"[The trips] are designed as a day-to-day interaction with people. It's not pointing fingers at a country, but interacting with them."
As the half-century freeze on relations between the United States and Cuba experiences a thaw, Boiseans will soon have the opportunity to visit the once-forbidden island nation.
In an advertisement published Aug. 5 in Boise Weekly, the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights invited readers to "Visit Cuba!" through three trips offered in 2016 through a partnership with Globus Travel and licensed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
"[The trips] are designed as a day-to-day interaction with people," said Dan Prinzing, executive director of the Boise-based Wassmuth Center. "It's not pointing fingers at a country, but interacting with them."
The Wassmuth Center, home of the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, has been involved in several international projects during the past several years, including trips to Myanmar and Cambodia. Prinzing said many of the center's donors became interested in visiting Cuba soon after President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro hinted at normalizing relations between their nations. Diplomatic ties were reestablished July 20, when the U.S. and Cuba raised each other's flags at embassies in Havana and Washington, D.C. Soon after, Cuba opened its borders to American tourists, and Prinzing said his group jumped at the opportunity.
"It's been an interesting process," Prinzing said. "You have to get everyone registered, and you still have to wait for Cuban government approval."
The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control also insists tour groups study new rules governing travel in Cuba and stick to a specific itinerary. Prinzing said much of the attraction of traveling to Cuba stems from the fact that the nation has been a "forbidden fruit" for Americans.
"Our trip will be more of an immersive experience," he said. "I think there's a really high intrigue with that."
The center has already organized trips for January, February and March 2016, and the first two have already sold out. As Boise Weekly was going to press, only 12 slots were still open for the March 2016 visit. All three have now been officially approved by the Cuban government.
The $5,008 price tag includes airfare from Miami to Cuba, nearly all meals, visa, lodging, transportation, guides, fees and gratuities. The price does not include airfare from Boise to Miami.
"It's so helpful when you're actually meeting the people," said Prinzing. "When we talk about universal human rights, it's important to remember that they're just that: universal."
Prinzing said although he's still unsure about how censorship might play a role in the group's discussions, it's something they will address on the trip, which he added will include a discussion on book censorship at a Cuban library. The tour groups also plan to meet with artists, architects and tobacco-rollers at various stops around the country. Travelers will also visit famous locations such as the Bay of Pigs Museum and Revolution Square. Prinzing said he expects the group to talk plenty about human rights in Cuba.
"I cannot see how [human rights] issues won't come up in our conversations," he said.
"It’s important to remember that areas of Idaho beyond these 11 counties also were impacted and now face the threat of serious flooding as a result of our heavy winter snowfall. This is great news, and there should be more to come.”