June 16, 2017.
I just listened to President Trump’s speech regarding U.S. policy with Cuba. He said he was cancelling the Obama Administration’s ‘bad deal’ during a speech filled with tough words about the Castro regime. Of course much of the passionate speech was for the benefit of the crowd, which was mostly Cuban-Americans who have borne a heavy human and financial burden in many cases, and who also helped deliver Florida to Trump in the election. But it also was a clear message to the Cuban government.
The speech didn’t provide any specifics on how travel will be affected. Many of the details were already provided to the media Thursday, and the new rules still have to be written and approved. The federal agencies have 90 days to do that, so cruises in the near term should not see any changes.
The Cuba FAQ on the U.S. Treasury website indicate that there will be no immediate changes for U.S. citizens, and in fact if they have booked part of a Cuba trip prior to today, they will be covered by existing rules and not the new ones if their trip occurs after the new rules take effect.
Now It’s Cuba’s Turn
The one thing few are talking about is how will Cuba respond? I have to say that the rhetoric used by the President was not exactly cordial and I doubt the Cuban government was smiling after hearing it. But will they respond in kind? That remains to be seen.
As it exists now, cruise passengers can self-certify that they did legal things while in Cuba from a list of 12 approved activities. They don’t need to take an organized tour through the cruise line or with a tour operator. However, going forward that could change. The Trump Administration wants to end individual travel to Cuba that is not tightly controlled, and that could very well cause the cruise lines to require all guests to have an approved tour of the minimum legal length (5 to 8 hours per day depending on how long the ship is in port), or they won’t be allowed off the ship. Guests may have to start keeping a log of their shore activities, keep tour documentation and be prepared for a more in-depth interview by Customs upon their return to the U.S. Currently, Customs has been treating visitors to Cuba no different than those going to other Caribbean nations. The Treasury Department could audit the records of any U.S. citizen who visits Cuba, and they have 5 years in which to do it so visitors will need to keep all their records for that period of time. That rule exists now and won’t be new.
We’ll be waiting for the other shoe to drop.