Cuba's Revised Travel Laws Allow Citizens To Experience U.S. Tourism

We have had a visitor in our home who has legally traveled from Cuba under a U.S. visa and a Cuban passport.  This is the first year that Cuba opened the doors for Cubans to travel with an Exit Permit.

Huffington Post has posted this article.

MIAMI -- At 67, Cuban taxi driver Benito Perez had never been on a plane.

For years, friends in Miami had invited him to visit, but he couldn't afford to pay for the flight and didn't want to burden his friends. The process of getting an exit permit from Cuban authorities and permission from the U.S. government also seemed daunting.
In the last year, however, traveling from Cuba has gotten slightly easier. The Cuban government eliminated the much-detested "white card" needed to leave. And the U.S. government has begun issuing multiple-entry visas good for five years.
Perez's friends invited him again. This time, he accepted.
To his surprise, the U.S. Interests Section in Havana granted his visa request and the Cuban government issued him a passport. On a recent September morning, he took off on a direct, one-hour flight from Havana to Miami.
"This is an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my days," Perez said.
Perez is one of thousands of Cubans traveling under the island's changed migration laws this year, many for the first time.
The number of Cubans receiving U.S. nonimmigrant visas jumped by 82 percent from October 2012 to July 2013 compared with the same period a year before, according to the U.S. State Department. Demand for visa appointments spiked after Cuba announced the elimination of the exit permit requirement, and again when the U.S. announced its new five-year visas, a department official said. In all, 26,266 visas have been issued.
"Nonimmigrant visa issuances have increased significantly as the U.S. Interests Section in Havana has worked to meet growing demand and reduce a backlog of visa appointments," the department said in a statement.
Across the Florida Straits, the changes are part of a slate of economic and social reforms President Raul Castro has made in recent years.
In announcing the change, a notice in the Communist Party newspaper Granma said the new measure was part of "an irreversible process of normalization of relations between emigrants and their homeland." In addition to scrapping the exit visa, Cubans no longer need to provide a letter of invitation from someone in the country they wish to visit. And they can stay away for as long as 24 months without losing their residency rights.
Travel, however, still can't be called easy for most Cubans.
Doctors, scientists, members of the military and others considered vital to society face restrictions to combat brain drain, and no one can obtain a passport to travel abroad without permission if they face criminal charges. Cuban authorities also can still deny travel in cases of defense and "national security."
Even for those granted a passport, an average Cuban salary of $20 a month means travel is still little more than a dream without the help of a friend or relative outside the country. The Cuban government charges $100 for a passport, and the cost of a round-trip ticket can run to several hundred dollars. Cubans also must obtain an entry visa for some countries, including the United States.
Still, charter flight companies in Miami say they're selling more tickets originating from Cuba.
"You're beginning to see new types of travelers," said Armando Garcia, president of Marazul, one of the largest Cuba charter flight operators.
Some of those travelers belong to a small class of professionals with businesses and money to travel, Garcia said. Many others come to visit family and friends.
Dissidents such as blogger Yoani Sanchez, who was allowed to travel in February after being denied an exit visa for years, have garnered most of the attention of TV cameras and reporters thronging the Miami airport. But for every arriving dissident there are hundreds of others walking for the first time through the automatic glass doors outside customs and immigration and into a foreign land.
Perez's friends, Rogelia and Luis Ventura, craned their necks for a glimpse of the exiting passengers.
"He said before he died, he wanted to come," Rogelia Ventura, 68, said.
The Venturas immigrated to the U.S. three decades ago and have traveled since to visit Perez and other friends in Cuba. They own an auto body shop in Miami.
Luis Ventura, 65, said he wanted to share "my day-to-day life" with his friend.
"Everything he sees, he's going to like," said Ventura, a tall man in aviator glasses, with a cell phone strapped to his belt.
To gain a U.S. entry visa, Cubans must prove they don't intend to immigrate, a difficult requirement given the island's low wages and limited opportunities. Many Cubans given entry visas tend to be older, said Emilio Morales, who once worked in marketing research in Cuba before immigrating to the U.S. and opening a consulting business.
"Many of those who travel travel with the intention of immigrating," he said.
Under the Cuban Adjustment Act, Cubans who reach the U.S. are generally allowed to stay and are fast-tracked for residency; that policy would apply to those who come to the U.S. as tourists as well. Cuba has complained the policy encourages citizens to flee.
While more Cubans and Cuban-Americans are traveling to and from the island, record numbers of Cubans also are leaving the island permanently. More Cubans immigrated in 2012 than in any year since at least 1994, when thousands fled the island on rafts.
"Even though there are record numbers of people emigrating from Cuba, there are also record numbers of people using the revolving door, and leaving and returning for longer periods of time," said Ted Henken, president of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy and a professor at Baruch College in New York.
He said the new Cuban travelers, however, shouldn't be called tourists.
"They don't have disposable income to stay in hotels," Henken said. "They don't have disposable income to go shopping."
The Venturas said they planned to take Perez around Miami to eat at restaurants, see the beaches and go fishing. Perez also planned time with relatives, including his brother, whom he had not seen in 33 years. When he finally emerged through the glass doors at Miami International Airport, Perez and his friends embraced heartily.
Perez, who is diabetic, carried a small leather arm bag with juice and crackers he brought for the flight, and wore a gray-striped polo shirt and black slacks.
"I came to see them and to get to know this place," he said.
The first thing Perez did was go to Venturas' house, a cantaloupe-colored, single-story home with white metal gates along a busy, five-lane street beside a highway. He stood outside the house staring at traffic, struck by the number of cars and clean streets, until his friends called him inside.
Perez said he'd never tried to come to the U.S. before and that the reforms had encouraged him to try.
"It was easier," he said.
After a monthlong stay, he planned to return to Cuba to be with his wife, parents and nine children.
But for now, he was meeting up with old friends and relatives, visiting the port to see fishermen and their catch, and dining at the all-you-can-eat buffet.
Perez laughed as he recalled how his friend told him he didn't have to pile so much food up on his plate because he could go back for seconds. "I didn't know for that price until they close, you can eat everything you want," he said.
For the weekend, his friends planned a drive across the Florida peninsula to the city of Naples
The entire experience, Perez said, had been life-changing.
"I had my eyes closed," he said, "and now they are open."

The Resorts for Millionaires by the Cuba of the Castros

Infobae has published this article on September 19, 2013. [excerpted by LaPatilla and translated by this site]

The Cuban dictatorship of the Castro brothers continues Soviet socialism while promoting the island to become the "biggest global benchmark for luxury tourism. "Two major projects are promoted to affluent international tourists, including those who own large yachts.

The paradox of socialism that Castro has exported to Venezuela under the label of "socialism of the XXI Century" is contrasted with the development of enterprises that have provided up to 7 18-hole golf courses and 2,500 luxury homes designed for foreign tourists, who will have not have to fear expropriations of the homes, unlike Cuban citizens who can only live in the place that the government has assigned or authorized.

"During the '70s, one guest in the Havana Hilton was the sister of Che Guevara. Now, Cuba is not interested in having guerrillas or their family members as guests, but Cuba does want investors," says Alejandro Armengol , a columnist for the newspaper El Nuevo Herald of Miami.

Months ago, some opposition media highlighted the launch of "Marina Gaviota,” the largest marina in the Caribbean, located on the peninsula of Varadero, in the area closest to the coast of Florida.
The luxury marina was funded by the government, which has provided the infrastructure and the construction of 1,000 moorings for yachts up to 150 meters in length and walking areas, a tourist village and miles of pristine beaches on the Caribbean. The Cuban government built 200 luxury homes for tourists with high purchasing power.

The 5-star hotel, which already accommodates tourists under the formula "all inclusive" was built and managed by a French group. The project cost is estimated between 800 million and a billion.
According to a report by CNN Latino, on the opposite side of the island, another luxury project promises to become more entrepreneurial tourist in Cuba. It is the construction of " Punta Colorada Golf & Marina Cuba."

Another Effect of the New Capitalistic Cuba: Loan Sharks in Cuba.

Another Effect of the New Capitalistic Cuba:

Now that one can buy and sell a home or a car, loan sharks have come to Cuba.
 This article talks about the topic.

The Return of the Loanshark

published by Generation Y - August 15, 2013

They don’t have their own places, but they flourish everywhere. They lend money at interest, facilitate loans, and charge the same in cash as in goods and services. They are the new moneylenders. After being stigmatized for decades, these banned bankers have returned without licenses or pity. They offer everything from small amounts to thousands of convertible pesos, although the latter is only for very reliable clients. They operate in areas they know well; they know how much their neighbors make in wages, whether they receive remittances from overseas, or if they have some other source of income. Starting with this information, they distinguish between those who will be “good for it” and those who won’t. Although there can always be surprises. The great nightmare of these “usury experts” lies in the customers’ intentions to board a boat and be smuggled out of the country, without returning to them what is theirs.
Other situations can be resolved with pressure and threats. When a debtor is overdue in his payments, the lender feels that the time has come to teach him a lesson.
Edward was watching television last Saturday when they knocked on his door. Two burly men pushed past him into the house and one of them hit him in the face with his fists. They took the stereo and left, but not before warning him, “You have 72 hours to pay back El Primo… if you don’t, we’ll be back and we won’t behave so nicely.” The victim could not go to the police, because, from the beginning, he preferred illicit credit, without possible complications. He spent the next three days selling some of his home appliances and going into debt to friends so that he could repay the loan. He also prayed a little that El Primo and his henchmen might be raided for the great number of crimes they commit.
María, however, obtained a loan of 10 thousand pesos from the Metropolitan Bank. She needed to fill out endless forms and present written evidence of her employment. She planned to use the money for construction materials to remodel her old house. She felt satisfied to have gotten the sum legally, although now any paperwork she fills out includes the information that she is in debt to the State. Others, who could not meet the requirements, had to accept the conditions and interest rates of their neighborhood moneylender. More than one client has had to pay with favors from her own body when the repayment date has come and gone; more than one family has had to deliver a refrigerator or a car, because an irresponsible member thought to ask for money they could never repay.
As necessary as he is slandered, the moneylender is just one link in the illegal financial chain of our reality. Cautious when giving, implacable when collecting.

A Street in Centro Habana

El Capitolio in Havana, From the Rear

I have a digital picture frame in my living room, which constantly shows photos I have taken in Cuba. Tonight, I saw this photo, which I had forgotten about.