Cuban Officials Make Rare Visit To Miami Despite Security Concerns

Two Cuban officials from the nation’s mission in Washington made an uncommon trip to Miami early this week to meet with representatives of companies that handle the growing business of travel between the two countries.

Such trips by members of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington are rare, as representatives from the communist nation need permission from the U.S. government to travel outside the capital. Travel to South Florida, in particular, is considered a security risk, given the strong anti-Castro sentiments among Cuban exiles living in the area.

The Miami Herald reported that the officials held meetings on Monday, Nov. 11, with a number of companies that regularly offer travel to the island. The meetings were held in anticipation of the holiday season.

Tourism is an important part of the Cuban economy. In 2012 alone, 3 million people visited the country – about 476,000 of them were Cuban-Americans and an estimated 98,000 others were U.S. residents traveling on so-called “people-to-people” trips.

The main worry of the travel industry representatives is that the number of travel companies growing, the number of travelers to Cuba has been shrinking recently. The Cuban government reported a 2 percent drop in overall international arrivals in the first six months of this year compared with 2012.

This decline has probably continued in recent months thanks to a cholera breakout on the island and a subsequent U.S. travel advisory after several foreigners came down with the disease in August.

"We urge you to follow public health recommendations and guidelines, such as safe food and water precautions and frequent hand washing to help prevent cholera infection," the the U.S. Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy in Havana recommended in a statement published online.

Other topics of discussion at the meeting on Monday included speeding up the time it takes for Cuban-Americans to receive visas as well as a concern over the high cost of  people-to-people trips. These visits, which U.S. President Barack Obama approved in 2010 in order to promote “purposeful engagement” between Cubans and Americans not of Cuban descent, can cost between $700 and $800 a day and may not include any tourist activities.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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