Q&A: Changes in Cuba

By Matthew Hansen / World-Herald staff writer

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The New Cuba

An eight-day series from The World-Herald
Day One Our view of Cuba is warped by the Cold War, distorted by a half-century-long embargo, blurred by the difficulty of traveling to Cuba and meeting regular Cubans on their own terms.
The photographs Photographer Ryan Soderlin takes you on a visual journey through Cuba.
A special thanks The award that made this trip possible.

Wait, isn’t the embargo over?

Didn’t Barack Obama end it?
That’s a common misconception. The president has thawed the long-frosty relationship, doing things like meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro, opening an embassy in Cuba and ending a ban on commercial flights to Cuba.
Obama also favors ending the trade embargo, which bans the sale of most goods (though not food) to Cuba and the purchase of Cuban imports. But the president doesn’t have the power to end the embargo — that’s up to Congress.

So when will the embargo end?

Unclear. It depends entirely on politics in both countries. Florida politicians — influenced by that state’s powerful Cuban-American community — tend to be pro-embargo, citing human rights abuses in Cuba. Also, a number of thorny issues need to be resolved before Congress acts, including the billions of dollars in property claims that American citizens have on houses, businesses and land they lost when Fidel Castro took power in 1959.
Experts say the embargo can end only if Congress amends or repeals a law known as the Helms-Burton Act. And that may not happen until 2018, when Miguel Díaz-Canel will likely become the new Cuban president, replacing the retiring Raúl Castro. Díaz-Canel’s presidency might speed political and economic reforms in Cuba, and the fact that he isn’t a Castro may make it easier for American politicians to end the embargo.

Can I go to Cuba legally?

Yes, you can, and it’s getting easier. This year U.S. commercial airlines will begin flights to Cuba for the first time in more than a half-century. Travel to Cuba is still officially restricted to one of 12 purposes, such as visiting relatives, educational trips, business and humanitarian projects. But it’s an open secret in 2016 that as long as you say you are going for one of those 12 purposes, the American government won’t ask any more questions.
As Robert Muse, a Washington-based lawyer who specializes in Cuban law, told the New York Times: If somebody wishes to travel to Cuba and they “can’t think up a way to fit into those categories, they are not trying.”
The Cuban government welcomes American tourists and their American dollars with open arms.

Is Cuba safe?

Quite. Gun violence is non existent, and Cuba experts in both the United States and Cuba agree that you are safer on the streets of Havana than almost any major American city.

Interview: Journey to Cuba

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