Holbrook Statement on Recent Cuba Developments
On April 17, the Trump administration announced a series of measures aimed at further restricting travel and trade between the United States and Cuba. This is the second round of actions from his administration that reflect a rolling back of the path to normalization that former President Obama enacted during his administration.
The newly announced measures will cap remittances, allow U.S. entities to take legal action against foreign investors in Cuba under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, and add five more Cuban entities to the list of companies with which U.S. citizens cannot engage in direct financial transactions. In addition to these policy changes, there was a broad statement about restricting travel to Cuba to limit “veiled tourism."
Holbrook has been working in Cuba since the year 2000 and has been through many changes regarding U.S. policy and travel regulations to Cuba. While the announcements were not encouraging regarding normalization, there are several reasons to remain calm and to continue promoting existing programs as well as planning new programs:
Policy changes regarding travel to Cuba are published by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). It typically takes 6-9 months to publish detailed guidelines. Before those are published, existing rules and regulations remain in effect.
During the first round of policy changes by the Trump administration in 2017, the changes explicitly allowed for the continuation of any plans that were currently in progress. This was done in order to minimize any economic impact on the public and allow for a transition for any travel that no longer complied with the new regulations.
Previous Trump administration changes to the travel regulations were widely thought to have dramatically limited travel to Cuba when, in fact, for group travel under the People-to-People/Educational Travel license category, very little changed. For faculty-led short courses, also, there were no material changes. With so much confusion over the years, it is easy for travelers to overestimate the impact.
Travel to Cuba remains very safe. The U.S. Department of State's Travel Advisory to Cuba was adjusted in 2018 to a Level 2, or “exercise increased caution."
Holbrook is confident that policy regulations will not impact travelers financially in the short or long term. For this reason, Holbrook is implementing a “Cuba policy-change guarantee.” Holbrook is willing to provide a financial guarantee for any booked or new group given the circumstances: If travel restrictions were enacted without a transition period and that directly impacted any group that was booked – Holbrook would agree to special terms and conditions as follows:
Land services would be fully refundable to any booked participant up to the time of travel.
Air services – any penalties associated with ticket cancellation (typically between $200-$300 per person) would be refunded by Holbrook.
Holbrook strongly urges our institutions, leaders and participants to take a measured approach regarding travel to Cuba. For any trip planning that is in progress, it is Holbrook’s operating assumption that any policy changes will not affect travel plans that have already been booked per the previous policy changes. Nor should this inhibit future plans for travel under the 12 authorized categories, since there is no risk associated with planning and yet having a contingency.
The above would only be applicable vis-à-vis the Trump administration policies once fully implemented, assuming they directly impacted a trip that was planned.
For the Holbrook staff and, we believe, for the many institutions, leaders, and individuals who have traveled with Holbrook to Cuba, the announcements were deeply disappointing. We firmly believe that normalization of relations is the best path for the US and Cuba. We have been in regular communication with our counterparts in Cuba—operations staff, naturalists, artists, guides, drivers, scientists, conservation staff, casa particular and paladar owners, and more—and they reflect one of the best reasons to remain steadfast in our desire to share Cuba: the amazing ecosystems and its people.
Below is an excerpt from a letter from Dr. Hiram González, ornithologist and good friend to Holbrook and many in our birding community.
“As you have seen, our people are hospitable, peaceful and hardworking and depend on private businesses and tourism. Those who have a taxi, a paladar, are artists or scientists, or work for tourism like us, are we not part of the Cuban people? I am very worried about the future that is approaching us with so much irrational hatred because I have already lived a lot, but my children, grandchildren and young Cubans do not deserve that.”
Hiram Gonzalez Alonso, April 18, 2019