Recent travel restrictions to Cuba impact local business

Posted at 5:10 PM, Jul 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-29 23:09:05-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Cuba may be hundreds of miles away but recently implemented travel restrictions could be felt all the way in Nashville.

Sheyla Paz of Your Tour Guide to Cuba said she's had to readjust to the changes in hopes of reeducating people eager to travel to her home country.

In June, the Trump administration reversed President Barack Obama's policy that made an exemption to the longtime economic embargo and tourism ban on Cuba. It removed allowing "people to people" visits for educational purposes, which helped boost the tourism economy.

Instead, Americans could travel to Cuba under a new policy that require stricter itineraries in group settings that focus heavily on local engagement such as eating at private restaurants, staying at privately-owned homes and shopping at privately-owned stores.

Visitors are not able to do business with a long list of companies that include many hotels affiliated with the Cuban government.

"You can go for the support for the Cuban people with no breaks and no free time. You have to have a full itinerary," Paz told NewsChannel 5. "Before you could go wherever you want."

While Paz likes the idea of focusing on locals, Paz said confusion and concern about the stricter law meant losing business. She stressed travel is still possible.

"I had a booking of a wedding in Cuba because they have American friends. The next day the family didn't want to go so the family canceled," Paz said.

Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, is introducing a bill that would lift the restrictions placed on traveling to Cuba.

The proposed “Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act of 2019” would also lift restrictions on how much could be spent and where.

In a statement, Sen. Leahy said, “The Trump Administration’s policy toward Cuba is completely at odds with its policies toward other countries. It is more in line with what one might expect of a totalitarian dictatorship. Freedom to travel is a right. It is fundamental. It is part of who we are as Americans. We travel. We explore. We meet people. We share our values. We build relationships with people we agree with and disagree with. Americans overwhelmingly support expanding travel to Cuba.

Leahy also said the number of Americans visiting Cuba this year is projected to plummet by half.

Paz is hopeful for the bipartisan legislation but says when it comes to anything Cuba, it's all a process.

"We have to keep working on it. It's time to lift the embargo and lift restrictions and let people travel freely," Paz added.