American Tourist’s Guide to Cuba: Which Businesses Are Off Limits?

Near the end of 2017 President Trump launched a policy that significantly restricted the Americans’ opportunities of traveling to Cuba. One is still able to explore the island, but people-to-people visits are now prohibited. Clever tourists find many ways around the restrictions on traveling to Cuba, but one thing remains solid and it’s a restriction of spending one’s money with specific businesses owned or otherwise related to the Cuban Military. The complete List of Restricted Entities was published by the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs on November, 8th. However, as it emerges now, that list isn’t as clear-cut as it seems. The most notable issue is that it includes the businesses that actually belong to the Office of the Historian and are therefore a part of the Old Havana cultural heritage.

What Is the Issue About?

The issue of blacklisting some of Havana’s most notorious shops, Tiendas del Patrimonio (Heritage Stores) occurred because these were listed as owned by Habaguanex. It’s a Cuban tourist company that belongs to the Office of the Historian.

However, in 2016 Habaguanex was absorbed by GAESA (Grupo de Administracion Empresarial), which does belong to the military. This resulted in some of the businesses under the Habaguanex umbrella becoming a part of the Gaviota Tourism Group, which is a GAESA extension of sorts.

The drive of forces associated with the Cuban military groups to overtake the tourism industry, the main bringer of income to the island, is understandable. This project is largely successful as today, some of the biggest and most popular hotels and restaurants in Havana and Cuba proper are owned by them. Therefore, they are out of bounds for the American travelers.

The good news is that not all businesses are on the restricted list. However, one will need to take some time to research what is and isn’t ‘safe’ under the new policy. Strawberry Tours are a safe bet as this is an international service and its Cuban division doesn’t have any association with the military. Therefore, any American tourist can take a tour of Havana with their trained guides. However, when observing the new rules, said traveler will only be able to enjoy the hotel frequented by Ernest Hemingway in the 1930s (Ambos Mundos) only during a tour. It’s currently owned by Gaviota Tourism Group. Therefore, Americans are legally prohibited from spending money there.

Are All ‘Restricted’ Businesses Truly Restricted?

One can’t really ‘cheat in a hotel as they have to register and use their identification papers there. This is definitely the reason why all those Old Havana popular hotels are reporting a huge drop in US business. However, shops mixed up in this situation have no such restrictions.

As a clerk from Munecos de Leyenda, a Heritage Store selling exquisite dolls has tactfully said: “We don’t ask our customers where they are from before they buy.” Another thing that these shops do to stay in business is changing their names. Many use this as an opportunity for a renovation.

The sad thing is that these businesses shouldn’t have been forced into this situation at all. The reason is that despite their past affiliation to Habaguanex, they actually belong to Office of the Historian. That’s an entity completely dedicated to the perseverance of Cuban historical and cultural heritage. Most importantly, it has no affiliation with the military, so the shops working under it shouldn’t have been blacklisted in the first place.

The representatives of the Office of the Historian have contacted relevant US officials in their bid to have these businesses removed from the restricted list. The State Department replied that the list will be updated periodically as new information comes to light. However, it has yet to be changed since its release in November 2017. So, the Heritage Stores of Cuba have no choice but to exercise their ‘creativity’ for the fear of losing the majority of their business.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.