Preface Last Updated: 12/29/2003 2:08 PM
The U.S. Interests Section (USINT) opened on September 1, 1977,
by bilateral agreement with the Government of Cuba. USINT operates
under the auspices of the Embassy of Switzerland, whose government
has served as the protecting power of American interests in Cuba
since the U.S. Embassy in Havana closed on January 3, 1961.
Personnel assigned to Cuba find a challenging and difficult
environment. Democratization and disintegration of the former Soviet
Bloc severely disrupted Cuba’s once heavily-subsidized economy. Cuba
has been forced to turn to the European Union, Canada, and the U.S.
for trade, tourism, remittances, and hard currency. Despite the
hardship and frustration of life and service in Cuba, many Foreign
Service families have chosen to extend their tours of duty.
The Host Country
Area, Geography, and Climate Last Updated: 12/29/2003 3:29 PM
With an area of more than 44,000 square miles (114,447 sq. km.),
Cuba is the largest island in the West Indies, accounting for more
than one-half of the total Caribbean land mass. That makes Cuba
about the same size as the state of Pennsylvania. The island is more
than 745 miles (1,200 km.) long, and ranges from 20 to 125 miles
(35–200 km.) in width. Cuba lies about 90 miles (145 km.) south of
Key West, Florida and has about 2,500 miles (4,000 km.) of
coastline. Cuba’s coastline is highly uneven and is broken into
hundreds of bays, inlets, and narrow, shallow rivers. The Isle of
Youth (known as the Isle of Pines in pre-Revolution days), and some
1,600 keys and islets lie offshore. The deep-water harbors of
Havana, Guantánamo, and Bahía Honda rank among the world’s finest.
Topographically, three-fifths of Cuba displays flat or gently
rolling fields and wide, fertile valleys—ideal for sugar cane and
tobacco that have been the agricultural staples of the Cuban
economy. The northern coast is low and somewhat rocky; the southern
coast more marshy. Most of what remains, particularly at the
southeastern end of the island, forms steep and at times formidable
mountains. Three mountain ranges dominate the Cuban terrain, but by
far the best known and most rugged is the eastern Sierra Maestra,
where peaks rise to almost 6,000 feet (1,829 m.) above sea level.
Cuba is bordered on the south by the Caribbean Sea and on the
north by the Gulf of Mexico and the Straits of Florida. Prevailing
trade winds combine with warm waters of the Gulf Stream to produce a
mild and semitropical climate. Cuba’s mean temperature is about 77ºF
(25 ºC) in winter and only slightly more, perhaps 80ºF to 85ºF
(26ºC), in summer. Averages range only between 70°F (21°C) and 82°F
(27°C) for the coldest and warmest months. Summer readings as high
as 100°F (37°C) have been recorded. Occasional near-freezing
temperatures occur only in mountain areas.
Relative humidity varies from 60% to 70% in the daytime and from
80% to 90% during the night, regardless of the season, of which
there are only two. The dry season lasts from November to April.
During the May through October rainy season, Cuba receives up to 75%
of its yearly rainfall, which averages 54 inches (137 cm.).
Population Last Updated: 12/29/2003 2:13 PM
Cuba’s population is about 11 million, with an annual growth rate
of 1.1% and a density of 200 persons per square mile. Most of the
population is of Spanish and African origin. Spanish, the official
language, has particularly Cuban traits in its spoken form.
About 70% of the population is urban. Havana, the capital, is
Cuba’s principal port and largest city, with a population of nearly
2 million. Other major cities include Santiago de Cuba, Camaguey,
Santa Clara, Holguin, Matanzas, Cienfuegos, and Pinar del Rio.
Administratively, Cuba is divided into 14 Provinces, plus the Isle
of Youth, which is a special commune of the City of Havana.
About 40% of Cubans are at least nominally Roman Catholic. Many
Cubans practice Afro-Cuban religions. There are a number of
Protestant denominations active on the island, including
Presbyterians, Baptists, Anglicans, and Seventh-day Adventists,
among others. The 1976 Cuban Constitution formally protects freedom
of religion. In practice, however, church attendance has begun to
grow only recently, following years of official persecution of
Public Institutions Last Updated: 12/29/2003 2:17 PM
Cuba is a totalitarian state controlled by President Fidel
Castro, who is Chief of State, Head of Government, First Secretary
of the PCC (Cuban Communist Party), and commander-in-chief of the
armed forces. Castro seeks to control most aspects of Cuban life
through the Communist Party and its affiliated mass organizations,
the government bureaucracy, and the state security apparatus. The
Ministry of Interior is the principal organ of state security and
According to the Soviet-style Cuban Constitution of 1976, the
National Assembly of People’s Power, and its Council of State when
the body is not in session, has supreme authority in the Cuban
system. Since the National Assembly meets only twice a year for a
few days each time, the 31-member Council of State wields power. The
Council of Ministers, through its nine-member executive committee,
handles administration of the state-controlled economy. Fidel Castro
is President of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, and
his brother Raul serves as First Vice President of both bodies as
well as the Minister of Defense.
Although the constitution theoretically provides for independent
courts, it explicitly subordinates them to the National Assembly and
to the Council of State. The People’s Supreme Court is the highest
judicial body. Due process is routinely denied to Cuban citizens,
particularly in cases involving political offenses. The constitution
states that all legally recognized civil liberties can be denied to
anyone who opposes the “decision of the Cuban people to build
socialism.” Citizens can be and are jailed for terms of 3 years or
more for simply criticizing the communist system or Fidel Castro. In
June 2002, the Cuban National Assembly unanimously approved a
constitutional amendment codifying the “irrevocable” character of
Cuba’s socialism and its economic and political systems.
The Communist Party constitutionally is recognized as Cuba’s only
legal political party. The party monopolizes all government
positions, including judicial offices. Though not a formal
requirement, party membership is virtually a de facto prerequisite
for high-level official positions and professional advancement in
most areas, although non-party members are sometimes allowed to
serve in the National Assembly. The Communist Party or one of its
subsidiaries vets candidates for any elected office.
Arts, Science, and Education Last Updated: 12/29/2003 2:23 PM
The Ministry of Culture remains the central authority for museums
and galleries, ballet and theater companies, musical groups,
publishing houses, and the Cuban motion picture industry.
Performances can be excellent and ticket prices quite reasonable,
although a two-tier price structure permits Cubans to pay in
national pesos and requires foreigners to pay in hard currency,
frequently for adjacent seats. The National Symphony Orchestra and
the Cuban National Ballet enjoy solid reputations. Popular singers
like Pablo Milanés, Carlos Varela, Juan Formell, Silvio Rodriguez,
and Chucho Valdés are well known internationally and give
Theater and film are of quality standards, although Spanish
fluency is essential to fully appreciate Cuban performances. In 1998
the Cuban movie La Vida es Silbar (Life is Whistling) won top prize
in the Latin American Film Festival, helping re-launch the Cuban
film industry, which produces more than 14 movies and almost 40
documentaries a year. Perhaps the most famous Cuban movie over the
last decade has been Fresa y Chocolate, which debuted at the 1993
film festival. There are many movie theaters throughout Havana that
exhibit Cuban and Latin American films, as well as recent American
productions, at very modest cost.
Cuban music remains an integral part of life and ranges from
classical to Latin jazz and such creative hybrids of European and
African sounds as danzon, son, punto guajiro, rumba, and vieja trova.
Cuban styles, artists, and dance steps have long dominated the
airwaves and nightclubs of Latin America. The Buena Vista Social
Club reached unprecedented popularity in North America, Europe, and
throughout the world. Independent entities increasingly arrange
their own contracts with record companies and tourist hotels where
they can be paid in dollars. The few music stores in Havana offer
limited choices of international recordings but generally offer a
wide range of Cuban and Latin music. Bookstores generally are
disappointing, offering limited selections and variable quality, but
independent open-air booksellers provide more interesting fare.
The Museo de Arte Nacional houses the most important collection
of Cuban painting on the island and contains among its many holdings
excellent works of all of the most prominent Cuban artists,
including Wilfredo Lam, Amelia Pelaez, Rene Portocarrero, Sosabravo,
and many others. The golden age of Cuban painting, from the 1930s to
the 1950s, known as the Vanguardia Cubana, is the backbone of modern
Cuban painting and still influences painters today. Contemporary
Cuban painting covers an amazing breadth of style. Artwork from
established and licensed artists can be exported through a
certificate (10 USD) issued by the Fondo de los Bienes Culturales.
At the other end of the art spectrum is the Cathedral Market, the
most popular of Havana’s craft and “artesania” street markets, where
bargains can be found on many items.
The Cuban Government describes education as a pillar of the
revolution, and teachers, after the medical corps and the military,
have been among its most faithful. The independent employment
allowed to artists and intellectuals remains unavailable to
teachers. The regime maintains its claim of 96% literacy despite
some evidence of functional illiteracy and criticisms of the
educational system. Control of reading material has loosened in
recent years, but the means to acquire books and magazines remains
stifled. The Interests Section manages an outreach program providing
information on U.S. society, politics, and economy to contacts
throughout the island. It also distributes post-produced
publications and newspapers supporting English teaching programs.
The Cuban revolution succeeded in widespread school construction,
especially in provincial areas, and in establishing a large-scale
system of technical and vocational education as well as an expansion
of the country’s public universities. During the summer of 2002 the
regime stepped up support for education, renovating hundreds of
school buildings and training hundreds of recent university
graduates as teachers in order to reduce student-teacher ratios.
A lack of funding since the mid-1990s has meant a slow decline in
the professional development of Cuban scholars. In some faculties
large-scale English programs have been started to retool the
language capacities of the staff, and professional contact with
visiting American scholars is eagerly sought out where it was once
avoided. Professors are encouraged to participate in internationally
funded programs and to accept teaching opportunities in other
countries that may generate resources.
Academic and cultural contact with the U.S. is growing, largely
at the initiative of U.S. institutions, but Cuban counterparts are
eager to participate in “people-to-people” programs, especially when
they involve income-producing exchanges. From a low point during the
mid-1980s when only a handful of academics traveled each year, today
there are scores of U.S. visitors each month at the University of
Havana, and several hundred Cubans visit the U.S. each year.
Although the provincial educational centers are far less involved,
especially in allowing faculty to travel, U.S. institutions are
beginning to focus their attention beyond Havana.
Commerce and Industry Last Updated: 12/29/2003 3:37 PM
The Cuban Government continues to adhere to Marxist-Leninist
principles in organizing its state-controlled economy. Most of the
means of production are owned and exploited by the government, and
well over 90% of the labor force is employed by the state, with the
only private employment consisting of some 200,000 private farmers
and a little over 100,000 self-employed small business operators.
From the 1960s until 1989, the Cuban economy was dependent on
massive Soviet-Bloc subsidies and went into a free fall when those
subsidies were eliminated after 1989. To alleviate this economic
crisis, the government introduced a few market-oriented reforms,
including promoting tourism, allowing foreign investment, legalizing
the dollar, and authorizing self-employment for some 150
occupations. These measures resulted in modest recovery and several
years of moderate economic growth, but living conditions at the end
of the decade remained well below the 1989 level. Lower sugar and
nickel prices, increases in the price of petroleum, a post-September
11 decline in tourism, and a devastating November 2001 hurricane
have created new pressures on Cuba’s inefficient command economy.
In the mid 1990s tourism surpassed sugar, long the mainstay of
the Cuban economy, as the primary source of foreign exchange.
Roughly 1.7 million tourists visited Cuba in 2000, generating about
$1.9 billion in gross revenues, but the September 11 effects on
tourism and the global economic downturn interrupted growth in this
sector in 2001. Remittances from Cubans overseas to families on the
island, perhaps as much as a $1 billion per year in an $18 billion
economy, play a major role in sustaining Cuba’s stagnant economy.
Most remittances come from Cuban-Americans in the U.S., who are
permitted by U.S. law to send to the island up to $1,200 in a year.
Sugar has lost its leading role in the economy, and the government
announced in 2002 its intention to close almost half of existing
sugar mills and to “retrain” approximately 100,000 workers. Cuba is
a leading producer of nickel and cobalt and exports citrus, fish,
alcoholic beverages, and tobacco products.
Havana actively courts foreign investment, but the government
demands a majority interest in all joint ventures and imposes stiff
conditions on investors. Foreign investors complain that government
red tape, bureaucratic inertia, and abrupt changes in regulations
limit their effectiveness. Cubans who work in joint ventures are
employees of the Cuban government, not the joint venture. By the end
of 2000, nearly 400 joint ventures were operating in Cuba,
representing investment by 46 countries of between $4.2 billion and
$4.5 billion. U.S. legislation provides sanctions for those foreign
investors that traffic in property expropriated from U.S. citizens.
In 1993, the Cuban Government made it legal for its people to
possess and use the U.S. dollar. The dollar is now the major
currency in use, and the government has captured dollars through
state-run “dollar stores” that sell food and consumer goods.
Prolonged austerity and the state-controlled economy’s
inefficiency have created a flourishing “informal” economy that may
account for as much as one-third of all economic activity in Cuba.
The Cuban government defaulted on most of its international debt in
1986 and does not have access to credit from international financial
institutions, which means Havana must rely heavily on short-term
loans to finance imports, chiefly food and fuel. Because of its poor
credit rating, interest rates have reportedly been as high as 22%.
Transportation Last Updated: 12/29/2003 3:40 PM
There continue to be diverging opinions about travel within and
between Cuban cities. Some find it an enjoyable experience, citing
the general view that principal roads are maintained and that
traffic outside of urban areas is light. Certainly as Cuba has
boosted expenditures on tourism infrastructure, road conditions have
improved somewhat and the prevalence of gas stations has increased.
Another view holds that neither the roads nor a majority of
drivers are that good, that lighting and signage are extremely poor
to nonexistent, that roadways are full of people, bicycles, animals,
and stalled vehicles, that gas stations sell more soft drinks than
spare parts, and that it is as easy to get lost as it is hard to get
directions. The fact that USINT Americans must submit a “planilla”
to the Foreign Ministry at least 1 week before their trip,
explicitly detailing the itinerary, times of departure and arrival,
roads to be taken, etc., removes any spontaneity or fun from driving
the road less taken. For security reasons, Mission policy prohibits
driving at night outside the limits of the Province of the City of
Havana or anytime alone.
There seem to be sufficient gasoline stations spread around the
island that sell two types of fuel, both expensive. As of June 2002,
regular costs approximately $3.45 a gallon in Havana, while special
runs $4.18 a gallon. Most Americans use the higher priced gasoline
as do, it seems, virtually all imported vehicles manufactured for
unleaded gasoline. Diesel fuel also is widely available and cheaper
by half than regular gasoline.
Cuba’s promotion of tourism has put hundreds of taxis into
service. At least three categories of taxis crowd Havana’s streets:
metered, state-licensed taxis, unmetered, private yet official taxis
(oftentimes 1950s American classics), and unmetered, unofficial
taxis that perhaps are best avoided. Even metered taxis will
occasionally negotiate the price of the trip, especially to or from
the airport. When using a metered taxi, check the meter when you
enter. Taxis are readily available in Havana for personal travel at
rates comparable to those in the U.S. It may be hard to flag a taxi
on the street, but they generally are available in front of tourist
hotels and taxi stands. For safety reasons, Mission policy prohibits
use of Coco-Cabs, the small egg-shaped taxis found in many tourist
In addition to the José Martí International Airport in Havana,
Cuba has five international airports and several smaller, regional
hubs. Cubana de Aviación, the national airline, serves Cuba’s major
cities but has limited international routes. For policy and security
reasons, Americans are prohibited from using Cubana. Mexicana, Copa,
Iberia, LUT, AOM, and Air France provide international flight
service. Direct flights to Miami, Los Angeles, and New York from
Cuba are available through U.S. Treasury-licensed charter flights,
available to Havana-assigned U.S. personnel, TDY visitors, and other
categories of individuals. The charter schedule is posted monthly.
Travelers should check with the Office of Cuban Affairs (WHA/CAA) or
contact USINT prior to making travel arrangements.
USINT employees consider importing or buying a vehicle for
personal transportation essential. A POV is indispensable for
commuting, shopping and social life, trips to the beach, and places
of interest outside of Havana. Accredited diplomats may import one
vehicle duty free. Cuban law prohibits the importation of vehicles
more than 4 years old as determined by the vehicle’s date of
manufacture, not its model year. Owners must be in Cuba to submit
the requisite waiver (virtually all waivers are approved) and must
export the vehicle at the end of tour. Older vehicles that have
maintenance histories probably should not be shipped to Cuba. An
employee who decides to seek the waiver should inform USINT in
advance of arrival. Diplomats may register a second, locally
acquired vehicle in the name of the spouse if present and
An alternative to importing a car is to purchase one locally. A
number of new makes and models are increasingly available through
joint venture dealerships with the Cuban Government. Used cars being
sold by a departing diplomat may be another, albeit small and
uncertain, source. But historically Havana has been a buyer’s, not a
seller’s, market. USINT’s newsletter El Mojito carries
advertisements of used cars available locally. Departing personnel
must obtain Cuban Government permission to sell a vehicle on the
local market, but only other diplomats or foreign businesspeople
have sufficient hard currency (and the necessary approval) to
Local vehicle maintenance and repair is available, but Cuban
mechanics are neither trained nor experienced with modern American
vehicles and electronics. Spare parts such as air, oil and fuel
filters, brake pads, spark plugs, batteries, and wiper blades can be
found locally for some models, but supply can be erratic. Plan to
bring your own supply. Motor oil is available and of good quality.
Several tire and inner tube brands and models are locally available,
and there are facilities to repair tubeless tires in Havana. USINT’s
seafront location subjects vehicles to constant salt air and water.
Consider undercoating any vehicle shipped to Cuba.
The Cuban Government requires the purchase of third-party
liability insurance. The cost is based on engine size and averages
about $360 per year. In addition, USINT personnel frequently buy
comprehensive policies with U.S. firms offering coverage to Foreign
Service personnel overseas.
Telephones and Telecommunications Last Updated: 12/29/2003 3:41
All U.S.-leased homes have at least one telephone installed. The
normal monthly charge for one telephone in a diplomatic residence is
$10 and increases $3 for each additional telephone installed. “Consumos,”
or usage, costs $0.08 a minute regardless of the time of day that
the call is made. The country code for Cuba is 53; the city code for
Havana is 7.
International direct-dial phone service is available, but many
USINT employees lock out the long-distance option on their
residential phones. Telephone wires can be crossed, and
long-distance phone rates are expensive. Calls to anywhere in the
U.S. cost about $2.50 a minute, regardless of the time or day of the
week. Calls to other overseas destinations are much higher (e.g., a
call to Europe averages $6 a minute.) Calls within Havana and to
other Cuban cities can be frustrating. Disconnections and dropped
lines are commonplace.
Wireless Service Last Updated: 12/29/2003 3:42 PM Cellular
telephone service is available from Cubacel. All USINT Americans are
issued cellular phones, including nonworking spouses. The monthly
cost depends on the plan selected and is determined by the
Information Resource Management Office. Employees must pay for all
personal landline calls and service and cellular phone calls. Faxes
can be sent and received, though the quality of phone service
discourages use of personal fax machines. USINT does have a telex
link. Telegraph service exists in Cuba, mainly through Western
Internet Last Updated: 12/29/2003 3:42 PM
Two Cuban Government-controlled Internet service providers offer
high monthly fees and poor service. Monthly ISP packages are
available for 10–40 hours at approximately $2.50 per hour. Telephone
consumos charges are additional. Due to high prices and slow access,
most employees opt to use one of the Internet computers at the
Interests Section rather than subscribe to Internet service at their
residence. The Chancery is installing satellite-linked access for
the Internet and television news on each floor. Installation of
OpenNet Plus also puts Internet access at every workstation.
Mail and Pouch Last Updated: 12/29/2003 3:43 PM
First-class letter mail, audio or videotapes, film, eyeglasses,
prescription medicines, and subscriptions may be sent through the
diplomatic pouch. Transit time averages 1–2 weeks. Periodicals and
packages may take longer. As a pouch address, packages cannot exceed
40 pounds nor 62 inches in length plus width plus girth combined.
Mail should be sent to:
(Employee’s name) 3200 Havana Place Dulles, Virginia 20189–3200
Outbound letter mail is hand-carried to Miami by USINT personnel,
their family members, or by TDY’ers at the end of their stay.
Employees or family members should carry out their own packages.
International mail to and from Cuba is unreliable and not
Many Mission personnel use a Miami freight forwarder to receive
commercial packages that may not fit in the diplomatic pouch by size
or weight. Cuban customs inspects and may open boxes and packages
pending their clearance, which normally takes less than 2 weeks.
Personnel assigned to Cuba may ship packages to themselves provided
they will be in country to receive them. All costs must be borne by
the employee. Ask GSO or your sponsor about using the freight
Radio and TV Last Updated: 12/29/2003 3:43 PM
The Cuban Government monopolizes all media, radio, and
television. For a large part of the population, radio and TV provide
access to entertainment and information. Radio stations throughout
the country offer programming varying from news and public affairs
to sports, music, and soap operas. Proximity to the U.S. and
favorable weather conditions permit some Florida radio signals to
penetrate Cuban airwaves. Major short-wave radio signals from the
VOA, BBC, and Armed Forces radio also can be heard. Radio Marti can
be easily received on short-wave radios, but TV Marti is actively
jammed by Cuba.
The Cuban Government maintains three TV stations broadcasting a
variety of news, sports, political events and speeches, musical
variety shows, soap operas, dramatic productions, cartoons, and
feature films from the U.S., Europe, Japan, and the former Soviet
Union. Most are in Spanish. In recent years, there has been a
proliferation of privately owned satellite dishes.
A few leased houses can pick up Florida television programs with
little or no interference in calm weather. Most personnel bring in
(via the pouch) satellite dishes permitting them to access American
cable companies. VCRs remain a popular form of home entertainment
for Americans. Conversion is not required for standard U.S. audio or
video equipment brought to Cuba, although a voltage regulator is
highly recommended due to fluctuating current and power outages.
Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals Last Updated:
12/29/2003 3:44 PM
Both daily newspapers and the handful of weekly or monthly
periodicals are all government controlled.
Health and Medicine
Medical Facilities Last Updated: 1/6/2004 8:38 AM
The quality of medical and dental care available in Havana has
deteriorated. Hospitals designated to care for tourists and
diplomats with relatively modern, imported equipment appear suitable
for routine outpatient cases. Pharmaceuticals are in short supply,
and even commonly used prescription medications are often not
available. There are a variety of trained medical specialists, but
secondary and follow-up care is not up to U.S. standards. Patients
requiring evaluation or treatment of more complex cases are
evacuated to Miami.
USINT has a full-time Foreign Service Health Practitioner. The
Health Unit maintains a limited stock of prescription and
nonprescription medicines for various conditions. Fluoride
supplements and routine vaccinations are available for children.
Employees with continuing prescription or medication needs should
bring an ample supply to post. It is difficult to find common U.S.
medications, and it can take several weeks for items to arrive by
Community Health Last Updated: 1/6/2004 8:40 AM
Community public health and sanitation programs are inadequate.
Heavy rains and standing water contribute to large mosquito
populations, making dengue and other insect-borne diseases common in
Cuba, although reportedly not malaria. The Cuban public health
system has a vaccination program that has prevented polio outbreaks.
Garbage collection and disposal is limited. Pick up schedules are
random and haphazard. Air pollution is common during the sugarcane
harvest (December through June) and from burning trash in
residential neighborhoods. Increasing traffic and aging vehicles
spew excessive exhaust.
Sewage backup jeopardizes public water supplies. While city water
is adequately treated as it enters the municipal water system, tap
water is not considered safe for internal consumption due to the
deteriorated water distribution system. This causes endemic diseases
of intestinal parasites. Poor sanitation practices during food
processing in factories or markets and preparation in restaurants
contribute to food-borne illnesses.
Upper respiratory and sinus problems are common in the Cuban
climate. There are frequent flu outbreaks in the fall and winter
(September through March). USINT personnel have experienced various
minor ailments such as diarrhea, intestinal parasites, fungal
infections, and conjunctivitis. The breakdown of preventive public
health programs and periodic torrential rains contribute to serious
illnesses such as hepatitis, dengue fever, and typhoid. The last
major typhoid outbreak occurred in 1977. In late 2001 Cuba
experienced its worst outbreak of dengue in 20 years.
Preventive Measures Last Updated: 1/6/2004 8:40 AM
The Foreign Service Health Practitioner recommends using the
filtered water system provided to every residence for drinking and
cooking. Potable bottled water is provided to USINT office coolers
on each floor. Raw fruits and vegetables should be scrubbed, soaked
in a chlorine solution, and rinsed in drinking water. It is
recommended that small children have 2–3 tablespoons of bleach added
to bath water prior to bathing.
Bring a generous supply of mosquito repellant, sunscreen lotion,
first-aid items, prescription drugs, syringes with needles, and a
full range of medicine cabinet drugs. If you wear eyeglasses or
contact lenses, bring a second pair. Some USINT personnel supplement
their diets with vitamins. For continuing needs of specific medical
supplies, consider arranging with a friend or pharmacy to send
needed items via the pouch. Medical appliances such as heating pads
or ultraviolet lamps should be 110v or 220v, 60 cycles.
There are no mandatory immunizations or particular inoculations
required for persons entering Cuba. Typhoid, influenza, hepatitis B,
and hepatitis A are recommended and provided by the Health Unit. For
travel to Central America, yellow fever shots are advised.
Employment for Spouses and Dependents Last Updated: 1/6/2004 8:41
The U.S. and Cuba do not have a bilateral work agreement.
Therefore, employment opportunities are limited to the international
community in Havana. Finding work outside the Interests Section can
be very difficult, as jobs in other embassies are limited. Normally,
it takes a lot of perseverance and fluent Spanish to find work
outside of USINT.
USINT Havana has a number of part-time and full-time jobs
available for family members. USINT currently has family-member
positions in the following sections: Consular Section (2), Health
Unit (1), CLO (1), Human Resources (1), Facilities Maintenance (1),
GSO (6), Information Management (1), Political/Economic Section (3),
Public Diplomacy (1), RSO (1), and Refugee Unit (5). While we
attempt, and are normally able, to provide work for family members,
we cannot guarantee employment. That said, we have had unfilled
family member employment opportunities for the last 3 years. Jobs at
the FP-05 through FP-09 level are almost always available.
Contact the USINT Human Resource Management Office for more
information on employment opportunities for family members.
U.S. Interests Secti - Havana
The Post and Its Administration Last Updated: 1/6/2004 8:42 AM
The U.S. Interests Section opened the first day of September
1977, reoccupying the seven-story former U.S. Embassy building.
Officially, U.S. diplomats in Havana and Cuban diplomats in
Washington are accredited to the Swiss Embassy in each capital. The
Swiss served as America’s protective power from 1961, when the
Embassy was shuttered, until 1977. USINT’s 51 full-time American
employees, a ceiling set by reciprocity, reflect a typical U.S.
Embassy, from political and economic reporting to consular and visa
services, administrative and security support, and cultural, media,
and public diplomacy representation. The refugee program, jointly
staffed by officers from State and Justice, is one of three
in-country refugee processing operations in the world. Russia and
Vietnam have the others.
The USINT Chancery sits on the Malecón, Havana’s lively
oceanfront boulevard with a view of the Florida Straits. A
multi-million dollar renovation (1992–1997) completely overhauled
the office complex and adjacent motor pool area. The Mission’s local
address is Calzada between Calles L and M, Vedado. Local telephone
numbers are 33–3551/9, 33–3543/7. Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5
p.m., Monday through Friday.
USINT personnel receive a consumables allowance, a cost-of-living
allowance, and a hardship differential. Employees assigned to 2-year
tours in Cuba are entitled to two R&R trips to Miami, the designated
Temporary Quarters Last Updated: 1/6/2004 8:43 AM
USINT makes every effort to move new arrivals directly into their
permanently assigned residences. Occasionally, however, modest
temporary stays in nearby resort-style bungalows become necessary.
In that instance, the Mission provides a Welcome Kit containing all
necessary items, from bedding linens to kitchenware, to use until
Permanent Housing Last Updated: 1/6/2004 8:43 AM
The principal officer resides in the furnished U.S.
Government-owned official residence. All other assigned personnel
occupy homes that USINT must lease through the Cuban Government
enterprise Cubalse. Because of that formality, USINT is unable to
change housing easily and has limited options when seeking new
All residences are located approximately 10–20 minutes west of
the office and city center in the residential suburbs of Miramar,
Cubanacán, Flores, or Siboney. Most houses have at least three
bedrooms, two-to-three bathrooms, a garage or carport, a patio, and
Furnishings Last Updated: 1/6/2004 8:44 AM
All leased homes are furnished with a basic set of U.S.
Government furniture, draperies, and major appliances, including a
washer, dryer, gas range, water cooler, freezer, refrigerator,
air-conditioners, dehumidifiers, ceiling fans, and residential alarm
system. All houses also have generators due to occasional power
outages. USINT handles all preventive maintenance and minor repairs
in leased houses. Cubalse handles major repairs.
USINT does not supply garden tools and hoses, bug killers, floor
polishers, vacuum cleaners, ironing boards, barbecues, TVs, VCRs,
microwave ovens, or other personal appliances. Extra bookshelves and
stands for personal stereo and electronic equipment are useful and
should be included in HHE shipments. Bring decorative personal
articles like area rugs and wall hangings.
Utilities and Equipment Last Updated: 1/6/2004 8:44 AM
All houses are equipped with hot and cold running water. In
addition, city water flows every other day, although on-site
cisterns can almost always accommodate off-day requirements.
Electrical current is 110v and 220v, 60 cycles. Power surges are
common; outages are occasional, but more often during the
June–November hurricane season. Voltage surge protectors are
strongly recommended for sensitive equipment.
Food Last Updated: 1/6/2004 8:51 AM
Consumables. There are several grocery stores in Havana where
goods are sold for U.S. dollars, as well as a number of agricultural
markets called “agromercados” that offer fresh fruit, fresh
vegetables, and meat for Cuban pesos. The supply of certain items
can be erratic, and there is a tendency to buy in quantity and
Cubalse operates two grocery stores in Havana that offer 15%
discounts to diplomats, though anyone with dollars may shop there.
This discount is not granted at the time of purchase. Instead, USINT
diplomats turn in receipts to GSO every quarter to claim a refund on
items purchased. In addition to the two Cubalse “diplomercados,”
there are a number of grocery stores somewhat closer to most USINT
homes. Although these stores do not offer the diplomatic discount,
they are usually less crowded and carry different stock. Also, there
is a growing number of duty-free importers who sell goods in bulk at
prices below local levels.
In 1994, the Cuban Government authorized private farmers to sell
their excess vegetables and fruits directly to the general public in
agromercados, where everything is paid for in Cuban pesos. Buyers
must bring their own bags to carry purchases home, and carefully
inspect items, as many are improperly handled. The supply of fresh
vegetables and fruit is seasonal, and there are usually four to five
varieties on sale at any time. Depending on the time of year,
available vegetables include cabbage, onions, lettuce, carrots,
tomatoes, corn, bean sprouts, squash, peppers, potatoes, sweet
potatoes, eggplant, spinach, green beans, and cucumbers. Available
fruits include pineapple, papaya, watermelon, oranges, grapefruit,
lemons, bananas, mangoes, and guava. Available fresh herbs and
spices include parsley, cilantro, garlic, basil, oregano, and mint.
One private agricultural cooperative in Havana sells directly to
diplomats for a set weekly fee.
Generally speaking, products purchased locally are expensive and
not necessarily of good quality. Because local supply is erratic,
most find that a consumable shipment is essential. The latest Retail
Price Report is representative of everyday products and prices and
will assist in the formulation of a consumable shipment. Following
is a brief description of various goods and their availability
a) Fresh Meat: There is almost a constant supply of various cuts
of beef and poultry (average weight is less than one kilo). Cuts of
beef are similar to those found in the U.S. A selection of cold cuts
is available at most dollar stores. On occasion, local turkey,
rabbit, lamb, and pork are also available from one of the
diplomercados. Bacon imported from Canada is occasionally available
and always hoarded.
b) Seafood: Cuban shellfish, such as shrimp and lobster, and
various fish, especially “pargo” or red snapper, are excellent and
c) Dairy Products: There is a limited supply of milk, butter,
yogurt, cream, and cheeses. Good quality ice cream in a variety of
flavors is almost always available. Milk is sold in powdered form or
in long-life UHT cartons. Powdered milk is much more expensive in
Cuba than it is in the States. Nonfat or low-fat milk is not
available. While milk is sometimes available from street vendors, it
is not pasteurized, is of uncertain quality, and must always be
boiled before use. Local cheese is available, though it normally
tastes of UHT milk. Imported cheese, namely Gouda, is frequently
available. Specialty cheeses, such as Cheddar, are usually not
available locally. Eggs, while smaller than U.S. grade eggs, are
d) Bread: Bread is usually available from the diplomercados or
from local bakeries. The French/Cuban bakery “Pain de Paris” has
several outlets in Havana where various breads, baguettes,
croissants, and sandwiches are available. That said, many USINT
employees find the selection of local bread limited and prefer to
make their own with a breadmaker. Yeast usually is available. The
quality of Cuban flour varies. Self-rising flour is not available.
e) Canned and packaged products: A variety of Cuban products is
generally in good supply, such as coffee, fruit juices, long-life
milk, sugar, and flour. Also available are packaged rice, beans and
pasta, olives, and other canned goods, usually of Italian or Spanish
f) Coffee and Tea: Cuban coffee is very good, though stronger
than what many Americans normally drink. Instant coffee is
expensive, and decaffeinated coffee is not available. A variety of
local herbal and black tea is available.
g) Soft Drinks: Cuban brands of cola, lemon-lime drinks, and
tonic water are almost always available. Imported brands from
Europe, Mexico, or Venezuela are generally available, with frequent
shortages of specific types (e.g., Ginger Ale, Coke, and tonic
water). Diet or “light” soft drinks are rarely available.
h) Water: tap water is not safe for consumption due to the
deteriorated water distribution system. Locally bottled drinking
water is available everywhere, and all houses, as well as the USINT
office buildings, are equipped with water filters.
i) Alcoholic Beverages: Cuban beer is almost always available and
of good quality. Imported beer from Holland, Germany, Denmark,
Belgium, and Canada is usually available, though shortages of
imported beer often occur during holidays. A fairly extensive
selection of imported Spanish, French, Chilean, and Argentine table
wines is available at all times at a wide range of prices. The
selection changes frequently, however, so it is common to hoard a
favorite wine when it is available. A good selection of liquors and
liqueurs is always available at reasonable prices.
j) Miscellaneous Non-Food Items: Many Western diplomats complain
that Cuban detergents are very harsh on clothing, and cleaning
supplies, including liquid dish soap, are overpriced and of inferior
quality. Other items generally not available include paper products
such as aluminum foil, plastic wrap, plastic sandwich bags, freezer
bags, trash bags, tissues, and paper towels.
In light of the above, USINT families generally find the 2,500
pound consumables allotment essential. The weight limit may be
insufficient to meet needs over 2 years, so plan to supplement that
shipment in a number of ways. Packing consumables with regular HHE
is an excellent way to ship large or heavy commodities, such as pet
food, disposable diapers, and paper products. USINT families also
periodically place Internet orders with American Shopper, NetGrocer,
or other U.S. outlets. The occasional shopping foray to Miami helps,
too. Families are encouraged to consider carefully their needs,
preferences, and frequency of use of household products. As local
supplies do vary, newly assigned personnel should contact the
Community Liaison Office for an up-to-date suggested consumable
Clothing Last Updated: 1/6/2004 8:52 AM
Average temperatures in Cuba range between 70°F (21°C) and 82°F
(27°C) for the coldest and warmest months; relative humidity varies
from 60% to 90%. Mildew and mold can be problems at times.
Summer-weight clothing is appropriate year round. Cotton or cotton
blend garments are popular, and generally anything that can be
machine-washed is preferable to items requiring drycleaning.
Extremely limited drycleaning outlets in Havana offer uncertain
quality controls. Bring winter clothes only for trips to the U.S. or
Standards of dress in Cuba for most occasions are informal. Women
find dresses or skirts a good choice, while men wear guayaberas or
short-sleeved shirts over casual dress khakis. Coats and ties are
worn less often. Light jackets or sweaters are useful during winter
months (November–February) and in the office building. Official
entertaining is generally informal or casual. Dressier suits are
worn, for example, at evening Embassy receptions. The November
Marine Corps Ball requires dark suits or tuxedos for men, evening or
cocktail dresses for women.
Clothing is available in some stores, but the variety is limited
and generally quite expensive. Plan to bring what you believe you
will need or order through catalogs.
Some tailoring is available for items made locally, and
seamstress work is quite good. Bring fabric and notions, patterns
and pictures, however, since these items usually are not available
or cost more. Bring clothing and shoes in increasing sizes for small
children, especially for infants or toddlers. These items are not
available in abundance or reasonable price ranges. The sizes and
quality of disposable diapers are unreliable. Some families use
cloth diapers, although the quality of the hard water may not treat
them as well as desired.
It is useful to bring several umbrellas (one for the house, one
for the car, one for the office), since rain showers are frequent,
especially during the June-to-November rainy season.
Supplies and Services Last Updated: 1/6/2004 8:54 AM
Laundry and cleaning supplies, bleach, fabric softener, floor and
bathroom detergents, sprays, starches, and sponges are available
regularly in the Diplomercado, but quality and prices tend to be
inversely proportional to value. Drycleaning and shoe repair are
virtually nonexistent. Hairdressers and barbershops offer acceptable
services at inexpensive prices, but bring your own supplies (hair
color, permanent treatments, etc.).
Domestic help is considered an absolute necessity in Cuba.
Besides maintaining the household, a domestic employee’s presence in
the home greatly enhances residential security. Thefts and
burglaries are a growing problem as the economy worsens and
unemployment rises. Domestics also oversee access to residences of
Mission personnel by USINT maintenance workers to perform repairs
and/or preventive maintenance. A domestic can facilitate entry and
ensure that tasks are properly completed, even interpreting the
wishes of the American employer. Outside the house, gardeners are
essential to maintain yards filled with trees, shrubs and plants
(the growing season in Cuba is virtually year-round).
Departing Americans may recommend the employee(s) who worked for
them. The CLO can assist in arranging for domestic help, and the HR
Office serves as liaison with Cubalse, whose authorization is
required, before any domestic employee can begin work. That process
routinely can take 1 month or longer. Occasionally Cubalse denies
the request, compelling the officer to begin all over. Salary
consists of two components: a monthly fee paid to Cubalse and a
dollar salary paid directly to the Cuban worker.
Religious Activities Last Updated: 1/6/2004 8:54 AM
From its Spanish legacy Cuba developed adherence to Roman
Catholicism. From its African roots, Cuba absorbed tribal rituals
and beliefs in ancestral gods. That vibrant mix, known today as
Santeria, remains widely popular and practiced. Roman Catholic
services are conducted virtually all in Spanish, but several
Protestant churches offer English-language services. Cuban
Government control over religious observance remains strict. The
1998 visit of Pope John Paul II raised many hopes later dashed by
lack of progress on issues of concern. There also are services
within Havana’s small Jewish community.
At Post Last Updated: 1/6/2004 8:57 AM There are three
international schools in Havana. Historically, most USINT children
have attended ISH, headed by an English-speaking principal and
citizen of the U.K. However, there are USINT children currently
enrolled in all three schools.
The International School of Havana (ISH) offers instruction in
English from early years classes (starting at 2 years of age)
through high school. Classes for all students begin at 8:45 a.m. and
for most end at 3:30 p.m., except on Mondays, when school ends at
2:30 p.m. The teaching day for some younger learners ends at noon. A
crŠche service is available for those students until 3:30 p.m. All
students pay an enrollment fee of $2,500 each. Annual tuition costs
vary from $5,140 at the kindergarten and primary grade levels to
$4,040 for grades 10–12. There are additional costs set by the
University of Nebraska at Lincoln High School Independent Study
program that must be paid in conjunction with the annual tuition
costs set by ISH.
L’Ecole Francaise offers instruction in French from nursery
school (starting at 2 years of age) through high school. School
hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday for all
classes. There is an enrollment fee of $40 per student, as well as a
school insurance fee of $40 per student, that is paid annually.
Annual tuition varies considerably. For French children at the
kindergarten and primary grade levels tuition is $2,240 annually.
Tuition for foreign children at the kindergarten and primary grade
levels is $2,470 annually. For children at the secondary grade
levels tuition is $3,000 annually. There is an additional CNED
(National Center for Long-Distance Learning) inscription fee. That
fee is based on the student’s grade and varies each year from 690 to
1,400 French Francs, as well as the dispatch fee for mailing course
materials by the diplomatic pouch of the French Embassy in Havana
(800 FF). The school does offer a reduced tariff for large families
of 10% for the second child enrolled and 20% for the third child
enrolled. For all students at the secondary grade levels, a reduced
tariff is not offered.
Centro Educativo Espanol offers instruction in Spanish from
preschool (starting at 3 years of age) to high school. There is a
registration fee of $500. Families having more than two children are
not subject to the registration fee for additional children.
Quarterly tuition for students at preschool and kindergarten levels
is $500. Quarterly tuition for students in 1st through 12th grade is
$700. Secondary courses are graded via testing reports from Spain.
School hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
At ISH, most instructors are Cuban and employees of Cubalse.
Though many have a formal education, not all have a degree in
education-based studies. The Office of Overseas Schools (A/OS) rates
the school as adequate through grade 6. Though parents in the past
have expressed some disappointment in the school’s program for
grades 4–6, many recently have noticed great improvements made by
the school’s director, which have produced the school’s
international accreditation. The secondary educational courses
operate under a University of Nebraska correspondence program or
Mercer College (a British program). ISH currently follows a
curriculum loosely based on the Fairfax County standard. All primary
school textbooks are from the U.S. USINT provides its children with
transportation to and from ISH. There is a snack bar available for
students with a small menu to choose from. The majority of parents,
though, opt to send their children to school with a lunch. Employees
with school-age children are encouraged to check with the Office of
Overseas School at the Department or inquire directly with USINT
about ISH educational programs.
Away From Post Last Updated: 1/6/2004 8:57 AM Dependents of
junior- or high-school age attend American boarding schools of the
Higher Education Opportunities Last Updated: 1/6/2004 8:57 AM
Havana University offers many night courses (mainly foreign
languages). The Instituto Superior de Relaciones Internacionales (ISRI)
has several master degree courses in Latin American studies and
welcomes diplomats. The International School of Havana has an Adult
Education Program (limited to English as a Second Language) and has
offered workshops on stress reduction and a Cuban Cinema Seminar.
Casa de las Americas, an institute which studies the American
continent, offers special seminars in literature. All instruction is
in Spanish. USINT also offers Spanish instruction to all employees.
Recreation and Social Life
Sports Last Updated: 1/6/2004 8:59 AM
Tennis, golf, horseback riding, swimming, snorkeling, scuba
diving, wind surfing, water skiing, sailing, and fishing are
year-round sports in Cuba and hobbies actively, avidly indulged in
by virtually everyone in the USINT community. The principal
officer’s and deputy principal officer’s homes have pools, and the
POR has a tennis court, available to Americans assigned to Havana
and their guests. Tennis courts also can be accessed at several
hotels and at other diplomatic missions or residences. Newer hotels
offer fitness centers and swimming pools.
Facilities at Tarará (an hour east of Havana) and Marina
Hemingway (just west of Havana) charter fishing boats. Freshwater
bass fishing is good at Lake Hanabanilla, a 5-hour drive into the
mountains southeast of Havana. Scuba-diving requires certification,
which may be easier to obtain before arriving, along with your own
equipment. Tanks can be recharged without problems.
Club Havana, a recently-restored seaside clubhouse facility,
offers a wide range of services and activities, including
restaurants, bars, shops, a cigar room, pools, tennis, squash,
paddle tennis, front-tennis, sailing, jet-skis, catamarans, kayaks,
gym, sauna, massage, and aerobics. Daily entrance at the Club costs
$10 on weekdays and $15 on weekends per person. Members can choose
between a monthly fee of $150 or a yearly fee of $825 per person,
which includes the right to bring one guest. Members of the
Association of Diplomats (ADIP) receive a discount of almost 50% on
the yearly fee. Members may bring one guest, and children under the
age of 14 have access free of charge.
The Havana Golf Club offers a nine-hole course, tennis courts, a
squash court, a two-lane bowling alley, pool, and restaurant for a
$60 monthly fee. The golf course is in fair condition, but other
facilities seem poorly maintained. The 18-hole championship Varadero
Golf Club, although 2 hours away, offers a better course amid a more
scenic resort environment. Horseback riding and both Western and
English riding lessons and outings are available at Lenin Park.
There is an outdoor roller-skating rink in Havana for roller-bladers
of any age. Biking also remains a popular activity.
Touring and Outdoor Activities Last Updated: 1/6/2004 9:04 AM
Havana is a city rich in history, architecture, and culture.
Narrow cobbled streets characterize old Havana, virtually all of
which the United Nations has designated as a World Heritage site in
an effort to stave off further deterioration and destruction. El
Morro Castle dominates the harbor entrance and skyline. The city and
environs are full of stately buildings, beautiful wrought iron work,
stained glass, and great architectural detail, all evocative of
Cuba’s Spanish colonial origin.
Heyday 1940’s and 50’s hotels and hotspots like the Riviera, the
Nacional, and the Tropicana Nightclub today compete for tourists’
dollars with newer, more modern facilities built by mainly European
The Foreign Ministry requires that all trips outside of Havana
Province be reported at least 3 workdays in advance of the trip, not
including the day that you submit the request. American employees
must submit a planilla detailing the time of departure and arrival,
the itinerary to be followed, passengers, etc. It is not necessary
to wait for authorization; only to inform MINREX of travel plans
beyond the province borders.
Heading west from Havana into Pinar del Río province are two
areas that attract interest. The waterfall and orchid gardens of
Soroa are an hour’s drive west of Havana. Running adjacent to the
ridge of mountains known as Cordillera de los Organos, the highway
to Soroa passes through large tracts of sugarcane and cattle-grazing
pastureland. Another hour brings the Valle de Viñales, where the
combination of soil and climate produce the best tobacco for Cuban
cigars. The mountains offer dramatic contrast to agricultural
lowlands, attractive vistas and cave exploration.
Cuba has wonderful, unspoiled beaches, particularly at Varadero,
2 hours’ east of Havana. This beautiful stretch of white sand beach
must rank as one of the Caribbean’s finest. On the way from Havana
to Varadero is Playa Jibacoa, a smaller yet popular resort area with
beaches and coral reef surrounded by mountains. In Varadero and
Playa Jibacoa you will find European and Jamaican hotels that
frequently offer weekend specials for diplomats. The excellent
beaches of Playas del Este lie 15 miles east of Havana, while
Herradura, the nearest coral reef for snorkeling or diving, is just
an hour’s drive west. Cuba’s coastal waters and coral reefs attract
many fishermen and divers. In the province of Matanzas, visitors to
Las Cuevas de Bellamar are guided through a small part of the
extensive underground caverns.
Other more distant places of interest include Guamá (a commercial
crocodile farm), Trinidad and Cienfuegos (Spanish colonial
architecture), and Santiago de Cuba (Cuba’s second-largest city
close to Spanish-American War sites). Playa Girón, better known as
the Bay of Pigs, is a 3-hour drive southeast and worth an occasional
weekend for snorkeling. Cayo Largo and Cayo Coco, island resorts
developed for Cuba’s tourism industry, can be reached via small
aircraft. For security reasons, Mission policy requires travel on
such small planes to be approved in advance by the Principal
Officer. All overnight travel outside Havana should be arranged well
in advance to ensure accommodations, which can range from rustic to
Entertainment Last Updated: 1/6/2004 9:05 AM
Cubans have enormous interest in the arts. The National Ballet
continues to stage various productions at the famous and
still-lovely Garcia Lorca Theater. Jazz remains popular, and a
yearly festival features local and international artists. Cuba has
annually sponsored the Latin-American Film Festival — a Cuban film
won Best Picture and critical acclaim in 1994 — and a number of
theaters show Spanish and American films. Museums and art galleries
provide occasional hours of enjoyable relief. The Museum of Colonial
Art, Hemingway Museum, Museum of the Revolution, Museum of the City,
and the Museum of Natural Science are worth visiting. The Museo
Histórico in the nearby town of Guanabacoa displays extensive
information on Santeria and other Afro-Cuban religions deriving from
ancestral and spiritual worship.
At-home entertainment focuses on videotapes, books, games,
musical instruments, hobby materials, and sports equipment. Plan to
bring all such entertainment items. Many people in the diplomatic
community have video recorders and trade tapes. USINT has a small
VHS video library, and there is a BETA-format video store where you
can rent Spanish-language tapes.
Social Activities Last Updated: 1/6/2004 9:05 AM
Although modest relative to other U.S. Latin American missions,
USINT represents one of the larger diplomatic missions in Havana.
Informal gatherings among Americans, Canadians, and the British are
common. ADIP, the Association of Diplomats, organizes many
activities, trips, and tours that are open to the entire foreign
diplomatic community. The Marines sponsor activities each month, and
everyone is invited to these as well as to the Marine Ball in
November. The Canadians and USINT annually sponsor tennis
tournaments. Social opportunities with Cuban nationals are limited
in scope, and official contacts are generally formal. All
invitations to Cuban officials must be sent through the Ministry of
Foreign Relations with a diplomatic note.
Official Functions Last Updated: 1/6/2004 9:06 AM
USINT personnel normally are not invited to official Cuban
functions, but senior officers do participate in diplomatic social
life. Formal attire is rarely required at official functions. For
women, suits or dresses are appropriate; for men, suits and
guayaberas are common. Officers with representational
responsibilities should bring a supply of business and invitation
cards to post. New arrivals will be introduced officially to Cuban
contacts as required. Most officers find paying courtesy calls on
their counterparts at other embassies useful.
Special Information Last Updated: 1/6/2004 9:06 AM
Post Orientation Program
All Foreign Service employees and families assigned to Havana
receive a detailed informational letter from the Community Liaison
Office soon after notification of assignment. Also, USINT offers an
active sponsorship program to pair each new family with an
established employee to whom they can write directly with further
questions about the assignment. The new employee will be helped
through an intensive check-in procedure that includes additional
security information on Havana. Lastly, soon after arrival, the new
family receives an overall orientation on Mission policies,
restrictions, and procedures.
Notes For Travelers
Getting to the Post Last Updated: 1/6/2004 9:07 AM
The most common route to post for official travelers is via U.S.
Treasury-licensed charter passenger flights from Miami. Visas are
required for all travelers to Cuba and cannot be obtained on arrival
at Jose Marti International Airport. Contact WHA/CCA and/or USINT
well in advance (6–8 weeks) of any planned travel in order to ensure
proper visa issuance.
The Cuba Desk (WHA/CCA) can provide flight schedule information
(updated monthly) and phone numbers to call the charter companies
directly for reservations. Still, the charters do not function as
normal commercial carriers. Tickets usually must be paid for in
cash. Passengers are limited to 44 pounds of checked luggage, so
excess baggage charges are customary. There is a standard airport
departure tax that must be paid. Beyond finding the charter
operation at the Miami International Airport (usually on the lower
level of Concourse A), the real challenge is having sufficient cash
to pay for all prospective charges. Be sure to obtain receipts for
such cash expenditures. It will be reimbursed on the travel
reimbursement voucher. Assigned personnel are met on arrival by
their sponsor and helped through Customs, but not immigration.
More detailed information on traveling to and shipping HHE, UAB,
and POVs to Cuba is available through the post welcome cable and
other post-oriented materials located in the Overseas Briefing
Customs, Duties, and Passage
Customs and Duties Last Updated: 1/6/2004 9:08 AM
Free entry of personal property is permitted for all USINT
personnel. Luggage of persons holding “official” passports is
subject to customs review on arrival at Jose Marti International
Airport. That of persons holding diplomatic passports is not.
However, all arriving baggage is checked by fluoroscopes and/or by
sniffing dogs before delivery to the terminal. Cuba places no limit
on the amount of U.S. currency brought into or carried out of Cuba
by foreign diplomats. For personal use American employees may import
one vehicle that cannot be more than 4 years old (unless a waiver is
requested and approved). Expensive or ostentatious models of
vehicles should not be shipped to Cuba. Please check with the
General Services Office in advance.
Passage Last Updated: 1/6/2004 9:08 AM
All U.S. personnel and dependents entering Cuba must have valid
visas. Inoculations are not required, although several are
recommended, for travel from the U.S. to Cuba. Please consult M/MED
prior to travel. Upon arrival, USINT will help obtain the photos
needed for diplomatic carnets, drivers’ license, etc. There are
special size requirements for various local I.D., although some
U.S.-size I.D. photos will be useful.
Pets Last Updated: 1/6/2004 9:10 AM
Cubans love pets, especially dogs, although many consider owning
a pet a luxury due to the cost and scarcity of pet supplies locally.
Cuba has a very active community that participates in biannual
international dog shows in Havana, with dogs and judges coming from
throughout the Americas and Europe to participate. There are also a
number of smaller local dog shows throughout the year for specific
breeds. The most popular breeds represented by their own clubs in
Cuba are afghan hounds, german shepherds, great danes, and doberman
pinchers. Cubans trained and knowledgeable as dog trainers/sitters
are available to the USINT community.
Still, shipping a pet to Cuba compels advance arrangements. Speak
with your veterinarian in the U.S. prior to departure about any
medications or pet supplies you will need. Locally available dog and
cat food is of poor quality; cat litter is normally nonexistent.
Veterinarian care in Cuba is not up to U.S. standards, and many pet
owners are less than pleased with the way their pets are handled by
local veterinarians. The most common potential pet problems include
fleas, ticks, parasites, mange, and skin and coat problems caused by
the heat. Bring with you a supply of medications for these and any
other health problems your pet may have.
Domestic pets entering Cuba must have a full set of vaccinations
as defined by your veterinarian. The rabies vaccine is especially
recommended, as are shots for distemper and hepatitis. All pets
entering Cuba must have a certificate of good health signed by a
veterinarian and dated within 10 days of the animal’s arrival in
Cuba. It is not necessary that a State official sign the
certificate. Your veterinarian’s signature is sufficient. Upon
arrival in Cuba, a Cuban veterinarian at the airport will certify
that your pet has received the proper vaccinations and that you have
a health certificate. Cuba imposes a 15-day at-home quarantine on
all arriving pets. Please notify USINT well in advance of any pets
that you plan to bring so that proper clearances can be arranged.
Firearms and Ammunition Last Updated: 1/6/2004 9:10 AM
Cuban law permits diplomatic personnel to import and register
hunting weapons. In reality, however, Cuba offers few hunting
opportunities, and the principal officer has determined that weapons
capable of being fired should not be imported into Cuba. Ornamental,
antique, or mounted weapons may be imported, but permission should
still be requested in writing and in advance from the principal
Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures Last Updated:
1/6/2004 9:11 AM
Officially, the Cuban peso is the national currency.
Unofficially, since August 1993 the U.S. dollar has been the
currency and mainstay of the Cuban economy. All stores,
supermarkets, tourist restaurants and hotels, taxis, many museums,
and hospitals reserved for foreigners and diplomats require payment
in dollars. Under the terms of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba,
U.S. funds can be transferred to Cuba only as authorized by the U.S.
Treasury. USINT personnel do not need to obtain a Treasury license
on the basis of their assignment to Cuba, but neither do they need
to transfer funds. The USINT cashier provides dollar accommodation
service for American personnel and TDY visitors, accepting personal
or travelers checks drawn on U.S. financial institutions. USINT will
not convert Cuban pesos into U.S. dollars at any time. Both English
and metric systems of weights and measures are used in Cuba,
although the metric system predominates.
Taxes, Exchange, and Sale of Property Last Updated: 1/6/2004 9:11
Cuba imposes no direct taxes or duties on diplomats. Still,
personnel should use discretion and common sense when selling
personal property. The State Department prohibits American employees
from selling personal property at a profit, although property may be
sold to other diplomats. In the case of car sales, the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs must be notified in advance of the sale. Neither
party to such a sale is liable for tax or duty. Autos also may be
sold to the Cuban Government.
Recommended Reading Last Updated: 1/6/2004 9:12 AM
These titles are provided as a general indication of the material
published on Cuba. The Department of State does not endorse
Ameringer, Charles D. The Cuban Democratic Experience: The
Auténtico Years, 1944–1952. Gainesville University Press of Florida,
Arenas, Reinaldo. Before Night Falls. New York: Harpers, 1993.
Bethell, Leslie, ed. Cuba: A Short History. Cambridge and New
York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Bonsal, Philip W. Cuba, Castro, and the United States.
Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press, 1971.
Dominguez, Jorge. Cuba: Order and Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1978.
Draper, Theodore. Castroism: Theory and Practice. New York:
Fernandez, Damian J. Cuba and the Politics of Passion. Austin:
University of Texas Press, 2000.
Geyer, Georgie Anne. Guerrilla Prince: The Untold Story of Fidel
Castro. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2001.
Horowitz, Irving Louis and Suchlicki, Jaime, eds. Cuban
Communism. New Brunswick: Transaction, 2000.
Human Rights Watch. Cuba’s Repressive Machinery: Human Rights
Forty Years After The Revolution. New York: Human Rights Watch
Oppenheimer, Andres. Castro’s Final Hour. New York: Simon and
Pérez, Louis A. Cuba and the United States: Ties of Singular
Intimacy. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1990.
Price, S.L. Pitching Around Fidel: A Journey into the Heart of
Cuban Sports. New York: Echo Press, 2000.
Quirk, Robert E. Fidel Castro. New York: Norton, 1993.
Smith, Wayne. The Closest of Enemies. New York: Norton, 1971.
Suchlicki, Jaime. From Columbus to Castro. New York: Pergamon,
Szulc, Tad. Fidel: A Critical Portrait. New York: William Morrow,
Thomas, Hugh. Cuba, or the Pursuit of Freedom. Da Capo Press,
Valladares, Armando. Against All Hope: Memoir of Life in Castro’s
Gulag. San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2001.
Local Holidays Last Updated: 1/6/2004 9:13 AM
Officially observed Cuban holidays are as follows:
National Liberation Day January 1st Revolution Anniversary*
January 2nd Labor Day May 1st Revolutionary Festival July 25th–27th
Independence Day October 10th
*Observed every 5 years