As far as opening up Cuba for travel is concerned, the US Treasury is distinctly off-key with the notes being sounded by the White House and Congress.
The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control is in charge of overseeing and approving the permits required for Americans who want to travel to Cuba. And the latest in a series of ugly incidents is the cancellation of planned concerts in Havana by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
To cover the travel expenses and logistics of the trip, 150 donors had agreed to pay $10,000 each, and they would get to accompany the musicians. The Treasury approved the permits for the musicians, but not for their donors.
Without support from the donors, the whole scheme fell apart and the NY Philharmonic cancelled the two Havana concerts which had been scheduled to take place in between Oct 30 and Nov 2.
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) – who has introduced legislation to lift the Cuba travel embargo – has written to the Treasury asking them to “think straight just a bit.” And it is non-sensical. They’re willing to allow the musicians and their staff to go there and perform, but not willing to allow their supporters to accompany them.
And this is not just an isolated incident of boorish behavior displayed by the Treasury with regards to Cuba travel. Last month, they rejected the travel application of Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), along with the applications of Robert Whitley and Lisa Simon – Presidents of the U.S. Tour Operators Association and the National Tour Association respectively.
Rep. Farr is the co-chair of the Congressional Travel & Tourism Caucus and is also pushing legislation related to Cuba travel through the House. The trio was supposed to be in Cuba for meetings with Cuban tourism officials.
This trip – same as the NY Philharmonic – had been planned well in advance. It makes no sense for the Treasury to allow prominent people and organizations to go ahead with planning their trips and then pull the rug out from under them at the last minute. Especially when none of these trips were anywhere near to being ‘travel-related transactions’ as implied by the treasury.
The White House is talking about normalizing relations with Cuba, and has already lifted all travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans. Congress is debating multiple bills for lifting the travel ban. And public support is heavily in favor of dropping all restrictions against Cuba - as evidenced by the 95,000 signatures (h/t to Dennis Schaal, see TI100 profile) that Orbitz’s OpenCuba petition has garnered.
But this thaw and the change in perceptions towards Cuba Travel apparently hasn’t hit the Treasury yet.