By Desmond Boylan

Recently I was at the beach on a very hot and sunny day in the province of Matanzas, east of Havana, when a group of tourists arrived in a bus. As I watched, two of them sneaked behind a bush, stripped to their underwear, slipped their clothes to their companions, and had a quick dip in the sea. They were obviously nervous, watching out so that they wouldn’t be spotted by their minders. I realized that they were Americans, and that by taking a swim and committing an act of tourism, they were breaking the laws of the U.S embargo. They were breaking the law in their own country, and they knew it.

United States citizens are now allowed to fly in directly to visit Cuba under a cultural program bound by strict conditions, the main one being that they are not allowed to practice tourism. By following the rules they will not be breaking the 60-year trade embargo imposed on the island under U.S. law. At last U.S. citizens are allowed to visit this forbidden country, listed by the U.S. as a sponsor of terrorism along with Iran, Syria, Sudan, and North Korea, but they have to behave themselves.

The sneaky swimmers spoke in a nervous whisper, twisting their mouths as if someone could read their lips from the distance. As they glanced over their shoulders, it was like a massive crime was being committed with a long prison sentence as punishment for being caught. There were rumors among them that minders were infiltrating their groups and posing as one of them. If it were true, anyone could be a minder reporting back to the U.S. congress on illegal tourist activities engaged by American travelers with the aim of stopping these tours and tightening the embargo once again.

A known fact is that thousands of Americans have been breaking the embargo in increasing numbers by flying into Cuba via transit stops in the Bahamas, Mexico, and Europe. Cuban immigration authorities don’t touch their passports, but give them entry and exit stamps on a separate paper. In their passports they only have exit and entry stamps from the intermediate country, so technically they could have been on the moon, on mars, or floating in the ocean for the undocumented days.

But many U.S. immigration and customs officers checking passports on return know very well where citizens have been. Occasionally they ask questions about popular Cuban products like cigars and rum, and sometimes people are discovered and fined. In spite of that, it is a known fact that it is happening, and if the U.S. really were to enforce the law and build prisons to lodge all Americans visiting Cuba, another problem could be added to the list of ills in the U.S. economy.