The Castros' New Friend

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Havana — I’ve visited more than my fair share of dictatorships, but Cuba is the only one where travelers at the airport must pass through a metal detector upon entering, in addition to leaving, the country. Immediately after clearing customs at José Marti International Airport, visitors line up for a security check. Anyone found carrying contraband — counterrevolutionary books, say, or a spare laptop that might be given to a Cuban citizen — could find himself susceptible to deportation.

Contrary to popular conception, traveling to Cuba as an American was not difficult before President Barack Obama’s announcement last December of “the most significant changes in our policy in more than 50 years.” All anyone had to do was transit through a third country and not disclose his visit to Cuba upon reentering through U.S. customs. It was the aura of the embargo that dissuaded Americans. Moreover, there have long been myriad legal exceptions for Americans to travel to Cuba: They merely had to obtain a license from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) under one of twelve broad, rather vague, permitted categories, such as “educational” and “research.” “Tourism” as such was and remains prohibited. But since January, travelers to Cuba need not obtain any OFAC license at all. This essentially means that any American who wants to venture to Cuba, including those who plan to do nothing but sit on the beach all day and dance salsa all night, are now free to do so.

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