News and Facts about Cuba

Ready To Hit The Cuban Beach? Americans Still Have To Wait

Ready To Hit The Cuban Beach? Americans Still Have To Wait
DECEMBER 21, 2014 9:36 AM ET

With Obama beginning the process of normalizing relations with
Cuba this week, many may envision soon soaking up the sun on a warm
Cuban beach, sipping a refreshing rum drink.

In reality, that’s not likely to happen for quite a while. But just the
increased opportunity for between the two countries has those
with longtime ties to Cuba already thinking about the possibilities it
will bring.

Tom Popper is thinking about it. As president of the New York-based
travel company Insight Cuba, Popper has fought long and hard for an end
to the U.S. ban on travel to Cuba, and he has seen his hopes rise and
fall with the ebb and flow of Cuban-American relations over the past
couple of decades.

To say Obama’s announcement Wednesday was a bit of a shock is an

“When I first heard the news on my way to the office that morning, I
almost drove off the road,” Popper says. “It’s wonderful news for the
U.S., for travelers, for business interests, for relations between the
two countries.”

Despite the ban, Eben Peck, head of government affairs for the American
Society of Travel Agents, calls the agreement a step in the right direction.

“It’s going to mean more business for our members who participate in the
Cuba market, but the full benefits of to travel to Cuba is not
going to be felt until the travel ban is lifted in its entirety,” Peck says.

Right now, only charter flights are allowed between the U.S. and Cuba.

Cruise ship companies such as Carnival say Cuba presents some exciting
possibilities but note that the country needs investments in docks and
other infrastructure to accommodate big ships. A handful of
international chains have hotels in Cuba, but far too few to handle
large volumes of U.S. tourists.

A takes pictures in Havana last week..
Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images
And here’s something American travelers won’t be able to find at all in
Cuba: Starbucks.

“There’s nothing like this in Cuba, and there actually won’t be for a
very, very long time,” says Achy Obejas, a writer who was born in Cuba.
“For there to be a Starbucks or a McDonald’s or any kind of American
business of this nature, the has to be lifted, and these new
policy changes do not affect the embargo.”

But Obejas says the agreement to begin to normalize relations is huge,
because it finally starts the conversation about eventually ending the
trade embargo, which she says is critical to Cuba’s future.

The first step, she says, is making it easier to travel between the two
countries — and Obejas should know: She has lived there for extended
periods of time and has spent much of her adult life traveling back and

“It is a bit of a nightmare,” she says. “You need a license, you have to
ask permission, you have to join a group, you have to do something. It’s
not like just getting on a plane and going to the Bahamas. You actually
have to go through some, you know, B.S.”

Along with freer travel to and from Cuba, banking restrictions will be
eased, so American travelers, for the first time, will be able to use
credit and debit cards in Cuba, and they won’t have to carry large sums
of cash. That could free American visitors to spend more, and it would
help Cuban businesses.

But the best thing for Obejas: The country will begin to be normal. The
easing of travel restrictions will reconnect families, create economic
and educational opportunities and encourage those Cubans who do leave
the island nation to go back, Obejas says.

“Cuba will cease to be special in about five or six years,” she says.
“It will be one more country in the Caribbean to which you can access,
which sounds banal, but is actually wonderful, to not be an outlier, to
not be this dark, forbidden place.”

Source: Ready To Hit The Cuban Beach? Americans Still Have To Wait : NPR

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