New restrictions affect Minnesotans hoping to visit Cuba

- With a new round of travel restrictions from the Trump Administration set to affect travel from the United States to Cuba, thousands of Minnesotans are rethinking their plans to visit the island nation.

Among those with plans that may have to be scrapped is Franklin Curbelo, a Latin-American Minnesotan originally from Uruguay who has organized the Minnesota Cuban Film Festival for the past eight years.

He expected to travel to the island in just a few weeks to start organizing next year’s festival, and though his plans were set, Curbelo worries if he goes solo--as he has over the years--he’ll be apprehended. 

“On the way back immigration authorities and customs, they're going to say oh you broke the law!” he said. “That’s the fear many Minnesotans have."

The changes to Obama-era travel rules went into effect on Nov. 9, and have left anyone without family ties to the island hoping to travel alone for business or leisure with a wrench in those plans.

According to the Minnesota Cuba Committee, the new rules principally affect travel by no longer allowing individual nonacademic people-to-people travel--though individual travel in other categories has not been restricted. Travelers must now go to Cuba in a U.S.-based tour group.

“Cuban Americans aren’t affected by this. They can still go there and visit their relatives--as they should be able to. That’s something that’s been in place since 1977,” said professor emeritus Gary Prevost, who spent 40 years also teaching Latin American Studies and Political Science at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. “It’s just ordinary Minnesotans interested in traveling there who it will now be more difficult--if not in some cases impossible--for as a result of new restrictions."

Travelers are also no longer allowed to spend money at facilities that are deemed to be controlled by the Cuban military, with a list of those establishments found here.

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minnesota, calls the implementation of travel and trade restrictions for American citizens a setback in restoring relations with Cuba.

“This isn’t just about traveling to Cuba—it’s about our economy," Klobuchar wrote in a statement to FOX 9, maintaining the new regulations are not a complete rollback of the progress that has been made. "These changes squander the economic opportunity that Cuba represents to Minnesota businesses. Fifty-five years of isolating Cuba hasn’t worked, and despite the Administration’s announcement I will continue to fight to pass my bipartisan bill to open up new opportunities for Americans and Cubans and advance U.S. interests.”

Meanwhile, Prevost confirms that Minnesotans--like Curbelo--who have legitimate business in Cuba could be affected for years to come.

“Minnesota farmers who were hoping for greater opportunities, again they will have greater challenges,” Prevost said.

In a post on their website, the Minnesota Cuba Committee explains that travelers should be aware that the new regulations are still unclear, and as of Nov. 13, it’s uncertain exactly how new groups might be able to organize travel under the nonacademic people-to-people category and others.

As it stands, no request for appropriations to enforce the new regulations has been made and the National Lawyers Guild has reiterated its pledge to provide legal aid to support the rights of U.S. travelers to Cuba.

You can read more on the issue from the Minnesota Cuba Committee here.

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