In August, we reported that Cuba trips could be in jeopardy for U.S. travelers, as many tour operators and cultural institutions that offered educational excursions to the long-verboten nation had not had their licenses renewed by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
Fortunately, Americans can put Cuba back on their bucket lists, as a number of license renewals have finally been issued over the past few weeks. Organizations including Friendly Planet Travel, Insight Cuba and Grand Circle Foundation are now once again authorized to offer “people to people” trips to the Caribbean nation. These trips, authorized by the Obama administration last year, are required by the government to have a focus on cultural exchange with “meaningful interaction between the U.S. travelers and individuals in Cuba,” according to the OFAC’s guidelines.
We asked Peggy M. Goldman, president of Friendly Planet Travel, why it took longer than expected for licenses to be renewed. “We were not given any explanation by OFAC as to the delay,” Goldman told us. “However, there was a change in the rules for granting people-to-people licenses in May of 2012, and that change, coupled with fewer people to work on the many applications, no doubt added to the delay in reviewing the applications.”
The rule change was sparked by a speech from Cuban-American Congressman Marco Rubio that questioned whether the trips were “cover-ups for tourism,” reports the Associated Press. After this, the application for a license got significantly longer, incorporating increased scrutiny of the day-to-day itineraries of each proposed trip to Cuba. (Rubio had taken issue with such activities as salsa dancing and visits to the Cuban Ministry of Culture.)
“For Friendly Planet Travel, it meant a lot of extra time in preparing very detailed descriptions of each day on tour, plus other information,” said Goldman. “The sheer scope of the new applications must have been daunting for OFAC to review, and from what I understand, there was less staff than before to cope with the work. However, it appears OFAC has gotten on top of the work, because from what I’ve heard, a number of renewals as well as new licenses have been granted in recent days. We are obviously thrilled that we’ve been renewed for a period of two years.”
Given the high demand these trips have seen over the past year, we’re betting many travelers are thrilled too.
– written by Sarah Schlichter