Cuba is the one place in the western hemisphere that Americans have been unable to visit as tourists in most of our lifetimes.
The US embargo of Cuba was established in 1961 as a result of bank and business expropriations, mass exodus of Cuban Nationals to the US and summary executions by the Castro regime. Cuba had been a popular tourist destination for US travelers in the 50’s. So popular that Havana was known as “the Latin Las Vegas.” This period of tourism in Cuba was dominated by hotels and casinos that were operated by organized crime in the United States, many times in partnership with Cuba’s dictator, Batista. In spite of this connection to organized crime, tourism to Cuba in the 50’s increased at the rate of 8% per year.
With the fall of Batista in 1959 and the rise of the Castro regime, tourism from the US dropped significantly, so that by 1961, fewer than 4700 US citizens visited Cuba as tourists. In that year, Congress passed the “Foreign Assistance Act.” The United States had been in many on-going disputes with Cuba since Castro had deposed Batista. The United States had imposed an arms embargo on Cuba even before the fall of Batista (which actually affected the Batista regime more than the rebels). This caused the Castro government to negotiate an arms deal with the Soviet Union. Next came a series of US actions and Cuban responses which further drove the countries apart. After the “Bay of Pigs” invasion by CIA trained Cuban exiles, relations between the United States and Cuba were severed. And Congress passed the “Foreign Assistance Act” which, among many other things, prohibited aid to Cuba and authorized the President to impose a complete trade embargo against Cuba.
The restriction on travel to Cuba lapsed in 1977, and while the restriction was renewable every six months, the Carter administration did not do so. President Reagan re-imposed the embargo in 1982. An interesting fact about the current regulations is that travel to Cuba is not prohibited per se but makes it illegal to have transactions (spend money) in Cuba in most circumstances.
The restrictions on tourism have been loosened considerably in the last year and a half. We can book a Cuban visit for any size group, from a couple wanting to explore this forbidden island, to a group of friends of 20 or more. All of the Cuban itineraries offered by Condor Tours and Travel can include people to people cultural exchanges that enrich any visit to this island, but these are not necessary any more, so it’s up to you. Stay tuned for our next blog, which will be about Lori Snow’s recent group trip to Cuba, including a day by day description of the group’s activities.