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CHRISTOPHER MUTHER

Don’t tell me where I can vacation, OK, Mr. President?

Tourists who have just disembarked from a cruise liner tour Havana aboard a vintage American convertible Tuesday, the same day the Trump administration imposed major new travel restrictions on visits to Cuba by US citizens, banning stops by cruise ships and ending a heavily used form of educational travel as it seeks to further isolate the communist government.
Tourists who have just disembarked from a cruise liner tour Havana aboard a vintage American convertible Tuesday, the same day the Trump administration imposed major new travel restrictions on visits to Cuba by US citizens, banning stops by cruise ships and ending a heavily used form of educational travel as it seeks to further isolate the communist government. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Dear Mr. President,

May I have a word with you regarding vacations?

I know you enjoy a little respite from time to time — and by time to time, I mean the 181 times you’ve played golf since becoming president. I don’t blame you. If I owned 17 golf resorts around the world, I might hit the links at least 181 times in two years, too. If I knew how to play golf, that is. Maybe you could put in a word with Tiger Woods and ask him to give me some lessons? (I can follow how often you play golf thanks to Twitter, and as we both know, if it’s on Twitter, it must be true, right, Mr. President?)

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I have no say over where you go on vacation, or what you do for R and R. You can head to Mar-a-Lago every weekend if you choose. I’ll even help pay for your relaxing rounds of golf since I’m one of the taxpayers who generously chips in for Air Force One flights, Secret Service golf cart rentals, and I’m not quite sure what else because I’m still waiting for that call from Tiger Woods we discussed.

So we’re in agreement then, yes? I’ll continue to hear about your vacations and recreational activities, and I’ll also respect your right to choose what’s best for you. Grand!

Now, about my vacation. You’ve recently tightened restrictions on travel to Cuba. For 50 years, an embargo stood against the country. I understand why: Politics, communism, Bay of Pigs, Castro, etc. But your predecessor (I won’t mention his name lest it ruffle your feathers, John McCain-style) decided that those old policies weren’t helping matters. In fact, what they were primarily doing was making life difficult for the citizens of Cuba.

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“The embargo is outdated and should be lifted,” your predecessor-who-shall-not-be-named said in 2016. He began chipping away at some of those dusty Cold War rules, including the policy that kept most US residents from visiting Cuba.

So Mr. President, let me run an idea by you. How about I don’t dictate your travels, and you don’t dictate mine? If I want to go to Cuba, I go to Cuba. And if you want to go to Mar-a-Lago, you go to Mar-a-Lago.

Let me be clear: I have no interest in supporting Cuba’s military or its involvement in Venezuela or support of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. I am happy to avoid anything that will put money in the pockets of that messy political situation. This kind of scenerio is why your predecessor kept some restrictions in place, such as barring US citizens from big resort hotels. Instead, travel to Cuba was solely cultural in nature.

Most importantly, the thaw in the embargo gave Americans a way to directly help the people of Cuba. They could stay in people’s homes (otherwise known as casas particulares), and eat at their home restaurants (paladars). They could stay in Airbnbs and hire locals as guides to show them around. That money went directly into the pockets of Cubans who often face shortages. I know because when I visited a few years ago, I often tipped people, like a doctor who made more working as a tour guide than as a doctor.

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It was a system that seemed to be working well. According to the Center for Responsible Travel, US citizens are the second largest group visiting Cuba after Canadians. The organization’s executive director, Martha Honey, said your new restrictions, which eliminate a category called “people-to-people” travel, is “a devastating blow to millions of Cubans, as well as US travel companies.”

Two women talk at the Cuba information counter at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport before traveling to Cuba on Tuesday.
Two women talk at the Cuba information counter at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport before traveling to Cuba on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

People-to-people visits are the most common way US tourists and Cuban-Americans visit the Caribbean island.

During that brief window when people-to-people travel was allowed, multiple cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Carnival, began offering trips to Cuba. The companies abruptly canceled those cruises after you said we could no longer take cruises, private yachts, or fishing vessels to Cuba.

As a result, more the 800,000 US residents who were planning to visit the island have seen their itineraries canceled or changed to other Caribbean islands. I’m wondering how much money the cruise lines will lose as a result.

Similarly, I suspect the airlines that began offering direct flights to Cuba after your predecessor-who-shall-not-be-named lifted portions of the outdated embargo will take a financial hit as well. With fewer people headed to Cuba, I can’t imagine the volume of flights could hold steady. This doesn’t seem as if it’s helping US businesses. But I’m sure you know better than I do, as you are a very stable genius, former reality TV host, and businessman.

Taxi drivers awaited tourists in Havana on Wednesday. Drivers of classic cars, owners of private restaurants, guides, handicrafts vendors, and owners of rooms for rent will be among the most affected by the Trump administration’s new restrictions on travel to Cuba.
Taxi drivers awaited tourists in Havana on Wednesday. Drivers of classic cars, owners of private restaurants, guides, handicrafts vendors, and owners of rooms for rent will be among the most affected by the Trump administration’s new restrictions on travel to Cuba.(AP Photo/Ismael Francisco)

A quick reminder: US residents headed to Cuba are not going with the intention of lining the Cuban military’s pockets with money. What was happening was that visitors from the United States had an opportunity to see a once forbidden place, and Cubans began to see that people from the US were not the monsters their government said we were for decades.

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What do you say, Mr. President? How about letting people expand their horizons a bit. Let us make our own travel decisions.

Before I finish, let me remind you that Americans can still go to Cuba. Maybe not on big cruise ships, but there is still a category called “support for the Cuban people.” It’s a more challenging way to go, but it can be done. So despite the posturing, we still have a way to help the people of Cuba and still see a culture that is warm, beautiful, heartbreaking, and fascinating.

Cuba is no Mar-a-Lago. It doesn’t cost $100,000 to get in. Also, I can’t afford a $100,000 getaway. So please, stay out of my travel plans, and I promise to stay out of yours.


Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.