LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Beyonce and Jay-Z’s recent trip to Cuba set off a firestorm of protest.
But hundreds of Americans have been traveling to Cuba for years. All they need is a special license.
UCLA has been busy taking groups to the communist country.
CBS2’s Serene Branson herself recently went as part of an education exchange program.
She reports, “UCLA was the second school to obtain the license. And that school has taken more travelers to Cuba than any other university. The third group this spring got back Wednesday.”
Beyonce and Jay-Z’s controversial trip was reportedly under the same group, “People to People,” that have been granting licenses to groups and travelers since 2011.
Branson’s trip was through a group called “Insight Cuba.” In her sojourn, Branson said she visited many historical sights and interacted with locals.
Cheryl Pailet runs UCLA’s alumni travel program. “We’ve had 400 travelers on over 13 sold out departures,” she said.
Because the US government bans tourism to Cuba, travelers have to sign an affidavit that they will attend eight hours of cultural exchange a day.
“They’re very concerned, what activities, who are you meeting? What are you discussing? They want it outlined,” said Pailet.
UCLA alumnus Scott Jacks recently returned from an eight-day trip to Cuba. “It’s frozen in time. It’s likere- visiting the 50’s. The cars were fantastic. I just had this vision of a horrible police state. It was nothing like that.”
Latin American studies professor Bonnie Taub thinks it’s great for the Cuban people to also see a friendly side of the American tourist.
“We’re at the crossroads we’re Cubans and Americans would both benefit from increased opportunities for exchange,” says Taub.