American Tourists Flow To Cuba
They defy the law against spending money
By Ginger Thompson, Chicago Tribune
HAVANA - American flags waved from most of the boats at the Hemingway Marina the other day. Two 54-foot fishing boats, the kind that would have made the marina's namesake swoon, cruised in from Austin, Texas, on their way to Southern California. There were sailboats from New Orleans, Miami and Wilmington, Del.
And there was the 41-foot yacht "Chip's Ahoy" from Danville, Ill. owner and captain Chip Lucas said he bought the boat three years ago, when he turned 50. Since then, he has been living his dream. He sold his house and business, moved his wife and teenagers onto the Chip's Ahoy and cruised all the way from Lake Michigan.
"We can go just about anywhere our hearts desires," Lucas said. "One of the places our hearts desired was Cuba."
Despite strict travel restrictions and frigid relations between Cuba and the U.S., thousands of Americans are spending their vacations in Cuba, this hemisphere's last communist outpost.
Under the 1963 Trading with the Enemy Act, Americans are allowed to travel to Cuba, but they are not permitted to spend money here as tourists. Exceptions are made only for foreign journalists, diplomats, academics, religious officials and people with relatives in Cuba.
But the law seems unable to hold back the wave of American tourists coming into Cuba by sea and by air. last year. 20,00 American tourists visited -- most taking flights from Canada, the Bahamas or Mexico - and Cuban officials expect the number to double this year.
Most are coming on flights from Cancun in Mexico, Toronto, Jamaica and the Bahamas. Others cruise or sail here.
President Fidel Castro, who is relying on tourism to keep his country's flailing economy afloat, couldn't be happier.
"Let them come," Castro said, referring to Americans in a speech last February. "We will treat them excellently."
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