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American citizen would like to visit Cuba just to see dying Communist country. Has anyone actually been prosecuted under Helms-Burton Law? I understand there is a fine of up to Fifty Thousand Dollars. If the law is being winked at, how does one go about making arrangements to go? What happens to your passport and what do you do if you run into trouble? Thanks.

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    I have not gone there myself, and won't until it's legal not because I won't be prosecuted but because I believe that one obeys the laws of one's country as a matter of principle. I understand you can travel to Mexico take a flight to Havana and the Cubans won't mark your passport as having entered (they want to encourage U.S. citizens to break the laws of their own country). If you get into trouble you're in real trouble of course both with the Cubans and with the U.S. government. Personally, I think it would be more interesting to observe the revival of a post-Communist government even though in either phase you won't be faced with daily drama but rather with the slow process of decline (bad facilities, surveillance and controls, mediocre everything) and recovery (slow rebuilding of infrastructure, financial stringencies, rebuilding of a decent society and maybe some bloodshed from revenge killings at the beginning). Why anyone would want to put themselves under the control of a totalitarian dictatorship escapes me. There are real potential dangers (not that they are highly likely but who knows?) should some international incident occur while you are observing things and the Cubans decide to hold you for a bit in one of their famous tropical penal institutions until they get what they want and, if they don't, you could get more of Cuba than you ever dreamed you would. The Cubans should not be demonized of course and I don't mean to imply you will be the target of opportunity they have been waiting for. Most likely all you will realize is that the Communist system produces dreary architecture, crumbling infrastructure and superstructure, dreary newspapers, repressed and controlled citizens, lousy shopping, economic slavery, corruption and bribery, cynicism, pollution, electrical blackouts, really old cars, and a privileged class which claims it is against privilege, and injustice for anyone not in the powerful elite. Oh, street prostitution is back after more than 35 years of Castro's boring, boring, boring, platitudes and preaching. Perhaps you could arrange to spend a couple of weeks inside a poor rural prison. After that you might wish to change your travel plans. I met a number of Cubans while abroad and I can tell you they were a most unhappy lot and they were from the privileged groups. They were all waiting for the "Old Man" to die but they couldn't say it in the presence of other Cubans as they all suspected their fellow Cubans of being informers (this is one way to ingratiate yourself with the government powers). If you respect the Cuban people even a little then spare them your pitying gaze as they sadly wallow in what passes for a country. Sometimes one needs to be left alone - it is simply more dignified for them.

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    Global Exchange, a human rights-oriented organization based out of Berkeley, CA does "reality tours" of Cuba, getting special visas for their visits. To find out more, go to www.globalexchange.org/.

    I think communism is a load of crap, myself. However, I don't think that we can justify punishing a small third-world country for having an antiquated, outmoded, disproved model of government, especially when noone else in the world is, and especially when it looks like it's making the U.S. a laughing stock in terms of it's foreign policy. I mean, what can Castro afford to do? Nuke us? What is the point, really?

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    The rest of the world is laughping at the US in this case. USA is actively supporting much worse regimes than Cuba. One example - of many - is Turkey. Do you know that the average Cuban lives longer than an average US citizen? Is the press in the US really free to tell the truth about Cuba? They have social security including state pension, free ecucation and free health services for everybody. I am going to Cuba next week, and I am really looking forward to visiting this brave country. At the same time I hope that Cuba will get more freedom and democracy. But it should develop gradually. Russia is a horrible example of a post-communist country which too soon has become a (terrible) capitalist country. We should take the best from both of the systems! The capitalist freedom and creativity and the socialist's social security and care for everybody

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    U.S. foreign policy may or may not be misguided but it sure isn't set based on some popularity contest of what foreigners think of it. Please explain why tens of thousands of contented Cubans are risking their lives and often have lost them to get to the United States in makeshift rafts or took refuge in the Peruvian embassy some years ago. When Cuba has a problem with an influx of immigration wanting to live in this supposed paradise then maybe such fairy tales might be believable. Why not apply for a resident visa and put your money where your mouth is?

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    Cuba is not a democracy. The Castro regime does not allow private initiative. Only the Communist Party knows what is best for everybody. That is, of course, a silly and arrogant attitude. And it is of course very frustrating for the citizens who want freedom and to take responsibility for their own lives. This attitude also makes it difficult to attain economic growth.However, in Cuba most citizens after all support the regime (although not wholeheartedly; but the alternative the corrupt, Miami-based opposition is a much worse alternative)The US boicott makes it almost impossible to get out of this vicious circle. USA is the only state that is boicotting Cuba. Why? Your country has intimate relations with much worse regimes - like Colombia. Why? I hope USA will help Cuba in a constructive way instead of the destructive boicotte. Why not start a dialogue instead of this fighting for years? Countries like Canada, Mexico and Spain have a constructive approach to the regime, and the business relations are being strengthened - while US business people are losing opportunities.

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    When the Cuban government holds honestly free elections and permits whatever political opposition or parties to exercise their democratic rights then we will really know what the Cuban people really want. The US has said this for many years. If they then opt for the present government and system the US will probably respect this manifestation of the people and lift all forms of embargo. The alternative is not only necessary the Cubans in Miami. In fact, many of these people are either too old or too settled in the US to ever go back to Cuba permanently and their children are mostly assimilated to US life now. The US has relations with many countries which do things we don't approve but many of these are freely elected governments such as Colombia's. However, this Cuban government has not only repressed its own citizens for many years, refused to hold truly free elections, expressed hostility to the US both verbally and by taking actions to injure our people and interests such as the Cuban missile crisis, armed incursions in the rest of the hemisphere, continuous interference in the internal affairs of other nations as far away as Africa, acted as a Soviet surrogate for many years, refused to compensate American companies and citizens for goods nationalized without any compensation whatsoever, recently shot down against all laws of civilized conduct several unarmed small planes outside their territorial waters containing US citizens (by MIG jets using unprovoked military firepower), imprisoned Cuban citizens for merely expressing their opinions about Cuban internal affairs (and this just recently), and has basically behaved as a hostile nation within 90 miles of our shores. We have no international legal obligation to do business or have any interactions with such a government and the Cuban government is free to buy elsewhere and it does. They have claimed the embargo is a failure and it well may be judging by its results over more than 35 years - we are not blind you know - but if it is a failure they shouldn't worry about it and go about their business and we will go on about ours. There is a moral component to this in that the US feels that having normal relations with such a government would ultimately assist in the repression of their people and if other countries want to assist this government they are free to do so (without trafficking in formerly US property) as they give more weight to commercial advantage than they do to moral principles - and they are within their rights to do so. But, they don't live next door to this neighbor and we do and we don't like it and are not hesitant to say so and continue in our belief that all Cuba has to do is free its citizens to behave as a free people and we will back off. By the way there is a large group here who feel that embargoes are not effective and are merely an excuse for the Cuban government to blame its sorry record of mismanagement and oppression of the embargo. But the historical accumulation of the Cuban governments actions over 35 years cannot be washed away and most Americans can't stand Castro and his big mouth so let's see how this all ends one day. We don't have anything against the Cuban people, we have proven that beyond question and at great cost to this country - what we don't like is tyranny and if we can do something about it we will and have. Heck, Europe is the beneficiary of the same distaste for dictatorships and repressive regimes so one would think the message had been learned that accommodation is not a substitute for opposition since such regimes will not change voluntarily - they have to be strenuously resisted. Go to Cuba if you must - love it if you will - that's your business. Our business is to do what we think is right and if the rest of the world doesn't agree that's their affair. Americans run our affairs and all we want is for Cubans to be allowed to freely run theirs.

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    A dialogue on this subject is difficult. We both are bound up in our own mindsets. I will go to Cuba on Saturday - like more than 1 million other tourists this year. I expect to find a poor and unfree, but also a proud country with a social security net for everybody.
    I have also stayed in the US during my vacation (Florida). I find the americans very openminded, polite and nice. The traffic culture in the US impressed me. I also have met many thoughtful americans here in Norway. However, it is difficult for me to understand the hard-line attitude against a little, poor nation that is not a threat to anyone. I hope US and Cuba can start a dialogue about the failures that they both have done in the past. We dont solve the problems in this world by fighting each other or by making unreal enemy-pictures. Castro is benefiting from the american hardline politics. It is a fact that most of his people is supporting him (source: The Economist) Therefore it is very difficult for me to understand why Castro does not want free elections. I agree with you: They should arrange free elections as soon as possible, and allow a free press. This recommandation is valid for about 100 countries around the world - whereby many of them are close allies to the western democracies. This is a paradox. Finally I will apologise for not writing your language fluently. But I hope you still understand the essentials.

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    Hope you have a good trip and would be interested in hearing your impressions when you return. I do warn you, however, that if you do not speak Spanish you will really not have a deep appreciation of what is going on. Also, speak to Cubans away from other Cubans if you want to know what they really feel. Americans, myself included, have nothing against Cubans as we have proved by our actions on refugees and most of us wish the whole problem would disappear tomorrow. God knows, more time has been invested in this tiny nation than it really deserves. I have heard your views many times and I respect them as being sincere and with considerable merit in some respects. By the way, the Cuban government has just accused the U.S. of dropping some insect on their island. They love playing the small victim David to the U.S. Goliath and have been doing it successfully for a long time. They think we have nothing better to do than to bedevil their government but the truth is most Americans tune out the subject when they can. It has become quite a predictable dialogue. Your English is very good - a heck of a lot better than my Norwegian which is confined to a vocabulary of five words. Have a good trip and enjoy what you can.

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    Oh, and Castro doesn't allow free elections for the obvious reason: in a truly free secret ballot he might just lose in spite of what the Economist says - and he's not about to take the chance if he doesn't have to.

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    Looks like I've stumbled on an interesting
    dialogue here. I visited Cuba in May and found
    a beautiful island with friendly people living in
    the most tragic circumstances. I too happen to
    think that communism is a failed system - the
    inefficiencies and bureaucracy in Cuba are
    extraordinary. But none of this is helped by the
    ridiculous US embargo, and the outrageous Helms-
    Burton Act, which attempts to dictate to the rest
    of the world how it should deal with Cuba. What
    Cuba badly needs - and what Castro is prepared to
    allow - is foreign investment and markets for
    its products. Unfortunately, the US action
    prevents much of this from taking place. It is
    only through constructive dialogue that Cuba is
    going to change. Talking to Cubans - and I do
    speak Spanish - they will tell you that nothing
    encourages support for Castro more than the US'
    aggressive stance. I'm not making any excuses for
    Castro - who seems to be the only well-fed person
    on the island - but look at the history of Latin
    America: it is littered with examples of CIA-backed
    dictatorships and coups - Chile, El Salvador and
    Guatemala are good examples. The 'free press' was
    paid to push out the US line and coalition
    governments were successively undermined - that
    was Castro's and Guevara's experiences as they
    grew up in the 1940s and 1950s. That, I fear, is
    what drives Castro onwards. While I was in Cuba,
    I read an article in the daily newspaper, Granma,
    in which Castro tried to justify the one-party
    state by reference to the need for solidarity to
    overcome 'outside influences'. He is clearly
    referring to the problems experienced elsewhere
    in Latin and South America. I'm sorry to go
    for so long; I don't have an axe to grind, just a
    deep passion for what is happening to this super
    island.

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    Perry: thanks for your views. I'm afraid our discussion has veered to the political rather than focusing on what this forum is supposed to encourage i.e., an exchange of information among travellers. So, can you tell us about your detailed impressions and experiences in Cuba and your speaking Spanish is a welcome change from the ordinary tourist's focus on things material. For instance, how were the food, prices, transportation, service, etc. etc. Thanks.

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    Thanks for your observations. Where should I
    start? Transportation: bus services are irregular
    both within and outside Havana. Such is the shortage
    of fuel that huge trucks have been brought into
    service in Havana with vast covered trailers at the
    rear onto which people pile in huge numbers - due to
    their shape, they're known as 'camels'. There are
    also loads of buses donated from overseas - it's
    weird to see buses with German advertising and
    instructions, or US buses with 'call 911 for police'
    signs on the back! Taxis are plentiful: modern
    Japanese-built, air-conditioned 'turistaxis' which
    we tourists are expected to take, and private
    taxis also, usually wonderful old American cars, but
    with their insides falling to pieces! Car rental
    can be frustrating, with 3-4 main state-owned
    companies, all with varying degrees of inefficiency,
    but if you go to the small bureaus in the main tourist
    hotels, it's not too difficult to organise. Hiring
    a car is really the only way to get about the
    country independently, because of the infrequency of
    buses and trains. Prices? Not dissimilar to what
    I have experienced in the US - the most galling thing
    is that the price for everything is the same in pesos
    as in dollars. An ice cream might be 3 pesos
    or 3 dollars - but on the black market you can get
    20 pesos for 1 dollar. So the tourist ends up paying
    20 times as much as the Cuban - but then we probably
    earn about 200 times as much: average Cuban monthly
    wage is $15. Food: bit boring, lots of chicken and
    pork - beef can be bought in dollar restaurants at
    a price. Service: excellent - I have not met nicer
    people in a long time. Plenty of food for tourists
    but, of course, food is rationed for the Cubans - 1
    bread roll per day, etc.

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