I received an official subpoena from the US Treasury Department for alleged economic sanctions violations a couple of years after I flew to Cuba as an American.
I visited Cuba four years ago during the Obama administration when travel restrictions were gradually being eased and diplomatic ties were warming.
After many years of probably “unconstitutional” travel limitations to the island for US people, I decided to write about my experience on the internet, forecasting a rush of American tourists once US airlines, cruises, and tours resumed operations.
As I predicted, tourism flourished in Cuba as Americans flocked to the island for the first time. Many individuals relied on my publications to organize their vacations.
You were fortunate if you were able to travel to Cuba as an American during this brief period of liberty.
Because not long after President “grab ‘em by the p*ssy bone spurs” took office, he began lifting all US travel restrictions to the island.
American Tourists Not Allowed
I’d heard tales that some American visitors were getting into difficulty visiting Cuba, and I knew there was a chance, but I decided to go anyway. I thought I fit into one of the permitted travel categories.
And for every strange story about a fine or warning, hundreds of people visit there each year with no repercussions. It appeared to be a law that was never enforced.
Well, my journey to Cuba ultimately caught up with me, and three years later, the US Treasury Department subpoenaed me for any evidence related to my trip.
The government mailed me a formal subpoena last year, at an old address I hadn’t used in years. They couldn’t possibly check with the IRS to see where I last filed my taxes?
When I didn’t react to the physical subpoena given to that wrong postal address, they eventually sent me an email. Because they knew my blog’s email address, I’m guessing it was my extremely public blog post that let them know about my trip.
Subpoenaed By The Government
So, how does it feel to be summoned by the United States government? To be honest, it’s a little frightening. “Oh, shit,” was my initial reaction. Isn’t there anything more important to them than harassing and intimidating individual American tourists?
I mean, I’m a budget traveler who spent roughly $900 in Cuba over ten days. People’s houses are being used to stay with locals and dine at eateries. It’s not like I’m giving the Cuban regime millions of dollars…
My second thought was that, like everyone else working in the Trump administration, I should just disregard the subpoena.
But then I recalled that, unlike them, I am not above the law… I’m simply an ordinary guy with no real power, fortune, or connections. Being singled out by a bully-run administration. I’ll face penalties if I ignore a subpoena.
Office Of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control is a financial intelligence and enforcement department. In support of US national security and foreign policy goals, it administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions.
By spending money in Cuba as an American, for example, to buy meals, go on a tour, or pay for lodging, I was potentially breaking the economic sanctions imposed on Cuba.
Worse, through my writing, I was informing other Americans about my trip to Cuba. This, I feel, is why I, as well as our traveling companions, were singled out.
Because we made our journey public and a large number of people read it.
Is it possible that any of my funds ended up in the hands of the Cuban government? Sure. We tried our hardest to avoid it, but it’s difficult to stop part of your money from falling into their hands.
It would be difficult for anyone coming to the United States to avoid paying money to the American government.
Left With A Warning
So I sent a reply to the subpoena, explaining that my travel was on journalistic grounds and sending copies of any leftover papers I possessed (flight receipts, accommodation information, itinerary, etc.). Remember, this was a three-year expedition! I didn’t put much money aside.
If you didn’t know, Americans are allowed to visit Cuba if they fall into one of the 12 categories approved. They aren’t adequately defined, and the regulations are quite perplexing.
- Visits from family.
- Government of the United States, foreign governments, and some international organizations’ official business.
- Professional research and meetings, as well as journalistic activities.
- Educational exercises.
- Religious observances.
- Exhibitions, public performances, clinics, workshops, sports, and other contests.
- Solidarity with the Cuban people.
- Humanitarian initiatives.
- Private foundations, research, and educational institutes’ activities.
- Information or information items are exported, imported, or sent.
- Under current norms and standards, some export transactions may be examined for permission.
I believed I’d fit under journalistic activities because I operate a travel website for a living. Under Obama, Americans were regularly visiting Cuba, and I was covering the story.
CNN is allowed to publish about their trip to Cuba, but not me? My Cuba pieces have been seen by over a million people, so it’s not like this is a pastime.
The authorities did not agree that I was a journalist, but instead of fining me, they only issued a warning. I hypothesize that they wanted that warning to spread so that others would be discouraged.
“OFAC has decided to address this matter by issuing you this Cautionary Letter instead of pursuing other enforcement responses at this time. Upon issuing this Cautionary Letter OFAC will close this matter without making a final agency determination as to whether a violation has occurred and will not take any further action on the underlying conduct unless it learns of additional related violations or other relevant facts.”
Although, in my opinion, most folks have nothing to be concerned about. Just don’t blog about your vacation to Cuba and wind up on Google’s top page!
Travel Bans Are Unconstitutional
Despite all of the rhetoric about Americans having so much freedom, as someone who has traveled (and lived) all over the globe and been exposed to many various cultures and political systems, I believe we still have work to do in this area.
I’m also an Irish citizen, which is a fun fact. What’s more, guess what? Ireland does not prohibit its residents from visiting other nations outright…
Fine, if the present US administration wants to impose economic restrictions on Cuba. However, by using a constitutionally dubious loophole that restricts American citizens’ freedom of travel, they are penalizing both Americans and the Cuban people they claim to wish to aid.
I have no animosity against the Cuban people and believe that freedom of movement is a fundamental right if I choose to spend my money on tourists in Cuba. Cuba has the authority to refuse us entry if they so want. They do, though.
At the very least, they did before we completely botched our pandemic response.
Instead, for unclear reasons, my government is attempting to ban me from flying to a foreign nation. The travel restriction on Cuba is not based on public health or Cold War-era national security concerns.
Don’t get me wrong: the Cuban government is extremely uncommunicative with its citizens. Many other nations, however, are not subject to travel restrictions.
If you want to recover the freedom of unlimited travel that other countries have, remember that as Americans, we have the power to modify US foreign policy by choosing legislators who will make such changes on our behalf.
If Joe Biden is elected President in November, he has made it plain that he will resume the more relaxed Obama-era relations with Cuba.
Let’s hope things improve next year, and Cuba reopens to visitors with simple, common-sense standards.
Because Cuba is an interesting and attractive nation to visit as a visitor! Also, the Cuban people rely heavily on tourists for financial assistance.