On April 17, 1961, a CIA-backed group of Cuban refugees tried to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. As soon as the party landed, they were met with resistance from Castro’s forces, and promised US air support never materialized. Of the 1,200 exiles trying to recapture their homeland, 100 died and the rest were captured.
Not only did the plan fail, it made the situation in Cuba even less desirable to the US government. Castro was able to put pressure on his Soviet allies for more support, and denounced the US to the world. Far from displacing Castro, the actions of the CIA cemented Castro’s control on Cuba, and made new president John F. Kennedy look weak and indecisive.
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Trips to Cuba are being advertised. It’s easy to get travel information, like Cuban hotel reviews online, but is it legal to go? It depends. Rumors aside, it is still illegal for American tourists to simply hop on a plane bound for Cuba. All persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction must travel with a license in order to engage in any travel-related transactions pursuant to travel to, from, and within Cuba.
Despite regulations designed to encourage more contact between Americans and citizens of the Communist-ruled island, Cuba remains under a United States economic embargo that has been in place for nearly 50 years. The Treasury Department is once again granting specific “licenses” for certain travel (e.g. to visit family, for journalists, etc.) and so-called “people-to-people” licenses, which greatly expand travel opportunities for Cuba-bound visitors. The licenses for groups require that the trips have an educational focus. Transactions related to tourist travel are not licensable (See 31 CFR 515.60(f)). The restrictions include tourist travel to Cuba from or through a third country such as Mexico or Canada (U.S. law enforcement authorities enforce these regulations at U.S. airports and pre-clearance facilities in third countries).
Although the ban on travel has eased for U.S. citizens in the last year, only a small number of companies received “people-to-people” licenses to bring travelers legally from the States to Cuba. A NY Times article provided a list of a handful of groups that had received “licensed operator” status as of June 2011.