Havana reinforces valid documentation requirement for travelers from the USA
HAVANA TIMES — Travel agencies selling tickets from the United States to Cuba are trying to prevent Cubans with expired passports from boarding planes to the island, after the Cuban government hardened its requirement on revalidated passports, reports Daniel Garcia Marco from the dpa news agency.
The measure mainly affects hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans that under the Obama administration have been traveling annually to Cuba.
“There is a policy that says the documents have to be up to date. Until now Cuban immigration was turning a blind eye, letting the Cuban Americans enter with expired documents. Now they say that you must meet the resolution,” Santiago Castro, president of the Association of Travel Agencies to Cuba, headquartered in Miami, told dpa news.
“We have canceled many trips and we are calling on passengers to not go to airports and for them to come in and collect their money,” Castro said.
The agencies that organize charter flights to Cuba from the United States received on Thursday a letter from Havanatur, the Cuban state tourism agency, which now requires charter services to not let passengers board their planes with expired documentation, under a warning of penalties. However Havanatur did say that the entry of travelers to the island will not be prevented.
“We received information from the immigration authorities of Cubans residing in the United States arriving to Cuba without the required extension on their expired passports,” reads the letter from Havanatur, sent to travel agencies on Thursday.
The letter stated that the new requirement is immediately in effect and that the travel agencies will face penalties if they allow passengers with outdated passports to board planes. “Passengers arriving in this condition will be accepted in Cuba and the charter company will be penalized under current legislation.”
Cuba issues passports valid for six years but requires an extension to be purchased every two years. Until Thursday, the country had accepted the entry of travelers without the revalidations if they obtained them in Havana, due to problems providing the service at the Cuban consulate in Washington.
“The big problem is that the consulate does not provide consular services, so people have no way to get their papers in order,” said Santiago Castro.
Cuba announced in February a new suspension of consular services in the United States due to the “impossibility” of finding a new bank to handle the accounts of its diplomatic mission. The former bank used closed the Cuban Interests Section accounts on March 1.
The Cuban delegation argues that it cannot find a bank based in the United States to assume the bank accounts of the Cuban diplomatic missions because of “the restrictions derived from the policy of economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba by the US government.”
The US government has said repeatedly that it is “actively” working with the Cuban Interests Section to find a new bank, but after several months nothing has been achieved.
The hardening of Cuban law, joined with the closing of services from the consulate in Washington, could begin to have a serious impact on the arrival of travelers from Florida to Cuba, which had reached record levels during the first quarter of 2014 with 173,550 visitors, according to a Miami based consulting firm.
Shortly after the Cuban revolution of 1959, and the subsequent expropriation of US companies, Washington imposed an economic and commercial embargo on Cuba that has been maintained now for over a half century. The US policy also impedes ordinary US citizens from traveling to Cuba without a special Treasury Dept. license.
The Obama administration did open up travel for Cuban Americans in 2009, but continues to restrict travel by the rest of US citizens, who can only go legally if they join licensed people-to-people tours. These junkets can cost several thousand dollars for a week or two on the island, far beyond what the cost would be under normal travel conditions.