Popular local website group Gothamist (which is also responsible for DCist, LAist, Chicagoist, and others) ran on its websites today the intriguingly titled: “How To Go To Cuba Right Now: A Travel Primer.” You can guess what I think of that article by my title for this post: “How To Go To Jail Right Now: A Gothamist Primer.”
The Primer is authored by Tod Seelie, who appears to be a talented photographer, who describes his trip to Cuba. He said he wanted to go to see the old cars, the crumbling buildings and the beaches. Wondering if it was as “easy as buying a ticket online,” he bought a ticket from a website. He notes he “checked ‘journalistic activity,’ though my visa ultimately identified me only as a tourist.” And he was off.
The rest of his story details how to get an AirBNB room, the different currencies for locals and tourists, the drinkability of the water, the cost of cabs, the absence of soap in bathrooms, the skimpy miniskirts worn by Cuban customs agents, and how hard it was for him to understand Cuban Spanish because they drop their s’s at the end of words. Finally, he noted that on the way back from what appeared to be more a vacation than anything else, the only question he was asked by the CBP agent was “Did you have fun?”
Nowhere in the article does Seelie do anything to rebut the likely assumption by his readers that anybody who wants to bop around Old Havana for a weekend getaway can just book an online ticket, sign on to AirBNB to book a room, stuff a moneybelt with cash and head off for sun and mojitos. As readers of this blog know, but readers of blogs in the Gothamist empire probably won’t know, you can’t just go to Cuba as a tourist. You have to go for one of the permitted reasons set forth in the regulations.
What about Mr. Seelie? Did he break the rules? Well, he has a colorable case that he is a journalist, since the regulations include in the definition in section 515.563 “a freelance journalist with a record of previous journalistic experience working on a freelance journalistic project.” Mr. Seelie’s bio suggests he’s published some pictures in some newspapers so we’ll give him this. But, but, but, there’s this in the rules:
The traveler’s schedule of activities does not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule.
You be the judge whether Mr. Seelie was in Cuba for full-time journalism and incidental fun or full-time fun and incidental journalism.
UPDATE: The article in Gothamist was written by Lauren Evans; Mr. Seelie accompanied her to Cuba to take photographs. Although Ms. Evans clearly fits, in my view, the definition of a journalist under section 515.563, she still leaves the impression that anyone can hop on a plane and go to Cuba, which, of course, is dead wrong and can lead to an unpleasant encounter with OFAC. And the question still remains whether she, in addition to Mr. Seelie, was there for full time journalism and incidental fun or full-time fun and incidental journalism.