Dozens of U.S. groups that organize trips to Cuba say they are continuing to take Americans to the island despite the U.S. State Department urging people to reconsider their plans to visit.
Officials of several travel organizations say the State Department has failed to provide evidence that tourists are at risk when they go to Cuba.
They say that a meeting with State Department officials last Friday failed to shed light on any new information regarding what could have caused about 24 U.S. embassy personnel to fall ill in Cuba last year.
“We want more information about who the people were, how they were affected, how they are now,” said Bob Guild, Vice President of Marazul Tours, Inc., one of the oldest U.S. agencies specializing in trips to Cuba. “No specific information was given to us, presumably because some of it is classified information, to support anything.”
The U.S.-Cuba travel floodgates opened up after former President Barack Obama eased restrictions that had been imposed on U.S. residents wanting to visit the island.
But last year, President Donald Trump tightened rules for traveling there. The administration also said some sort of attack – at first described as possibly sonic – had left U.S. personnel working for the U.S. Embassy in Havana with illnesses ranging from frequent headaches and chronic fatigue to hearing loss and brain injuries.
The reported attack prompted the State Department to bring most of its employees back from Havana and issue a warning last fall to U.S. residents not to travel to Cuba. Last week, the State Department amended the warning to a recommendation that Americans “reconsider” going there.
Guild says attacks seem to have targeted “not simple diplomats” but apparently people “in the intelligence community.” And so he thinks the U.S. government cast too wide a net in sounding an alarm for all U.S. travel to Cuba.
There's no evidence about a sonic or any attack. There have been no travel warnings by any other country.
“We did not accept the original travel warning,” Guild told Fox News, adding that last week’s softened wording by the State Department for Americans to reconsider also seems unwarranted.
“There’s no evidence about a sonic or any attack,” Guild said. “There have been no travel warnings by any other country.”
Other tour organizers who have planned or helped arrange trips to Cuba say they have gotten no complaints relating to any possible attacks by the people who’ve visited there.
“We are committed to our vision of achieving global understanding through travel and education,” said Chase Poffenberger, Executive Vice President of Academic Travel Abroad, to Fox News. “We believe that Cuba remains an exceptionally rich and exciting travel destination, and the door to traveling there is still very much open.”
“We’ve had outstanding success with our programs to Cuba,” she said. “Traveler reviews have been remarkably positive, and they inspire us to keep doing what we do.”
Cuban authorities have cast doubt on the reports of attacks against U.S. Embassy employees, and have suggested that the Trump administration is trying to undermine relations between the two nations that Obama had sought to normalize.
Cuban government officials say some one million people traveled to Cuba from the U.S. last year, including about 400,000 Cuban-Americans.
U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, whose parents emigrated to the U.S. from Cuba, says he disagrees with softening the travel warning wording because too many important questions remain unanswered about what happened to U.S. Embassy employees.
The Cuban government is aware of the residences and address of all diplomats and employees. There's no way our diplomats could have been targeted without some awareness or knowledge by some component of the Cuban intelligence services.
“Twenty-four American diplomats suffered a direct attack to their health in Havana,” Menendez said to Fox News. “They suffered everything from severe hearing loss to traumatic brain injuries, for which some are still receiving treatment.”
“The Cuban government is aware of the residences and address of all diplomats and employees,” Menendez said. “There’s no way our diplomats could have been targeted without some awareness or knowledge by some component of the Cuban intelligence services.”
At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week, federal officials maintained that U.S. Embassy employees were targeted and said that it could have been a virus meant to infect them.
"If they didn’t do it," said Menendez to Fox News in reference to the Cuban government, "then it is my firm opinion that they know who did. And their unwillingness to act against that individual or entity or country that is responsible is equally as inexcusable as if they did it themselves."