Peter Greenberg's July 15 article, "This Is a Small World After All for Americans," on travel to "sensitive" nations, is full of misleading information for adventurous travelers like myself. Contrary to the information presented, tourism to both Libya and Cuba are prohibited by the U.S. Department of State and the Department of Treasury.
American passports have been invalid for travel to, from or through Libya since 1981. Travel can currently only be arranged with a special validation from the Department of State. Such validations are only available to professionals, government officials and private citizens with specific interests in Libya. They are not available to tourists.
Although U.S. passports are valid for travel to Cuba, Greenberg's suggestions for a trip to Cuba are both unrealistic and illegal. It is unrealistic in that it assumes that Cuban immigrations officers will honor a request to not stamp a passport upon entry, and in that U.S. immigrations officers will not question the presence of a Cuban visa in the passport upon re-entry to the United States.
It is illegal in that he fails to mention that all Americans engaging in travel to Cuba must obtain a general license from the Treasury Department. These licenses are similarly only available to persons with specific interests in Cuba, and are not issued to tourists.
Furthermore, this license is required in order to bring in the $100 of merchandise Greenberg describes as being the special customs restriction applying to citizens with evidence of travel to Cuba in their passports. Failure to obtain this license prior to such travel is a violation of federal law, and subjects the returning citizens to arrest, fines and possible imprisonment. A simple call to the Sate Department's Advisory Hotline (as Greenberg recommends) confirms this.
In short, it will take more than "a little creativity" for an American tourist to organize a trip to either of these nations. It will take nothing less than a change of American foreign policy.
Peter Greenberg replies: Under current U.S. law, it is illegal for U.S. tour operators, U.S. travel agents and U.S. airlines to sell tours, tickets or ground accommodations in countries such as Cuba or Libya. The U.S. Treasury Department license Flesher refers to is clearly aimed at American businesses wishing to trade with these countries. Hardly any U.S. businesses receive that license, since it essentially is deemed "trading with the enemy" under current law.
However, while it is officially illegal for U.S. citizens to travel to these countries from the United States, thousands of American tourists do travel--without penalty--to Cuba, Libya, Vietnam, Cambodia, North Korea and other "banned" countries.
Specifically, my suggestions on travel to Cuba are not unrealistic, as Flesher suggests. I have traveled to many of these countries and not as a journalist. In the case of both Cuba and Libya, upon arrival in those countries, when I asked that my passport not be stamped, it was not.