By Catharine Hamm
March 31, 2013
Question: What are the travel requirements for going to Cuba? Is it possible to fly out of Tijuana, Mexico, to Cuba with a U.S. passport? Are there any other ID or passport cards required?
San Juan Capistrano
Answer: Yes, an individual can fly to Cuba from Tijuana, but a license — that is, a special permission — is required to do so (although some websites argue it's not necessary).
Treasury Department regulations say this: "The Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 CFR Part 515 (the 'Regulations'), were issued by the U.S. Government on July 8, 1963, under the Trading With the Enemy Act in response to certain hostile actions by the Cuban Government. They apply to all persons (individuals and entities) subject to U.S. jurisdiction …as well as all persons engaging in transactions that involve property in or otherwise subject to the jurisdiction of the United States."
Its website goes on to say: "Criminal penalties for violating the Regulations range up to 10 years in prison, $1,000,000 in corporate fines, and $250,000 in individual fines. Civil penalties up to $65,000 per violation may also be imposed."
In Morrison's case, complying with Treasury Department regulations is a good idea. She was inquiring on behalf of her 87-year-old father, who wants to make the trip. He is neither of Cuban descent nor qualified under one of the other categories that Treasury deems as worthy of receiving a license. (To see those categories, go to http://www.lat.ms/16U8Liq.) He just wants to go.
Would you expose your older parent to such risks by flouting the law? There may be those who believe the restrictions are wrong. They may be thinking that an octogenarian who gets caught may make a sympathetic test case.
Given that neither Morrison nor her father knew about the restrictions, I don't think they intended to become part of a crusade. When I spoke with her, I recommended that they join a group that is licensed to travel to Cuba for people-to-people trips that are supposed to be more than Cuban cocktails and soaking up the atmosphere. Check with college or university alumni groups or with Insight Cuba (http://www.insightcuba.com), among others.
Even if you want to travel independently to Cuba (with or without a license), just getting there may present problems. When I tried to view Tijuana to Havana on Kayak.com, I got this message: "Due to United States travel restrictions, we are unable to display travel itineraries that include Cuba." Riverside travel agent Sonia Robledo told me last week that she tried to search for fares (at my behest), and she was also denied access.
Janet Moore, owner of Distant Horizons in Long Beach, can see flights because the company works with groups that are licensed to travel to Cuba. She said she is approached daily by individuals who want to try to travel to Cuba without a license. "We say no," she said.
The interest in Cuba, she said, stems partly from the theory of "forbidden fruit." But, she added, "Americans are genuinely interested in what's going on in Cuba. It is a fabulous destination."
Zachary Sanders may have thought so. USA Today's Laura Bly reported in July the outcome of his trip to Cuba from Mexico. He was ultimately fined $6,500 for his visit. In this case, it wasn't the fine as much as it was the time it took to reach this conclusion: He traveled to Cuba in 1998.
Following the same route, Morrison's father would be 101. No vale la pena, as they say in Spanish — not worth the pain. Even for the most fabulous destination.
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