The State Department's new Cuba Web site, which was unveiled to considerable fanfare earlier this week, didn't seem to leave much doubt about the rules governing travel to the Communist-controlled island.
"Tourist and business travel is not possible under U.S. law," says the Web site, an illustrated, well-produced affair that aims to explain and promote the Clinton administration's policy of trying to isolate the Cuban government.
But the State Department, it seems, gave only part of the picture.
While it's true that most trade between the United States and Cuba is prohibited under U.S. law, there are a number of exceptions to the embargo. American companies, for example, can sell medical and agricultural supplies in Cuba; their salesmen regularly travel there under licenses granted by the Treasury Department. The law also gives exceptions to the entertainment and communications fields, among other areas.
John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said he went "ballistic" when he saw the Web site on Monday.
"This isn't the first time that incorrect information regarding business travel to Cuba has been provided by the State Department," Kavulich said.
Kavulich reports that 3,000 U.S. business travelers will visit Cuba this year, compared with 2,500 last year. The Web site's assertion of a blanket prohibition on such travel, he said, suggests "a desire to be political with facts."
State Department officials said there was no political motive behind the statement on business travel, noting that the Web site also provides information on medical sales, for example. Still, said one department official, Kavulich has a point and the Web site has been corrected.
"In a sense he's right," the official said. "We should have caught this in the first place."