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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 religious institutions.

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 control.

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 performances locally.

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 areas.

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 accredited.

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 purchase vehicles.

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 PM

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 Union.

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 recommended.

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 forwarder.

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 pouch.

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 AM

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 relief location.


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 airfreight arrives.

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 rental properties.

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 small yard.

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 hoard.

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 locally.

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 plentiful.

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 usually available.

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 origin.

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 list.

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 neighboring countries.

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.


Dependent Education

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 family’s choice.

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 investors.

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 comfortable.

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 Center.

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 officer.

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 AM

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 unofficial publications.

Ameringer, Charles D. The Cuban Democratic Experience: The Auténtico Years, 1944–1952. Gainesville University Press of Florida, 2000.

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: Praeger, 1965.

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 Press, 1999.

Oppenheimer, Andres. Castro’s Final Hour. New York: Simon and Shuster, 1992.

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, 1997.

Szulc, Tad. Fidel: A Critical Portrait. New York: William Morrow, 1986.

Thomas, Hugh. Cuba, or the Pursuit of Freedom. Da Capo Press, 1998.

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

Adapted from material published by the U.S. Department of State. While some of the information is specific to U.S. missions abroad, the post report provides a good overview of general living conditions in the host country for diplomats from all nations.
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