Is it legal to go to Cuba in 2019? Yes. Fort Myers guide Gloria Jordan knows how to navigate Trump’s new rules. And she says the Cuban people need you.
Silence engulfed us in long, eerie stretches.
The occasional, Russian-made Lada vehicle sputtered past, as did a lone tour bus, its seats speckled with a handful of riders. But this usually bustling corner of Cuba was mostly quiet.
Standing in the heart of Havana’s Plaza de la Revolucion, surrounded by the towering faces of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, arching my neck to see the top of the star-shaped obelisk memorializing Jose Marti, I could hear a pin drop.
Three days after President Donald Trump banned cruise ships and group tours from visiting the island nation, the impact was already reverberating.
Florida chef and travel operator Gloria Jordan stands outside Fusterlandia, a popular art installation in Havana, Cuba. The usually bustling street is mostly empty due to recent travel restrictions imposed by the Trump administration. (Photo: Annabelle Tometich/The News-Press)
“Oh my, where are all the buses?” Gloria Jordan said – to no one in particular.
The Florida-based chef and Cuban-born travel guide spread her arms out in front of her, gesturing to the vast and almost empty plaza. “This is usually all buses from the cruise ships. It’s usually all full. My God.”
Cuba travel ban goes into effect: 800,000 cruise passengers impacted
Cuba travel ban:Here’s how you can still go despite new U.S. travel restrictions
Similarly desolate scenes played out across Havana. The usually bustling seaside Malecon, the colorful Plaza Vieja, the whimsical and mosaic-lined Fusterlandia – all were quiet last week.
On June 4, the Trump administration ended the most popular forms of U.S. travel to Cuba, banning cruise ships and a heavily-used educational category called “People-to-People” travel in an attempt to cut off cash to the island’s communist government.
Cruise travel from the U.S. to Cuba began in May 2016 after President Barack Obama’s administration re-established formal diplomatic relations with the island. It has become the most popular form of U.S. leisure travel to Cuba, bringing 142,721 people in the first four months of the year alone. Cruises offered a simple, one-stop, guaranteed-legal way to travel.
That appears to be over, with an estimated 800,000 cruise passenger bookings affected, according to industry group Cruise Lines International Association.
Cruise passengers were disappointed Tuesday, that their cruise on the Majesty of the Seas scheduled to go to Cuba had been re-routed due to new travel restrictions by the Trump administration. (June 5).
I hadn’t come by cruise ship, or even for “educational” purposes. I’d come with Jordan, whose company, Gloria’s Cuban Humanitarian Travel, secured our passage under the lesser-known, and still 100% legal, “Support for the Cuban People” category.
Gloria Jordan: Tour guide to the soul of Cuba
It’s one of 12 travel categories still permitted under the new Trump rules. Others include journalistic activity, sports events, religious activities, research, and humanitarian projects.
The “Support for the Cuban People” category is the same Jordan has used since starting her travel business more than two years ago. And it’s the same one she plans to continue using for the travel groups she has booked through spring 2020 and beyond.
The category is meant to boost Cuban entrepreneurship. Jordan’s groups don’t stay at government-owned hotels. They don’t dine at state-operated restaurants.
Fort Myers chef and travel guide Gloria Jordan, left, has been taking groups on trips to her native Havana since 2017. (Photo: Annabelle Tometich/The News-Press)
Their spending was meant to boost the people of Cuba.
Jordan was strict about it, too, shooing my husband away from a state-owned coffee joint.
“No no no!” she yelled after he ducked under the blue awning of an Old Havana cafe to grab an espresso Sunday afternoon.
He came out, eyes wide, unaware of his transgression.
“That’s government,” she said,shaking her head. She pointed him to an alleyway and a set of beige umbrellas, telling him, “You can get coffee there.”
Over at Fusterlandia, a sparkling wonderland of mosaics created by Cuban artist Jose Fuster, Jordan chatted with a manager as a rainbow assortment of 1950s Chevys sat idle along the street. There weren’t enough tourists to ride in them.
A man in a blue shirt shrugged when sshe asked what they would do without the cruise ships.
“We’ll do what we always do,” he said. “We’ll get by. We’ll figure it out. We’ll close some days if we have to. This is not new to us. This is life in Cuba.”
Our group wasn’t the only set of Americans I saw. I ran into a few others who’d secured educational people-to-people visas before Trump’s ban took effect, and whose travel was thus grandfathered. A group of women at Ernest Hemingway’s house in Havana’s San Francisco de Paula ward were traveling on humanitarian visas organized through a volunteer program.
But the vast majority of visitors I encountered were European, Asian and Canadian.
“It’s stupid. Every other country is free to come and go as they please,” Jordan said as we passed a family of Italians loading into a red Chevy Bel Air convertible. “But the United States of America, land of the free, that’s the one that cannot come? Why? So stupid.”
While Trump’s current restrictions don’t directly impact her or her company, they are already having rippling effects for Cuban travel in general. Jordan said air carriers including Delta and United are canceling and limiting flights due to lack of interest and a lack of understanding about the new restrictions.
She called a booking agent at Southwest Airlines and was told she could still buy tickets from Tampa to Havana. “There’s nothing stopping me from making the transaction,” the agent said. “You just need to secure the right visa.”
Jordan has always secured the right visas for her groups. It’s just as easy for travelers to do so themselves, with $85 and a few clicks on a computer. But it’s those extra few steps that trip people up, and that’s what made the cruise option so alluringly convenient.
“The cruise made it easy. But they only stay for, what, 12 hours?” she said. “That’s not even a taste.”
Jordan’s tours take travelers all-in, visiting world-class restaurants built in former vegetable oil warehouses and speakeasies with $2 mojitos and seven-piece salsa bands.
Outside a dive bar in Old Havana, a woman with red flowers braided into her hair and a fat unlit cigar clenched in one hand looked bored as she wandered up and down a quiet street looking for tourists who might want a picture in exchange for a few bucks.
On the Malecon, a band sat and sipped boxes of rum, guitars and maracas laying at their side with no one to play for.
“These are the people it’s hurting,” Jordan said of the travel restrictions. “The government will always have money. The people will be the ones who hurt.”
Contributing: Jayme Deerwester, USA TODAY Network
Americans can still go to Cuba — here’s how
U.S. citizens are permitted to travel to Cuba by securing general licenses, commonly called visas, under one of the following categories:
Official government business
Professional research or meetings
Sports and public events
Support for the Cuban people
Authorized export activities
Non-immigrant Cuban National
Websites such as cubavisaservices.com will walk customers through the process, which can be done online.
Gloria’s Cuban Humanitarian Travel
Chef-owner Gloria Jordan of La Trattoria Cafe Napoli in south Fort Myers offers group tours throughout Cuba under the still-permitted travel category “Supporting the Cuban People.” Her tours take visitors to privately owned restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Her groups stay in privately-owned homes, with the goal of bolstering Cuban entrepreneurship. For pricing and details email firstname.lastname@example.org. Interested travelers can also stop by her restaurant at 12377 S. Cleveland Ave. or call 239-931-0050 and leave their information.
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/destinations/2019/06/13/trump-cuba-travel-ban-already-taking-economic-toll/1442497001/