August 8, 2011
Juan Tamayo, Miami Herald
One of the first travel companies to jump into the Cuba trips allowed by a new Obama administration policy has suspended the tours amid questions that trouble both opponents and supporters of increased travel to the island.
The luxury travel firm Abercrombie & Kent advertised its tours for non-Cuban Americans, which included salsa dancing and rum-laced mojitos, under the “people to people” travel policy unveiled Jan. 28.
It quickly sold out 13 tours organized in conjunction with the Foundation for Caribbean Studies, holder of one of the licenses to organize people to people trips issued by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Controls (OFAC).
But an OFAC statement on July 25 pointed at problems with A&K’s arrangement with the Foundation, and sparked questions about the California-based group.
As a result of the OFAC statement, the company “suspended all Cuba-related travel bookings until it can ensure it is fully compliant with this new guidance,” A&K media relations manager Jean Fawcett wrote in an email to El Nuevo Herald.
People to people travel started under President Clinton to allow non-Cuban U.S. residents to engage in “meaningful interaction” with everyday Cubans in "support of their desire to freely determine their country’s future.’’ Cuban Americans travel for family reunifications, but all tourist visits are illegal.
The Bush administration shut people-to-people travel amid widespread complaints that Americans were engaging in thinly disguised tourism, and President Barack Obama reopened it Jan. 28.
Without naming names, OFAC’s July statement noted that companies that do not have a license to organize Cuba trips cannot use another firm’s license. Fawcett confirmed A&K does not have an OFAC license.