By Dorie Cox
The U.S. Department of the Treasury on June 5 removed authorization for “group people-to-people” educational travel to Cuba, effectively halting recreational yacht and cruise ship travel to the island nation. The change also makes private and corporate aircraft ineligible.
“Basically, the answer is no U.S.-registered boats can go to Cuba,” said Lisa Greenberg of yacht agency Pacific Bound Yachts. “U.S. citizens can visit under the remaining 11 provisions but only travel by commercial airline. No private commercial or private U.S.-flag yachts can visit.”
Attorney Michael Moore advises his yacht clients to “proceed with caution” for travel to Cuba.
“This is a tough one, but three agencies have said no one is going to Cuba under the current situation,” Moore said by phone. “The Secretary of State declared Cuba and Venezuela off limits. That’s the sea change.”
His business, Moore & Company in Miami, will individually handle current travel requests by clients and “will be very clear that the departments approve. We will make sure Commerce, Treasury, and Homeland Security agree that the client can go.”
Travel permits to Cuba can still be issued under the remaining 11 U.S. permit options, which include family visits, official business of the U.S. government, journalistic activity, professional research, and religious activities. But it was unclear how the policy change will impact foreign-flagged vessels with U.S. crew or guests onboard, specifically how the U.S. government will handle a vessel returning to the U.S. after a visit to Cuba and whether those vessels will be allowed to use a U.S. Cruising Permit.
“A marker is leaving a U.S. port, entering a U.S. port or being a U.S. citizen,” he said. “Anything connected to the U.S., you are not going to Cuba.”
At this point, it is not possible to drill down any further until the changes are tested, he said.
“If you have any context with the U.S., you are flirting with disaster,” he said. “If you are caught, the penalties are catastrophic; you could lose your boat. Having a foreign flag is not a consideration if you have context with the U.S.”
A “grandfathering” provision is in place for travelers who had already completed at least one travel-related transaction (such as purchasing a flight or reserving accommodation) prior to June 5, according to the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Several departments of the U.S. government have issued statements for the justification of the changes. The U.S. Department of State published the following:
“The United States holds the Cuban regime accountable for its repression of the Cuban people, its interference in Venezuela, and its direct role in the man-made crisis led by Nicolas Maduro. Despite widespread international condemnation, Maduro continues to undermine his country’s institutions and subvert the Venezuelan people’s right to self-determination. Empowered by Cuba, he has created a humanitarian disaster that destabilizes the region.
“These actions are directly linked to the tourism industry, which has strong economic ties to the Cuban security, military, and intelligence sectors in Cuba. Veiled tourism has served to line the pockets of the Cuban military, the very same people supporting Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and repressing the Cuban people on the island. In Cuba, the regime continues to harass, intimidate, and jail Cubans who dare to voice an opinion different from the one the regime wants them to have. The United States calls on the regime to abandon its repression of Cubans, cease its interference in Venezuela, and work toward building a stable, prosperous, and free country for the Cuban people.”
For more information, read this statement from the U.S. Department of State, this statement from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, this list of FAQs on Cuba from the DOT, and this story from Business Insider.
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.