RESPECT: Responsible & Ethical Cuba Travel: An Association of U.S. Travelers to Cuba

April 19, 2019

RESPECT Statement on New Trump Cuba Policy

National Security Advisor John Bolton’s statement on new policy guidelines for Cuba is a continuum of historical efforts to maintain the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 and disrupt and undermine an independent country. The campaign against Cuba dates back to the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and has continued fairly unabated with a United States blockade in place despite the condemnation of this blockade by the overwhelming majority of countries in the United Nations General Assembly, as well as the majority of the American people.

Beginning in 2012 and culminating with the meeting of Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro in December of 2014, the United States and Cuba made positive steps towards normalizing diplomatic relations, respecting the territorial integrity of each country and allowing more freedom to travel for citizens of both the United States and Cuba.

Since the election in 2016, the Trump Administration has been unraveling and reversing this tremendous progress by employing a new policy of scare tactics and misinformation campaigns.

These new efforts to strengthen the illegal Helms-Burton Act and limit family remittances are mired in the Cold War thinking and policy that are violations of the civil and human rights of American and Cuban citizens. The use of the anniversary of the failed and notorious Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961 for the delivery of these regulations clearly defines a policy towards Cuba that is lost in the Cold War of more than 60 years ago. It is a further irony that the Administration chose to announce this new policy on the same week that the report has been partially released outlining the efforts of a foreign country to meddle and to violate in the sovereignty of the United States.

The RESPECT founding charter of 2016 dedicates non-profit entities, travel agents, tour operators and other travel service providers to promoting ethical and socially responsible travel to Cuba. We understand that our relations with Cuba are framed in developing mutual understanding and learning through first hand experiences. We are committed to the right of all US citizens and residents to travel to Cuba and we strongly advocate for the lifting of all US governmental travel restrictions to the island.

RESPECT CO-Coordinators:

Walter Turner,  Gail Walker,  Bob Guild

In celebrating our 25 year commitment of solidarity with the Cuban people and our Reality Tours to Cuba, we recognize and appreciate the hundreds of letters and report backs we’ve received from our participants!  Today we hi-light a story from Bob Hoffert of Fort Collins, Colorado.  Bob gives us a glimpse into what many Cubans call “the island of contradictions.”

From Saturday, March 14, 2015 until Sunday, March 22, 2015 I was in Cuba. It was an experience that encourages intense reactions in me more than measured assessments.

My preference would be to offer an organic, integrated account of Cuba because that probably would be a more appropriate representation of Cuba itself.   However, what I can share are glimpses, perspectives, components – not something holistic.

Yes, Cuba was like entering a time capsule, but what you can express in words doesn’t always coincide with the vitality of your senses. The preponderance of 1950s era American cars, the inaccessibility of the web or ATMs, the largely invisible status of cell phones, the uselessness of credit/debit cards, the miniscule presence of anything that resembles a conventional “store”, the cluelessness of where you’d get a hammer or underwear or matches, the absence of fast food or fast anything coalesce into a world more disorienting than merely different. If you’re looking for what’s familiar, stay home.

I also had no sense of the precariousness of Havana’s treasures. There is significant evidence of restoration work throughout the city, but deterioration appears to be outpacing restoration. According to one knowledgeable source, an average of three buildings a day collapse throughout the city. And please do not simplistically displace this condition on Cuban socialism. A poor country, blessed with such a rich structural heritage, but saddled with a brutally punishing blockade can only respond within the possibilities of its capacity.

photo by Drea Hightower

I expected art, music, and dance in Cuba to be vibrant. It was! But there was no way I could have anticipated the excitement of walking down a dark narrow street late at night as the passion of a Cuban band possesses your ears and defines your world. In Pinar del Rio we were escorted down an unlit street guided only by pounding music, we were entertained by neighborhood children singing and dancing, and we ended the evening dancing in the street with 40 to 50 people from the local CDR (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution). A reclaimed dump in eastern Havana was the site of a community arts project – painting, sculpture, dance, and music. On the western side of the city we visited another community arts project built around the spirit and practice of Santeria. In all these cases, the reality far exceeded my expectations.

I expected a significant amount of political propaganda and clear evidence of a regimented society. At least relative to my expectations, this is not what I found. What was most notable was not how much public propaganda there was, but how little. What I can say is that I saw a joyful people, an expressive people, a proud and loyal people, and a people who appreciate their government and leaders more than many Americans do theirs. I also found a remarkable measure of pragmatism rather than ideological rigidity. For example, we heard numerous times, “we learned to use elements from capitalism to save socialism.” Think about it, can you imagine an American saying; “we learned to use elements of socialism to save capitalism”?!

I expected the U.S. embargo to have a damaging impact on life in Cuba. It does. But somehow that is an insufficient observation. Its consequences most severely punish the exact same group of people who were used and exploited prior to 1959 – the poorest and the most vulnerable.  Has the embargo worked? Yes and No. Yes, it has created great personal and societal pain. Its consequences are powerful and not unrelated to the deterioration of Cuba’s architectural heritage. If these are the purposes of the embargo, it is a great success and has done its job with damaging magnificence. If the embargo’s purpose is to topple Cuban Communism, it is an utter failure. It has deepened solidarity and legitimated the Revolution in the eyes of the people beyond anything the regime could have accomplished on its own.

I too often heard “we are not perfect” from the Cubans we met. Surely they are not and perhaps that statement is too often used as an excuse for doing little or for not doing better. That is their burden and challenge. It is our burden and challenge to not allow our dominating power to blind us from respecting an exquisitely unique place with a vision of a different way to build their society and serve their people. It does not require our agreement or approval. It does require our honoring the self-determination principles for others we so insistently cherish for ourselves.

Cuba was, for me, a revelation and a joy.

Bob Hoffert

Please visit our website for more information on opportunities to travel with us to Cuba!

Yesterday, the Pastors for Peace US/Cuba Friendshipment Caravan crossed the US/Mexico border on its way to Cuba. In its 22nd year, the goal of the Caravan is to deliver 100 tons of humanitarian aid and defy the US trade and travel blockade against Cuba.

Unfortunately, upon arrival at the US/Mexico border, U.S. border agents confiscated seven computers intended as humanitarian gifts for hospitals and schools. Among these computers were other supplies such as pencils, notebooks, medications, portable solar panels, and more.

Although the Caravan is continuing on with the remaining 100 tons of aid to Cuba, we ask that you take a stand against the seizure and criminal blockade of these humanitarian supplies, and support the Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba!

Call your senators, congressional representatives, and the White House to demand that the US government return the seven computers immediately and end the blockade and travel ban on Cuba now!

Dear President Obama,

It’s been brought to my attention today that a humanitarian caravan by “Pastors for Peace” destined for Cuba has encountered interference at the U.S.-Mexican border by U.S. border agents. Though part of the donated goods was allowed to proceed, computers apparently were confiscated. I am writing to request your intervention to direct the border agents to release at once the confiscated humanitarian aid so that the Cuban people may receive it.

Regretfully, the U.S.-based “Pastors for Peace” effort, now in its 22nd year, is made necessary by the onerous U.S.-initiated economic blockade of the Cuban island – the longest such blockade in modern history. During your campaign leading up to your historic election victory, you committed to improving relations between the United States and Cuba. The sooner you fulfill your promise to the American people, the sooner the Cuban people will no longer be in need of humanitarian aid from citizens of the U.S. Until such time, please direct the U.S. border agents to not interfere with what is, after all, peace-driven aid for the Cuban people.


We, at Global Exchange, fully support the 20 year Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba, and strongly urge everyone to show their support by clicking the above links to your senators, congressional representatives, and President Obama, to let our voices be heard that seizing this needed humanitarian aid is absolutely not acceptable.

For updates check and

photo credit: Pastors for Peace

Earlier this year, the Obama Administration finally announced plans to lift some government-imposed restrictions on travel to Cuba for several categories of U.S. citizens, including college students, journalists, and religious organizations.

Just last week, the U.S. Customs and Border Protections gave the Oakland International Airport authorization to offer nonstop charter passenger service to Cuba as early as December. This recent decision will make it easier for Global Exchange to offer direct flights to Havana for our Cuba Reality Tours delegations from the West Coast.

However, with all this good news, the reality of traveling to Cuba could be at serious risk. Tomorrow, the House Appropriations Committee is meeting first thing in the morning, and Cuba may come up. According to our friends at the Latin American Working Group,

Opponents of exchange with Cuba will likely offer amendments to the financial services appropriations bill that will reverse the changes the President has made during his term in office – which has allowed travel by Cuban-American families, students and professors, religious groups, academics, musicians.

We can’t let this happen.

If your representative is a member of the Appropriations Committee, ask your representative to vote against ANY amendment that tightens travel restrictions. Send them an e-mail now.

Send a message to your representative today and help retain the progress that has been made in easing travel to Cuba.

Oakland International Airport charter flights could take off just in time for our Cuba New Years Delegations! Register for one of our Cuba delegations today, and you will qualify to receive a $150 discount. Just mention this blog post.

Together we can work to promote the normalization of U.S./Cuba relations through people-to-people ties with Cuba.