Tag Archives: US policy on Cuba

Jose Marti Airport is the Saddest Place in the World

Airports are a place of great emotion.  Like that scene in Love Actually, there’s an overwhelming amount of love in the hellos and goodbyes.

But Jose Marti is different.

Back in the 1960s, post-Revolution, there was the famous Fish Bowl, shown in the film Memorias de Subdesarollo (Memories of Underdevelopment.)  Those leaving the island had to go through security several hours in advance, leaving them in a glass waiting room, separated from their loved ones for their last precious hours.  For many of these people, that was the last time they ever saw each other alive.

There’s something beautiful about the simplicity of that kind of goodbye, despite its cruelty.  There’s no room for the distraction of words: just smiles, tears, basic sign language and straight emotions, unpolluted by imprecise language.

Fast-forward to 2010.

There is a crush of people waiting just outside the door, all pressing forward to get a glimpse of those they came to pick up.  Neighbors who went away for a cultural or academic reason.  Novios and novias waiting for an athlete to return from yet another trip to a world they may never see themselves.  A father waiting for a daughter he sent to America or Europe when things got rough a few long decades ago.  A grandmother waiting to meet her grown American granddaughter for the first time.

The people saying bon voyage may never be able to leave themselves, may never have left before.

The people leaving may never be able to come back.  If they’re Cubans Jumping Ship, they will have to wait five years before they return.  If they’re Cubano-Americanos, they may have to wait based on American restrictions, although those have been relaxed.  If they’re tourists, students or academics, they have their own restrictions.  And for all of these people, money is a huge issue.

It’s very expensive to go to and from the island.  And you better believe Uncle Sam is paying attention to who’s making that journey and how often.

Everything about Jose Marti Airport in Havana is a reminder of what Cubans and thier loved ones don’t have: mobility, money and options.

The thing about airports is that there are return tickets.  Not always so in the world of Cuba.

I Am Not Breaking the Law

I kinda can’t believe I haven’t covered this yet, but I really should:

I am an American.

I am not in Cuba illegally.

Rules of Engagment

I don’t have an extra passport or Cuban family.  I flew directly from Miami to Havana.  Both governments know I’m here.  Northeastern University applied for the licenses for all eight students and our accompanying professors.  I have a visa, which has been renewed.  We’re required to be here for at least ten weeks because changes made by Bush jr., and we’re required by CASA’s schedule to only stay here twelve weeks.

I am allowed to bring home art, handicrafts and educational materials. No cigars, no rum. Cuba would let me–America will not.

Well, How Did I Get Here?

That being said, it’s not hard to come here illegally.  Many more Americans than you would suspect come and go.  And some just come–but that’s another story.  You can fly through Canada, Jamaica, Cancun, Haiti, the Bahamas or any other Caribbean country.  From what I’ve heard, Cuba won’t stamp your passport (my visa is removable), and illegal travelers talk of slipping some money in your passport upon return to

There are many ways to come here legally.  If you are a diplomat, an athlete, a student or a Cuban-American you can apply for specific visas.  Humanitarians and business people can also come, under certain circumstances.

The Travel Ban

There’s also the oft-overlooked fact that we are not actually banned from traveling here: we are only banned from spending money.  That, coupled with the fact that few airlines and travel agents can fly us here make it pretty impossible to show up without crossing the line.  The so-called “travel ban” is actually just an aspect of the economic embargo.  The whole ordeal falls to the US Treasury, not the Department of State.  So if you get into trouble, don’t hesitate to go to the US Special Interest Section–they promise not to report you to the treasury.

So if you’d like to come here, which I recommend doing at some point, see if you can apply for a visa legally.  It’s a little time consuming, but it means not having to worry about any problems with customs.  And if you do come illegally?

Don’t lie, don’t have any Cuban money on you, and just plead the 5th.