HAVANA — More and more Americans are visiting Cuba, according to figures from the Cuban Government. The new numbers indicate the island nation could register in 2011 the greatest increase in years in visits by U.S. citizens.
Some 63,000 Americans visited Cuba in 2010, in comparison with 52,500 the previous year and 41.900 reported in 2008, says a new report from the State National Bureau of Statistics. The Americans are barred from traveling to Cuba without permission from their government, which has enforced a trade embargo of broad scope against the island for nearly five decades.
The largest number of visitors from the United States since the 1959 Revolution was recorded during the administration of former President Bill Clinton, when the figure climbed to a peak of 70,000 tourists a year. Then it slowed to an average of 30,000 in the last stages of the administration of George W. Bush.
The 2010 statistics do not include the 350,000 Cuban-Americans who came to the island last year, according to estimates of travel agents and diplomats from the United States.
Cuba generally includes the Cuban visitor arrivals in the broader category, known as “other” and not as part of the tourist statistics.
President Barack Obama gave the go-ahead in 2009 for “Cubano-Estadounidenses” to visit their homeland without restrictions and relaxed travel to Cuba for Americans for professional, humanitarian, and religious reasons. Obama also authorized the granting of licenses to more travel agencies and granted permissions so that more airports can provide their services to charter trips between the two countries.
Before the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, Cuba was a place coveted by American tourists for its casinos, with hundreds of thousands who visited the island for a good holiday. However, since the 1960s, few Americans have traveled to the island because of the prohibitions imposed by a trade embargo against Cuba’s Communist government.
The current rise in visitors from the United States is a result of the loosening of restrictions, with the goal to encourage more “people to people” contacts between the two countries. Cuba is a mere 145 kilometres off the coast of Florida.