Travel ………Havana, Cuba… Exploring Opportunities
Mark Lucero, CEO of Vodka Brands Corp recently travelled to Havana with top Pennsylvania LCB officials, who went to Cuba to explore the possibility of exporting and distributing Havana Rum in Pennsylvania. Mark Lucero, Vodka Brands Corp met with top officials in Cuba and had discussions on the possibilities of importing and distributing Blue Diamond Vodka in Cuba. The meetings went extremely well and both the PLCB and Vodka Brands are extremely optimistic that Havana Rum will be imported to PA and Blue Diamond Vodka and Diamond Girl Brand will be ultimately exported and distributed in Cuba.
Vodka Brands Corp currently has three vodka labels, White Diamond a mid-priced, very smooth premium vodka, Blue Diamond a higher end ultra-smooth vodka and soon to be introduced Diamond Girl Specialty Brand Vodka their newest addition to their vodka brands. Vodka Brands Corp currently trades under the stock market symbol VDKB.
Cuba is a Caribbean island nation under communist rule. It has sugar-white beaches and is dotted with tobacco fields, which play a part in the production of the country’s legendary cigars, the Monte Cristo. The capital, Havana, is lined with pastel houses, 1950s-era cars and Spanish-colonial architecture in the 16th-century core, Old Havana. Salsa music plays in the dance clubs and cabaret shows are performed at the famed Tropicana.
Mark was extremely impressed by the pre-1959 cars which are mostly being used as taxis. These colorful well maintained classic cars are truly reminiscent of the 50’s.
Even though travel to Cuba for Americans is restricted, that doesn’t make it impossible to visit. For many years some intrepid Americans were traveling to Cuba anyway. Initially there were three ways to accomplish this.
Special License: You could register for a special license with the US Government if the reason for your travel fit a certain category. These include family visits, professional reasons, journalism, religious or cultural programs, and humanitarian projects.
People To People Tours: Organized tours that involve some sort of educational experience with local Cuban people. It’s never been defined officially, but basically your trip can’t just involve sitting on the beach. Travelers would talk with a school, volunteer for a community project, or collaborate with artists. A kind of legal loophole that tour companies use to sell tours in Cuba.
Foreign Gateway Cities: The other option was to travel to Cuba “illegally” through a foreign gateway city. This means flying yourself to Canada or Mexico first, then traveling to Cuba on your own from one of those countries. Because for the rest of the world, Cuba has been a popular travel destination for many years. It’s only us Americans who haven’t been able to visit Cuba!
New US Rules: As of January 16th, 2015 Americans no longer need to apply for specific licenses if they fit one of the 12 special categories.
• Family visits
• Official business or the US government, foreign government and certain intergovernmental organizations
• Journalistic activity
• Professional research
• Educational activities
• Religious activities
• Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions and exhibitions
• Support for the Cuban people
• Humanitarian projects
• Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
• Exportation, importation or transmission of information or informational materials
• Certain export transactions
What does this mean? It simplifies the process for Americans that meet those special requirements to visit Cuba. But it also creates a grey-area. If you no longer have to pre-apply for a license, can you say your trip is for journalism when it’s really not? Will anyone even check to make sure you actually match one of the 12 categories? If you don’t fit one of the categories, will anyone enforce the rules when you return to the United States? From our experience & listening to other travelers, the answer is no.
While it’s still technically illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba for tourism only, it seems in practice, no one really enforces these travel restrictions anymore since more and more airlines are offering flights from the US to Cuba.