US Tourist Ordered To Pay $6500 For Cuba Trip From 14 Years Ago

Think your past won’t come back to haunt you? A U.S. tourist has agreed to pay a $6,500 fine for taking an unauthorized trip to Cuba 14 years ago.

According to Reuters, Zachary Sanders, 38, had been living and teaching English in Mexico in 1998 when he decided to take a trip to Cuba. Sanders was 23 at the time, and had wanted to learn about how a socialist country worked in practice.

“I had no illusions,” said Sanders in an interview. “… I’m not like some diehard supporter of the (Cuban) government or anything like that.”

The United States has restricted U.S. travel to Cuba for a long time as part of a 50-year-old trade embargo aimed at penalizing Cuba’s communist government. When Sanders traveled, he did not obtain the mandatory U.S. Treasury license to visit Cuba. A custom’s official became suspicious when he noticed Sanders had come back into the country via the Bahamas, without declaring he had been in Cuba. The official also took a box of Cuban cigars from his luggage.

%Gallery-161509%The Dispute

Two years later, the U.S. Treasury asked Sanders to document his expenditures from Cuba; however, Sanders lost the receipts and missed the deadline to return the required form. After another two years, the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) reviewed his case during a Bush administration crackdown on Cuba travel. Sanders was fined $1,000.

Both sides appealed; however, in 2009, the Treasury Department raised the fine to $9,000 in an attempt to discourage people from ignoring OFAC forms. Sander’s lawyer, Shane Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights, responded that Sanders had a constitutional right not to provide evidence that would incriminate him.

Sanders ended up suing OFAC, the Treasury Department and the Justice Department in federal court in 2009, appealing the fine as impulsive and autocratic. After losing, Sanders turned to the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York, where the case was settled on July 24 with the traveler agreeing to pay a fine of $6,500.

Can U.S. Citizens Travel To Cuba?

For U.S. citizens looking to travel to Cuba in 2012, it has become much easier. Certain restrictions on travel have been lifted by the Obama administration, and the Treasury Department has issued a new set of guidelines, making travel easier for religious and educational groups, people-to-people exchanges and journalists. Moreover, companies like Friendly Planet Travel and National Geographic Expeditions are licensed to bring travelers over to Cuba via a guided tour.

Take a virtual tour of the country’s capital, Havana, by checking out the gallery above.

[Above image via Elemaki; Gallery images via Big Stock]