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Cuba culture trips back on as licenses are renewed

Associated Press Modified: October 8, 2012 at 8:47 pm •  Published: October 8, 2012
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While U.S. citizens are forbidden from traveling to Cuba for tourism, more than 2 million travelers, mostly from Canada and Europe, visit the island as tourists each year

Popper said the six programs his organization had been running, which include a focus on Cuban art, music and society, were all reauthorized, though a separate trip to participate in a marathon was not. His group submitted their application for renewal in April and was then asked to provide more information in June. The license was finally approved in late September.

Visitors traveling with Insight Travel won't, at least for the immediate future, be taking any more trips to the Casa de la Amistad, or Friendship House, where Popper said they had gone to meet with speakers, sometimes from within the Cuban government, to listen and ask questions about Cuban history, economy and other issues.

Rubio criticized the group for this and several other of its activities, including salsa dancing at night and a trip to the Cuartel Moncada, which he highlighted as the barracks where Fidel Castro launched the revolution.

Popper said they actually visit a school for special needs children that is now located the old army barracks, and that salsa dancing is something they previously advertised as something travelers could do in their free time in the evenings, but was not an organized part of the program. He said the trip to the Friendship House had helped stimulate a conversation between Cubans and Americans, and that travelers had been free to ask whatever questions they wanted.

"They would say, 'How can you validate the way you are running the economy when we see dilapidation in the buildings?'" Popper recalled. "It was a great dialogue. It was in the true spirit of the licensing category."

He said they ultimately decided it was better to eliminate any areas of controversy to preserve the overall program.

Peggy Goldman, the president of Friendly Travel, which also just recently received its license renewal, said they added extra hours of programming to make sure they complied with the requirements.

"I think this is great news for Americans who are curious about Cuba and for Cubans who are ready to welcome us," Goldman said. "I hope the program can continue a long time until such time the embargo is finally lifted. That's when people will be able to go to Cuba and lay on the beaches."

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