Cuba Closer than Ever for Americans

Canada’s southernmost city might as well be called a suburb of Detroit. The Motor City’s skyline is distinctly visible from downtown Windsor, which lies just across the Detroit River. While most border-hopping is for the purpose of shopping or sightseeing, Windsor’s airport is a major gateway to Cuba for US residents.

It is illegal for folks from the US of A to spend money in Cuba. Thus, there are virtually no direct flights. On the other hand, Cuba is just another Caribbean destination for Canucks. No one made a fuss when Canada’s Sunwing Airlines announced a weekly flight from Windsor to the Cuban resort town of Varadero, about 50 miles from Havana. At least, no one made a fuss except the Detroit News, which published a controversial story about Sunwing’s new service:

“While U.S. citizens are mostly barred from spending money on travel to Cuba, officials with the airline and airport expect Americans to make up at least half the passengers on the route.”

Controversial? Not according to Windsor Airport officials, who shrugged the report off by saying that 50% of passenger who fly to Cuba from Canada are already US citizens. Sunwing’s expectations are nothing new.

The punishment for US citizens traveling to Cuba is usually a $5,000 fine, though it can be significantly higher. But most Yankees don’t get caught. Since Cuba does not stamp passports directly, there is no evidence that a traveler ever set foot on the forbidden isle. US customs officials have been known to stake out flights arriving in Canada from Cuba, but US residents can avoid suspicion as long as they don’t head directly for a connecting flight to the US or run straight for the border. (A t-shirt emblazoned with a gigantic red maple leaf might also help).

Photo by Flickr user Mr. Mark