Over 20 Years of Cuba Reality Tours!
founded by Global Exchange in 1989!
Promoting "people to people" ties between the
U.S. and Cuba
Global Exchange's very first Cuba Reality Tour, called "Cuba at a Crossroads," was organized to ring in the New Year, 1989, in Havana! Over the next 22 years Global Exchange has arranged travel to Cuba for tens of thousands of U.S. citizens to study every aspect of Cuban life: health care and education, politics and economics, art and culture, environmental protection and sustainable development.
We have organized Cuba Reality Tours for university and high school students, World Affairs Councils, professionals, enthusiasts of bird watching and narrow gauge railroads, and just ordinary US citizens eager to get to know their world. Our tours are highly regarded for their balance between serious study of Cuban society and the heartfelt human contact with Cubans they provide.
Our general overview of Cuba tours: Cuba at a Crossroads, New Years in Havana, In the Footsteps of Che, and others have always drawn large numbers of participants of all ages, from all backgrounds on trips lasting from 7 - 14 days. Our cultural trips (Fiesta del Fuego, the Biennial Art Festival, the Havana film festival, and others) are extremely popular! And our trips studying Cuba's Health Care System and Cuba's Education System inspire many articles and photographic essays due to Cuba's astounding contributions in these areas.
For the first ten years, the "pre-Internet" days, participants primarily heard about our tours by "word of mouth" from enthusiastic participants of past trips! They would return from Cuba and fill our newsletter and their local papers at home with articles and photographs.
During this time, the Reality Tours department developed a number of exciting new programs. For five years we organized two schools of extended study in Cuba: a Spanish language school and a school for the study of Cuban music and dance called Cuban Rhythms. Both schools supplemented their classes with afternoon and weekend site visits to a large variety of venues: family doctor clinics, schools, neighborhood organizations, environmental projects and cultural performances and exhibits. We also organized regular bicycle tours, visiting sites of environmental significance, as well as meeting with Cubans from a variety of relevant fields.
Freedom to Travel Campaign
Between 1993 and the year 2000, Global Exchange worked with a vast network of fifty US-based organizations on eight successive trips to Cuba, that involved at least one thousand participants (representing some 30 states) willing to travel to Cuba openly without obtaining the U.S. government-required "license." Press conferences were held on both coasts and in small cities and towns across the U.S. to educate the media and the U.S. public on the constitutional right of U.S. citizens to travel and that the restrictions on Cuba travel are a violation of that right, as well as a violation of several international treaties to which the U.S. is signatory.
There were two FTT trips with as many as 180 participants each, one of which included the members of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. There were trips for women, for youth, for veterans, for experts in natural and alternative medicine, renewable energy and other environmental issues. The Freedom to Travel Campaign lives on in the Right to Travel to Cuba Campaign, that still includes the original fifty U.S. co-sponsoring organizations.
In 1999, we traveled to Cuba with Patch Adams, the clown doctor, and 120 health care workers. The film on Patch's life, starring Robin Williams had just been released and was showing in Cuba. It was during the time of the Elian Gonzalez crisis* and we visited Elian's school where Patch and a Cuban children's theater troop called La Colmenita performed for and with the children. Patch also performed his magic in hospitals, special education facilities and other venues. He has been back to Cuba many times, most recently after the last hurricane there, delivering humanitarian aid and assisting on reconstruction projects in hard hit areas.
During these years, we also arranged for a number of Cubans to come to the U.S. on speaking tours, to attend conferences, to interact with their U.S. colleagues in the arts, humanities, and the sciences. These tours included a two week tour of the children's theater group, La Colmenita and many week-long tours by Cubans involved in sustainable development.
In the year 2000, Global Exchange was finally granted a license by the U.S. government to organize and arrange travel for educational, cultural, and "people to people" Cuba travel for U.S. citizens. For four years, from the spring of 2000 through early 2004, we took an unprecedented number of U.S. citizens to Cuba on a great variety to Reality Tours.
At the same time, and building on our many years of experience organizing trips devoted to Cuba's amazing progress in Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development, we created Eco Cuba Exchange, a program to promote environmental exchange between U.S. and Cuban Environmentalists.
Surviving the Bush Years
But in 2004, the Bush Administration revoked all the licenses that had been granted under the Clinton Administration for educational, humanitarian, and people to people travel to Cuba in order to deprive Cuba of much needed cash. The only U.S. citizens still allowed to travel there were professionals, journalists on assignment, government officials and Cuban Americans visiting family (only once every three years!) The number of participants on Global Exchange Reality Tours dwindled, from over a thousand per year to a low of 75 participants in 2007. It has been five years since that repressive policy on Cuba travel was imposed. Nevertheless Global Exchange Reality Tours has continued to organize travel to Cuba for our most popular study tours and has continued to receive accolades for the wonderful balance of serious study and delight that these trips include.
The New Era
There is great hope now that all restrictions on socially responsible travel will be completely lifted very soon. President Obama has now lifted restrictions on Cuban American travel, students sponsored by their academic institutions, those sponsored by religious organizations, and free lance journalists.
We at Global Exchange hope to again engage in "People to People" travel to Cuba, our original mission. We have applied for a license to do this, and are pursuing this goal with US authorities.
We find that the number of inquiries we receive and the number of participants traveling with us to Cuba is starting to rise! Get involved by contacting Congress and the Obama Administration to support the end of all restrictions on travel to Cuba.
We at Cuba Reality Tours and Eco Cuba Exchange, anticipate and expect, before the end of Obama's presidency, to be fully operational again, in terms of the variety of Cuba trips that we can offer and the number of participants for whom we can arrange travel and a fabulous itinerary!
New Years in Havana
One of our most popular tours each year continues to be our New Years in Havana Reality Tour, that focuses on five different aspects of sustainable development in Cuba: Agriculture, Architecture, Education, Environmental Protection, and Health Care. Participants can choose the field that best reflects their professional work and interests, enjoying a full schedule of site visits and meetings in that field. Then all meet together for meals, performances and other cultural events, as well as ringing in the new year with our Cuban friends and colleagues at a large venue in central Havana!
* Elian Gonzalez was the six year old Cuban boy found floating in the Atlantic Ocean by U.S. fishermen. His mother and a boatload of other Cubans who had tried to reach the United States in a rickety craft had presumably drowned. He was cared for for several months by a Cuban American family in Miami who petitioned the U.S. government to allow Elian to remain with them, rather than being returned to his father in Cuba. Elian was eventually reunited with his father by U.S. attorney general Janet Reno and is now living happily in Cuba.