from a friend....
I have been researching a trip to Cuba and was made aware of the National Lawyers Guild and their links to the travel organization below.
I have provided a link here which is literally a mini-counter-intelligence manual as to how the travel restrictions work and how to disrupt and evade them.
As a bottom line it appears no matter that even if one is tagged at the airport or by mail later (and the vast majority are NOT anyway), all one really needs to do is request a hearing within 30 days and then Treasury backs off. There will be no hearing, no fine, no nothing. Only suckers and cowards have paid fines and not one single person has ever been actually prosecuted. If confronted one needs only to stand up for their rights and refuse to answer any questions, other than the ones answered on the customs form. You are not required to answer any other questions coming back into the U.S. other than what is on that form -- period.
I would still stress, though, it appears the odds are overwhelming that one most likely won't need to worry about any of this. I just found the information fascinating...
We know how to get you in and out of Cuba trouble free! If you
follow these instructions, your chances of getting in any trouble are
Tens of thousands of
Americans travel to Cuba every year without a license. And nobody have
ever been prosecuted for traveling to Cuba.
In 1963, the US attempted to ban travel to Cuba, but that was found to
violate the U.S. Constitution. So there is no law against travel to
Cuba. However, in 1982, the Reagan / Bush Administration, introduced
regulations that prohibit the spending of money in Cuba. The Supreme
Court upheld those regulations in a 5-4 vote, saying that Cuba might use
the American tourists' money for subversive activities. Even if that
were true in 1982, it is not true today! So why are these
regulations still on the books (515.560 of the Trading with the Enemy
Act)? Even the Pentagon said in May of 1999, that Cuba was no threat
to the United States or any of their other neighbors.
Every American planning on traveling to Cuba should become aware of
these laws. Knowledge is a very powerful tool when dealing with a
government such as ours that for no sensible reason does not want you to
travel to Cuba and discover the real truth for yourself.
(1) Cuba has a policy of
not stamping US passports and the passports of US residents.
(2) Upon re-entry to the United States, there are a number of questions
you are required to answer such as: What is your name, what is your
address, what is your occupation, was the purpose of your trip business or
pleasure, which countries have you been to, and for how long, how much
money are you carrying, do you have anything to declare, what do you have
in your luggage or on your person?
If you are asked more than these normal questions, the Center for
Constitutional Rights advises you to state: "I have been
advised by my counsel to not answer any further questions and to refrain
from any additional comment. Any further inquiries should be
directed to my counsel":
All Americans should know that they should refuse to give any
self-incriminating information that might be demanded by US Customs &
Immigration officials both while being interviewed in the airport or if
you might happen to receive one of the letters sometimes sent out by the
The Wall of Lawyers formed to protect Americans Constitutional Rights
say the Treasury Department usually takes one of two actions.
1. A "requirement to furnish information" letter to
travelers suspected of unlicensed travel to Cuba.
2. A "pre-penalty notice threatening a fine",
frequently reaching $7,500.
If American travelers ever receive one of these kinds of letters they
should contact the National Lawyers Guild and ask for a form letter or
click on letters below that will reply to whatever letter they have received from the Treasury
Department. Email addresses and phone numbers are listed below.
Americans should immediately ask for a hearing within 30 days with the
Treasury Department. The record over the past five years would
indicate that after a hearing is requested, the Treasury Department files
away the case because no appeals hearings have ever been held. Up until now, the
process for all such cases then stops.
Since the embargo began,
millions of Americans have traveled to Cuba. None have been prosecuted or jailed. None
that have asked for a hearing have had to pay a fine. A few
unknowledgeable people have been fined and paid it to avoid hassle or
because they were scared.
Americans should not lie
to the US Customs & Immigration officials....that is a violation.
Americans can simply tell any of these officials that they are taking the
Fifth Amendment that guarantees you the right to refrain from answering
any questions from any government official. It might be
uncomfortable for a few minutes....but you are entitled to request a
hearing within 30 days. They have not heard any cases regarding travel to
Cuba in years.
Some journalists have called the Treasury OFAC to ask about this....but
their calls are never returned. In other words, the Treasury
Department OFAC is trying to avoid confirming that this is the case.
Americans who follow the instructions on this page....are not likely to
ever have a problem or even get to this stage.
This law is known as the Trading with the Enemy Act and is a little
ridiculous since the Pentagon has already declared (May of 1999) that Cuba
is no threat to the security of the United States or any of their other
We have formed a WALL OF LAWYERS to protect our clients in the event of
problems. They are as follows:
National Lawyers Guild.....Art Heitzer 414-273-1040 Ex 12 firstname.lastname@example.org
or Jeff Fogel 212-614-6470
The Center for Constitutional Rights, 212-614-6464, FAX 212-614-6499,
666 Broadway, New York, NY 10012, Email email@example.com
In the event that you receive a letter requiring that you
furnish information or a Pre penalty notice.....we suggest you respond with
one of these two letters. Just print it out, sign it and mail it.
More than likely you will never hear from the Treasury OFAC again.
Click on letters below.
It is a good idea to keep this information handy for easy reference
during your re-entry customs interview.
(4) We advise our Cuba traveling clients to read carefully the US
Customs and Immigration form that you completed (usually in flight), then if you are asked more than those standard questions by U.S. Customs or
Immigration officials, simply hand them the name and phone number of your
lawyer, the CCR lawyer or the lawyer from the National Lawyers
Guild. Typically, that is the end of the hassle!
Remember that it is the policy of our government to try to intimidate
Americans regarding travel to Cuba or to scare you out of returning once
you have been. Also, it is up to each individual Customs or
Immigration agent as to whether or not they want to hassle you.
Keep in mind that the travel sanctions are likely to end in the very
near future. It is doubtful that our country will ever charge any
American with a crime that will soon cease to exist.
(5) Be sure to take some humanitarian foods or medicines and give them
to the Cuban people you meet or to the Cuban Red Cross representative
(usually the nurse at the hotel where you stay). Cubans always need
over the counter medicines such as: Aspirin, vitamins, cold
medicines, asthma medicines, antibiotics, medicines for lice, bandages,
soap, shampoo, toilet tissue, pens, pencils, paper, envelopes, tooth
brushes and tooth paste, condoms, birth control medicines, etc. The
US law (Helms Burton Act) says in Section 1705 (b) and (c) that if you
donate humanitarian food or medicines that there are "no
restrictions" on travel. Document the giving of those gifts with a
photograph if possible. Save your receipts!
(6) Many Americans try to bring home items such as Havana cigars,
Havana Club rum, T-shirts and other Cuban made items. Most get away
with it, but if the US Customs & Immigrations find them in your
luggage, they will take them away from you. Please remove all
airline luggage tags from your suitcase and get rid of all tickets and
claims checks before entering US Customs & Immigration. The vast majority
of Americans go thru trouble free....but you should be warned!
(7) It is a good idea to carry some sort of money belt to keep your
extra cash and passport. Beginning November 08,
2004, Cuba stopped accepting US dollars at stores, restaurants,
hotels, etc. You will be required to exchange US dollars for Cuban pesos and
will be charged 10% fee to do so. If you bring Euros, Swiss
francs, Canadian dollars, this 10% exchange fee will not apply. Most hotels have a safe at the front desk
and the better hotels have one in the room. Carry only the amount of
money you need for the day and carry a photo copy of your passport.
Keep the original passport and extra cash in the safe. BFI, an
international bank and Transcard of Canada are now offering a debit card
that can be purchased at any Transcard office in Cuba (one in each
Province) or at any BFI Bank in Cuba. You can put as much money as
you like in this account and then use it at most tourist agencies in Cuba.
When departing Cuba, just turn it in at the bank where you
bought it and get your balance returned or if you prefer, leave a few
dollars to keep it active if you plan to return to Cuba. Transcards number
in Canada is 800-724-5685. In some cases, Rex Limousines in Havana
acceepts Master Card for rental cars and has made cash advances on their
card to a few of our clients. Bank of Nova Scotia in Havana has been
allowing cash advances on American issued Master Cards. However, don't count
on being able to use US issued credit cards or debit cards for anything in
(8) Many hospitals in Cuba offer free,
or very cheap, emergency health care for tourists, including Americans.
Internet service is becoming more widely available in Cuba, but it is still
quite expensive, and not on par in terms of quality with the US and Europe.
(10) Long distance phone calls can be made from the lobby of almost
every hotel in Cuba. It is expensive (sometimes more than $5 per
minute). You can now buy phone cards in the lobby of most hotels in Cuba. Check for the price per minute
(sometimes as low as $2.00 per minute). You simple stick the phone
card in the phone, dial 1191 and then your area code and phone number. These cards can be used at
what is known as blue card telephones. A network of these phones can
now be found throughout the country.
(11) Don't make this mistake. Cuba is in the process of
installing a new system of controls for reservations. Believe
me....they need it! Whatever you do don't ever double book a
reservations. Cuba is slow about confirming flights, hotels and car
rentals. Americans get nervous and start checking around.
Sometimes they even book reservations with another agency. Don't do
it! If you double book, both reservation requests will
be cancelled. So find an agency or agent you like and stick with
them. 99.9% of the reservations eventually get confirmed.
(12) You might consider making sure you have a carry on bag
that includes your passport, a copy of your passport, drivers license or picture
ID as well as your tickets. Don't forget to include your camera,
film, shaving gear, make-up kit, prescriptions, toilet paper, towelettes,
pens, mosquito repellent, etc. You might also include some decaf
coffee, tea, sugar free sweeteners, and maybe even something to spice up
your food such as Cholula, etc. One last reminder to include an
extra pair of clothes in the unlikely event your bags may be lost.
Make sure you know the new rules regarding what
you can bring to Cuba.
Check Cuban Customs at
http://www.aduana.co.cu/. They change the
link fairly regularly. If this link gives you an error, just Google
is probably a very good idea nowadays to check with your Airline prior to
flying to the Gateway City (Cancun, Nassau, etc.) in order to find out
how to pack your personal items in order to allow a speedy pass thru luggage
inspections in most American airports. Remember not to lock your
luggage until after it has been inspected.
An Open Letter to Americans Traveling to Cuba on People-to-People tours
My dear compatriot: Recently we have been receiving several visits a week from People-to-People exchange tours at the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana, Cuba. As the number of these tours is likely to increase I’d like to say a few words to those of you making the trip across the Straits of Florida.
I am delighted that you have decided to visit Cuba. I know it wasn’t easy to make the decision to come here, and some of your friends might have looked at you funny when you told them where you were going. I also know that the trip didn’t come cheap. But despite those obstacles you are on your way.
Because of current travel restrictions to the island you are probably coming on a specific travel license that allows People-to-People exchanges. I also have to use a travel license to make my journey home from Cuba.
Likewise, Cubans must also get permission from their government to travel outside their country. My point is that all of us coming and going from Cuba have restrictions imposed from one side or another. Keep this in mind as the first of many areas of solidarity you can use to relate to your Cuban hosts.
When you arrive to Havana and board the tour bus you will be embarking on a busy and somewhat rigid schedule. I encourage you to keep two things in mind:
The first is that the United States State Department continues to forbid “tourism” to Cuba. Therefore your travel provider, in cooperation with a Cuban government travel company, has gone to great lengths to abide by these rules to avoid legal problems for everyone involved, especially you. This is done by scheduling your time around cultural exchanges and informational tours while avoiding “touristy” things like mojitos on the beach.
The second thing you need to remain cognizant of is that your Cuban tour guides are paid to give you a tour of their country. No one wants to talk badly about their home to strangers. Would you expect to go on a group tour of Washington D.C. and the guide say something like “this is the White House, it is the home base of an evil empire perpetuating capitalist globalization”? No, you would not hear that from your tour guide. Similarly expect your Cuban tour guide to be respectful and proud of their country.
Now, my dear compatriot, I fear I may have you worried. You might be questioning whether or not you should come to Cuba if you are not going to be able to get a “down to earth” or “real life” experience of the Cuban situation.
So to lay those fears and frets at ease I will offer a few ways you can make your highly regulated trip a bit more…free. (At least in spirit if not actually cost.)
- Get to know your guide right away by asking them about their family. Tour guides will spend 20 hours a day, or more, working for you the entire time you are in Cuba. That means they won’t be around their family. Show them you recognize that.
- Ask people in the tourist industry where they work when they are not giving tours. You are likely to meet an engineer, a linguist, or a professor. You might find someone who has the same profession you have back home. Don’t be afraid to “talk-shop” while on vacation.
- Buy people drinks. Don’t be afraid of getting into a conversation with a stranger. Remember that even if it is boring or difficult to communicate your busy travel schedule will pull you away soon enough. Use this to your advantage and be outgoing without fear of getting bogged down for the whole day or night talking with the same person.
- Sneak away. You need to do this without making the bus wait on you so as to be respectful to the other guests and the host. One way around this is to excuse yourself to go to the bathroom and then show up on schedule when the bus is supposed to pull away. This will give you a chance to get away from the group for an hour or two without having to make them look for you. Remember forgiveness comes easier than permission.
- Tip. Tip. Tip. I don’t know why we Americans assume no one needs a tip outside of our country. Some people working in the Cuban tourist industry had to pay money to get their job. The only way they put food on the table is with your Convertible Pesos. Tip.
So, fellow American, I hope after reading this you have some ideas on how to get the most out of your trip to Cuba. If you find yourself frustrated try to remember the context that you are traveling in is highly regulated, mostly from our government. Perhaps use that frustration back home by expressing your concerns about travel regulation to Cuba with your elected officials.
I will close with an invitation. If you find yourself at the Latin American School of Medicine ask to go to the bathroom as soon as you arrive. If you see a tall, lanky guy with an American flag sewn onto his coat sleeve at the top of the stairs ask for a personalized tour of the campus. I’ll make sure to get you back to the bus on time.
Graham Sowa: I've been living in Cuba for three years now. I would like to blame my obvious hair loss seen in this updated photo on the rigors of life here and medical school, but it is probably just genetic. I've made some of the strongest friendships during my time in Cuba from other writers on this website. The strength of those friendships has almost restored my faith that the online world can lead to offline and real life change. On that same note I've adjusted to using internet one or two hours a month. In the meantime I have rediscovered things like flipping through the pages of books, writing stuff down by hand, and having to admit that I don't know something instead of rapidly looking up the answer on Google while the teacher isn't looking.