Cuba Prohibits Its Citizens from Boarding Boats
March 28, 2013
HAVANA TIMES — A few days ago I went to Guanacabibes Peninsula, in the
extreme west of the country. It's an unspoiled nature reserve where one
can see iguanas, deer, crocodiles and all kinds of birds – in addition
to a wonderful seabed.
Everything went fine until we wanted to participate in a diving
excursion. We were denied access onto the yacht because among our group
there were Cubans, who aren't allowed to board. The guide told us that
this was a directive of the Naval Command Center.
Once we returned to Havana, we wanted to know if the parliament had
passed some legislation that prevented Cubans from traveling aboard
boats. Very kindly, the Legal Office of the Assembly informed us that
there's no law prohibiting nationals from sailing.
Of course there was no law that prevented Cubans from staying in tourist
hotels; nevertheless they spent nearly two decades on the outside
looking in as foreigners enjoyed the facilities that were closed to them.
But now we had assumed everything had changed, since almost half a
million Cubans who live on the island vacation in those same hotels, and
because a new immigration law allows the unrestricted exit of citizens…
unless you want to leave by boat.
At the Cubatur tourism office they told us, "Cubans — wherever they live
— can't be sold package tours that include a catamaran or a yacht."
Likewise, at the Gaviota tourism agency, they repeated the same
information to us: To be able to take a boat trip, we had to show
authorization from the Naval Command Center.
Finally we called the National Department of the Naval Command Center,
where they confirmed that Cubans aren't allowed to sail, with the only
exception being those people who are married to citizens from other
countries – though they still have to apply for a permit.
To receive one of these authorization letters, a letter from the foreign
spouse is required, because a request from the Cuban partner isn't
accepted. The letter has to detail the reason for travel, provide the
itinerary and give the boarding place, the days at sea and the ship's name.
On top of this, it's required to present the couple's original marriage
certificate and photocopies of the personal documents of both spouses.
All of this is forwarded to a commission headed by a colonel, which
within five days decides whether to grant the permit.
But even those citizens who are married to foreigners, and who are
fortunate enough to not appear suspicious to the commission, can only
sail in Cuban waters. Under no circumstances are they allowed to board a
cruise ship to visit another country.
It must be that they're trying to prevent illegal emigration. But the
truth is, even if a Cuban has a passport, a ticket and a visa, they
still can't leave the country by boat. Somehow the spirit of the new
immigration reforms got diluted at sea.
At the Naval Command Center they explained to us that "this point wasn't
addressed in the immigration laws reforms, therefore the old regulations
remain in force." They also explained that the commission is the entity
with the final word, meaning there's no one to whom an appeal can be made.
None of the people we spoke to — in hotels, travel agencies, marinas,
parliament and the Port Authority — could explain why this prohibition
remains. They simply repeated that "it's well established" – though they
didn't know by whom.
Therefore, the only way to sail is to go to the Port Authority with all
the documents attesting to one being married to a citizen from another
nation. Only then will it be possible to open the seas and adjacent cays
to a Cuban.
Still, if you and your partner are both Cuban and decide to take your
vacation on Cayo Largo, you won't be able to ferry over to the nearby
Island of Iguanas or go on any of the boat excursions available to
tourists from other countries because you won't be allowed to board a
What's more, if you want to visit Cayo Levisa (on the north coast of
Pinar del Rio Province), you'll have to wait for them to build an
overseas highway or embankment to reach it by land.
This is because right now there's the paradox: Cubans are authorized to
stay in the hotel there, but they're not allowed to get on the boat that
takes people there.
(*) An authorized HT translation of the original published by BBC Mundo.