New Rules Further Loosen Cuba Travel Restrictions
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
NPR's Greg Allen reports on what kind of travel and what kind of travelers will be allowed.
GREG ALLEN: Armando Garcia says that dramatically changed Cuba travel.
ARMANDO GARCIA: The amount of Cuban-Americans traveling to visit relatives has increased tremendously.
ALLEN: Garcia heads Marazul Charters, a company that operates eight flights a week from Miami to Cuba. Since those rules went into effect, the number of Americans traveling to the island has tripled, to more than 300,000. The new regulations, Garcia believes, will have a similar impact.
GARCIA: Definitely, it's going to increase tremendously, because there is a lot of interest in travel into Cuba.
ALLEN: But there are many others who have been waiting for restrictions to be eased. Included in this group are members of churches and religious groups. Under Bush administration rules, like most Americans, they could only travel to Cuba after receiving special permission.
PAULA CLAYTON DEMPSEY: It will be easier for churches to go.
ALLEN: Paula Clayton Dempsey is with the Alliance of Baptists in Atlanta. Dempsey says under the new regulations, American churches will now be able to send money directly to religious groups in Cuba, but even more important, she says, they'll be able to visit Cuba's churches.
CLAYTON DEMPSEY: They're so isolated. They need - we all need support. They have a need there, and they tell us that you have the option of sending us money or coming to see us. Please come to see us.
ALLEN: Jose Buscaglia, director of Caribbean studies at the University of Buffalo, says his school is one of the few that was able to keep sending students to Cuba during the Bush years. The new regulations will make those study abroad programs easier to plan and operate. But in recent years, Buscaglia says, Cuban officials stepped up efforts to discourage the kind of free travel and open communication with Cubans many educational programs depend on.
JOSE BUSCAGLIA: They're interested in having more U.S. tourists, but they're not necessarily interested in having people go to Cuba and start looking around harder beyond the gates of hotels.
ALLEN: Just ask Tampa City Councilman Charlie Miranda. Miranda has long been planning a trip back to Cuba for himself and 20 members of his boyhood baseball team. In 1954, his squad, the Cascadian All-Stars, traveled from Tampa to Havana for a series of games against Cuban youngsters. Miranda says he recently received permission from the Obama administration to take his team of old-timers back to Havana for a rematch.
CHARLIE MIRANDA: This will be our last chance. We're all 68 to 70 years old, 65 and so forth. And what we're trying to do is play three games in Havana against individuals, hopefully, our age.
ALLEN: Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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