Obama administration lifts some travel restrictions to Cuba

The Obama administration is going to make travel to Cuba easier than it has been in decades, the BBC reports. Students and religious groups will now be allowed to go to the Caribbean nation, which has not had normal relations with the U.S. since Fidel Castro overthrew the pro-American government in 1959.

Specifically, religious groups will be able to sponsor “religious travel” to Cuba, and Cuban religious organizations will be able to receive remittances from the U.S. Universities and colleges will be able to send students there for educational purposes. Both of these groups will now be able to fly from U.S. airports on chartered flights.

The trade embargo will remain in place, although that was also lightened in 2009 when Obama allowed Cuban-Americans to go visit family and send money. Under the new rules coming into place, any U.S. citizen will be able to send up to $500 per fiscal quarter to non-family members in Cuba to help fund private business projects.

While Americans have been able to travel to Cuba relatively easily by going through third countries, this makes things a lot more straightforward. You still can’t buy Cuban cigars legally in the U.S., but if you meet the criteria you can now enjoy an ice cream like this guy in a photo by user localsurfer from Gadling’s flickr pool.

The reason for these measures is pretty obvious. Having been unable to assassinate Castro or get him deposed over the past 51 years, and having seen that the embargo hasn’t led to regime change, the U.S. government is trying a more subtle approach. By encouraging contacts with religious groups and the intelligentsia, and by funding private enterprise through remittances, Obama hopes to encourage change from within.

Protecting Antarctica from Tourists

Chinese government officials have asked Chinese citizens to avoid Antarctica as a travel destination. Officials cited the fragility of the continent’s ecosystem as the driving force behind the request. The country has not made this an official travel restriction, but the government has plans to regulate its travel agencies if South Pole tourism continues.

The number of all vacationing travelers visiting Antarctica has quadrupled over the last eight years, and this has scientists worried. Conservation and preservation of the icy land may be impeded by the rising tourism market. If left unchecked, the number of tourists might keep rising, and the environmental repercussions could be damaging. Also, more tourists might lead to hotels, and that might even lead to an Applebee’s here or a Trump McMurdo Casino there. As I’m sure you’re aware, once we change that landscape, it will be very difficult to return it to its previous glory.

The Reuters article did not mention the current impact of Antarctic tourism, but China’s appeal left me questioning my own interest in visiting the penguin haven. I was a bit interested in an educational Antarctic trip I recently found in Road Scholar, but now I think I’ll mull over a more eco-friendly way to explore the polar region. Wikipedia, perhaps?