Slipping Into Cuba Legally

Despite strict U.S. laws barring tourist travel to Cuba, some Americans slip into Fidel Castro's socialist stronghold via tour operators in Canada, Mexico, and elsewhere. Once they arrive, obliging Cuban immigration officials don't stamp their passports.

But there's no need to risk stiff fines and possible prison terms by sneaking into this fascinating Caribbean isle. Americans have several perfectly legal ways to enter the country. For example, they can hook up with either Global Exchange (415 255-7296) or the Center for Cuban Studies (212 242-0559), which conduct seminars in Cuba on a variety of topics, including the country's economy, architecture, health care system, and filmmaking.

People who sign on must loosely fit the definition of "full-time professionals doing research in their professional areas," just one of the categories allowed under the 1963 Trading with the Enemy Act. Others who can make arrangements to travel into Cuba on their own include news gatherers, people on official U.S. business, and those visiting family members. The professional-researcher category offers a great deal of latitude. For example, just about anyone connected to the medical field, including doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, and technicians, can sign up for seminars covering Cuban health care.

Global Exchange runs trips to Cuba from Miami at least once a month. This past June, it escorted three groups, with a total of 72 attendees. The average group size is 15 to 20 people, andthe cost is $1,200 for 10 days. That includes lodging, meals, transportation, and translation, plus a four-day trip outside Havana into the countryside. Participants don't stay in the recently refurbished Hotel Nacional or in any of the other luxury hotels that Castro has been promoting, but accommodations are certainly adequate.

LOCAL CULTURE. The Center for Cuban Studies offers a variety of seminars in Cuba, ranging from $935 per person (double occupancy) for "The African Presence in the Americas" to $1,150 for "Coping with the Crisis: The Cuban Economy." Prices are for nonmembers. For Center members, the package price is $50 lower.

Legally, the trips must offer eight hours a day of research, which includes lectures, tours, demonstrations, and other programs. In the evenings, group members are encouraged to participate in cultural programs and informal meetings in Cubans' homes or tour the local area on their own.

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