Why I Want to Visit Cuba More Than Ever
This article was originally published in Extra Newsfeed.
JUNEAU, ALASKA—Ever since I was a young child, I’ve bristled at the thought of someone telling me what to do. I was never quite naughty — I listened to my teachers in school, made good grades, and was respectful to my elders — but I didn’t like to do anything that was against my will.
Perhaps this stems from a curiosity about the world around me: I want to know how things work and what makes people tick, but I want to figure things out, the why of it all, on my own.
It’s always been a dream of mine to backpack the globe, and I think that comes from my childlike desire to see things for myself. Fanciful notions of explorers, traversing foreign lands and indulging in new cultures, always appealed to me. While still a proud American citizen, from a young age I’ve wanted to see the world — and better understand the people that live in it.
I’m now twenty-nine years old and I’ve been lucky enough to travel extensively, but I still savor the freedom to pick up and explore new countries. In recent years, I’ve set my sights on a land previously off-limits to Americans, and one of the last places on earth unbesmirched by commercial travel: Cuba.
Yet I’m not at a point in life where I can simply pack my bags, and jet off to a foreign country. A curious lack of finances and free time limits these flights of fancy to domestic road trips and outdoor excursions. But there’s no rush to go to Cuba; the only reason to visit sooner rather than later would be to beat Carnival Cruise Lines to the punch…right?
The State Department lists twelve reasons for which you can visit Cuba, but only one, people-to-people travel, is permissible for those looking to freely explore. Ostensibly, to travel on the people-to-people-visa, you must maintain a full schedule facilitating meaningful interaction with Cuban citizens — a clause which can be interpreted in many ways, all designed to prevent tourists from visiting Cuba on an indulgent vacation.
Yet the Obama Administration was famously lax in its enforcement of these provisions, employing a wink-and-a-nod policy that largely let independent travelers through with few questions. For the most part, Americans could freely travel to Cuba and support the various small businesses which now sprung up in service of their needs: spare rooms being rented out on AirBnBs, vehicles called into service as taxis, and students working as translators.
The age of Cuban exploration for the American traveler, a time when we could begin to explore a culture immune from our overarching influence, was nigh.
Yet the Trump Administration recently announced that the people-to-people clause in the tourism visa will now be closely scrutinized, effectively closing off the country to this kind of exploration. Americans can still travel to Cuba under the auspices of eleven other categories, but none of these cater to the curious, independent traveler. For the time being, excursions to Cuba must now be organized and guided by a government-approved tour company.
The small child in me bristles. I hate being told what I can and can’t do, and there have only been a handful of times in my life where the government has restricted my actions. I generally believe in the mission of our nation — that the majority of our decisions are made for the good of the people, despite how they might affect any one of us individually.
This very well may be the case with Cuba; Trump’s professed reason for enforcing the rules is to put economic pressure on the communist regime running the government. However, the Cubans who will most benefit from an influx of independent travelers (and subsequent cash) are the small businesses and the budding entrepreneurs — the ordinary citizens. They are being deprived of an important source of income, which is not easy to come by in a communist country.
The Trump Administration has spent the past six months telling all kinds of Americans what they can and cannot do. With the multitude of injustices that have been meted on citizens white and black, male and female, citizen and non-citizen, and all of those who fall in the non-binary categories in between, it’s silly for me to be most incensed by this recent decision.
Yet for me, this is a breaking point.
If my government says I can go to Cuba, I’m not necessarily going to do it. I need the perfect mix of time, money, and inclination to be able to make it happen. But when my government puts down its foot and says that I can’t visit Cuba, well, that’s where the kid in me starts to question the authority of the person making the rules — I want to see for myself what Cuba is all about, and I don’t want anyone telling me that I can’t.