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July 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 45, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Diving in Cuba is Harder for Americans

from the July, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

If you're a U.S. citizen and diving the waters off Cuba has been on your bucket list, move that item down. The U.S. government now forbids the type of trip under which scuba diving was typically classified.

Things started heating up in April, when the Trump administration announced it was holding Cuba accountable for helping Nicolas Maduro keep his iron-fisted grip on Venezuela, and would start restricting non-family travel to Cuba. That put a lock on U.S. cruise ships stopping at the island; U.S. airlines are still running their regular flights, and tourist visas are still offered.

Then last month, the U.S. Commerce Department issued a rule that pretty much ends group travel with the purpose of "people-to-people" contact with ordinary Cubans. That category, under which popular dive trips (like Jardines Aggressor II trips to Jardines de la Reina), were classified, has now been eliminated.

Unless you purchased a flight or booked accommodations in Cuba before the first week of June, you most likely won't be able to do so going forward. The U.S. Treasury states you must have "already completed at least one travel-related transaction" before June 5. Within the travel industry, there is some discussion that the phrase might also apply to travel providers who book trips for clients, but that is still pending clarification.

Now U.S. law prohibits Americans from going to Cuba, except for 11 specific purposes: family visits; government business; journalistic activity; professional research and meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances and exhibitions; supporting the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations; and importing and exporting. Travelers must pick one of those categories from a menu displayed during their purchase of an airline ticket.

According to the Associated Press, Cuba travel companies have started repackaging tours, including scuba diving, to make them compliant with "support for the Cuban people." But Kendra Guild, director of operations for New York City-based travel agency SmarTours, told the Los Angeles Times that the schedule of activities for those trips is more intense and runs at a challenging pace for some travelers to maintain. It's certainly no vacation -- which travel to Cuba is not supposed to be.

As with anything that deals with governments and politics, situations constantly change, so check the U.S. Treasury website (you can also sign up for updates) at for the latest news. We don't recommend booking your own solo shore dive trip to Cuba; instead, check in regularly with a dive travel agency about when, or if, Cuba dive trips for Americans can resume, and how to ensure you don't run afoul of U.S. government restrictions.

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