Cuba’s Dirty Dozen Don’ts

Cuba’s 12 Most Absurd Prohibitions That Tourists May Never Notice

It's getting easier to go to Cuba, but not necessarily to live there. Sometimes it’s the little things that make you crazy. But, then, there are big things, too.

05.15.15 3:52 PM ET

HAVANA — Here’s a list of the 12 most absurd prohibitions and limitations that we Cubans have to endure in our homeland. It is worth highlighting that the socialist Government of Cuba applies some of them exclusively to Cuban citizens, while foreign residents and tourists do not suffer from the bans. A curious double standard, no? And worth remembering if you are planning a visit and discover your new Cuban friends can’t join you in the fun.

1-Cubans can’t access the Internet from their homes or on their cellphones. ETECSA is the Cuban state-owned telecommunications monopoly. According to its policy, Internet access in private homes is not a service provided to Cuban citizens. It is exclusively provided to state-owned and foreign businesses, and to foreigners residing in the country, as its website makes clear.

2-No sailing on tourist boats. There is not an actual law that forbids Cubans getting on boats and ships, but authorities have applied this restriction for many years. According to Cubatur (a state travel agent) “Cubans—no matter where they live—may not be sold a tourist package that includes a catamaran or a yacht. This enjoyment is exclusive to foreign tourists.”

3-No cable TV. The socialist firm Telecable is the only one that provides cable TV. This service is exclusive to the tourist infrastructure (mainly hotels), diplomats, foreign companies, and foreigners residing in Cuba. Telecable offers a selection of international channels such as CNN, Discovery, HBO, ESPN…

The Cuban population, for no other reason than being Cuban, cannot access this service and can only consume national state-owned TV channels and Telesur (a socialist Latin American channel). 

4-Can’t live in Havana (without a permit). Can someone from L.A. live in Washington, D.C.? The answer is obvious. But in Cuba, can someone from Bayamo live in Havana? The answer is NO, unless he or she has a permit. The Decree-Law 217-1997 on “Internal migrations regarding the city of Havana” dictates that people from other provinces may not live in the capital without a “transitory” document; that is, an authorization issued by the Ministry of the Interior. This violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says, “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.” Not here.

5- No public demonstrations allowed. The Constitution of Cuba (1976) recognizes the right to demonstrate under certain regulations while the Penal Code, in its article 209, warns that “he who participates in meetings or demonstrations celebrated without respecting the dispositions that regulate this right, is committing a felony against public order.” But in the 39 years that have gone by since 1976, no law has been adopted to regulate the right to demonstrate in Cuba. It’s a Catch-22. Not to belabor the point, “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association,” according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

6-No Political Parties allowed (except the Partido Comunista de Cuba). Even though the Cuban Constitution permits all citizens to run in public elections, our magna carta also mentions in its article 62 that, “None of the recognized freedoms of citizenship may be executed against the Constitution, the laws or the existence or ends of the socialist State, nor the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism and communism. Violating this principle will be punished.”

The Constitution also declares that, “The Communist Party of Cuba… the organized vanguard of the Cuban nation, is the superior managing force of society and the state, organizing and guiding the common efforts towards the high ends of the construction of socialism and advances towards the communist society.” Therefore one can infer that any political party that is not the Communist Party is forbidden. 

7-No investment in medium and large enterprises. Law 188 on foreign investment regulates investments in Cuba by foreign individuals and legal entities, as well as by Cuban legal entities that partner with a foreign party with the objective of investing in Cuba. There is no mention of Cuban individuals or their right to invest in Cuba. The only possibility for a Cuban individual who wants to engage in private economic activity is to become “self-employed,” but in this case he or she is only allowed to work in one of the professions authorized by the government (such as restaurants, hair dresser, food vendor on the street, lumberjack, masseur, public toilet security, etc.) 

8-Can’t import wireless microphones, walkie-talkies and satellite communication devices without authorization. Resolution 10-2006 states in its second section that a person who wishes to import wireless microphones, walkie-talkies and satellite communication devices “needs a specific authorization to introduce the equipment into the country and a license for its installation, exploitation and functioning, both issued by the Supervision and Control Agency of the Ministry of Information of Communications.” And, in case you are getting your hopes up, it clarifies “requesting the authorization does not necessarily imply that it will be granted.”

9-No inviting a foreigner to spend the night without a permit. If the police or migratory authorities catch a foreigner sleeping without authorization in the home of a Cuban, the owner of the house may face a severe fine.  

10-Freely selling lobster and shrimps is not allowed. Only the state and foreigners can sell these delicacies in this Caribbean nation.

11-If you pick up a foreigner in a private car you may be in trouble. The Cuban police are allowed to fine or even confiscate the vehicle of a Cuban citizen if he or she gives a ride to a foreigner without a taxi license. There is no explicit law that forbids it, but a foreigner in a car privately owned by a Cuban (there are not that many, most cars are state-owned) might be interpreted as “illicit enrichment.”

12-Bringing from abroad 25 artificial fingernails violates the law. The Cuban Customs Law establishes exhaustively detailed limits on the goods that can be imported from abroad into the island. Sometimes these are ridiculous, especially for items that cannot be found in the country. Customs Resolution 206 specifically limits the number of artificial nails to 24 units.

Of course, there are more—many more—bans and prohibitions that Cuba imposes on Cuba. This was just a taste.