thanks for reading and writing in.
Conner! My in-laws are traveling to Cuba in Feb, does Cuba Libro need anything?? Sad I cannot go with them…
Hi Dr Bondi-Boyd!! how are you? We are currently distributing hurricane preparedeness/recovery materials. Not sure what will be needed by February but the way things are going (esp in the hardest-hit provinces), there will be need. Alas, a continuing state of affairs in Cuba. Right now I can say with certainty that we need books and magazines (I can send you the targeted list, with titles/authors/genres Cubans come to us searching for) and condoms. We’ve given out 12.500+ condoms since opening in 2013 but the program has been stalled since Hurricane Irma. Hope this note finds you well! Conner
Is Trump’s image and message about Cuba true? Crazed island natives hiding behind palm trees zapping Americans with sonic ray guns. Not! Americans who have actually been to Cuba know a very different reality. See http://CubaTravelWarning.com
Hola Marcel!! Thanks for today’s daily chuckle. This is ALL smoke and mirrors (and politics). Spread the word, folks: travel to Cuba is safe and legal for folks from the USA. Cheers
Honey, over here in Puerto Rico is going crazy in certain areas. People’s cellphones and cars are getting stolen at the cell tower by these sons of bitch thugs. I even heard people are robbing each other over water. And don’t even think about wearing your cubic zirconia (Oh man it’s so hard to not wear jewelry in public, I feel so naked) It amazes me how Trump and his gang can immediately create policies to protect its citizens over a little health scare but, ummm, what about the Puerto Ricans? I know we are not considered as U.S. citizens but we still are, mamabicho. Then, you got this stupid ass mayor in San Juan acting like she’s auditioning for a telenovela. This is going to be a long ass year.
Simply awful. Cubans are STILL commenting on the horror of Trump and his toilet paper throwing. Tremenda sin verguenza.
I think he was trying to be funny in a room full of starving people -_-. Guess what? He sends out MRE in Puerto Rico which consist of skittles, multigrain bar and Vienna sausage for people in the rural areas. I don’t know how that’s going to feed a family of 6.
Its a fine line between funny and fucked up, I guess and it’s obvious he’s not at all aware that this line exists. thanks for the on the ground update. skittles? really? Ive seen Cuban families of six stretch a can of vienna sausage for 6 but through sheer survival instinct. Even once PR is back on its feet, it’s going to be feeling the effects of this for generations, just like Cubans today are still feeling special period from the 90s.
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As a photographer I am just itching to land in Cuba and break out my camera gear! Being a tourist in Cuba is really a special gift!