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Direct Travel Insurance and Cuba a comment by Philip Suter of jml Property Services

I was rather taken aback to read Simon Calder's column in Saturday 22nd November 08 Independent Traveller.

He was writing about the fact that according to Direct Travel Insurance Services, that there are now four nations that are so dangerous that they are no longer covered. The four are quoted Afghanistan, Sudan and Liberia. The fourth "dangerous country" is Cuba!

Looking into this further it would appear that Direct Travel is now owned by the US insurer AIG and consequently as far as the present the US Admiistration is concerned Cuba one of its closest neighbours is "a no go area". Trade restrictions have been in place for over 50 years now and hopefully with President Obama taking over in January 2009 things will improve.

I have just taken a look at the Foreign and Commonwealth website.(2-12-08) They mention the "dangers" in their travel summary page (Full information here)

  • The hurricane season - "It runs from June to November. Hurricanes Gustav and Ike struck Cuba in August and September 2008 respectively causing considerable damage to tourism infrastructure and resulting in food shortages in many areas."
  • "Most visits to Cuba are trouble free. 255 British nationals required consular assistance in Cuba in 2006-07. The main types of incident for which they required consular assistance were for replacing lost or stolen passports (51 cases); dealing with deaths (4 cases); and hospitalisations (22 cases); dealing with arrests, for a variety of reasons (5 cases); and difficulties using debit/credit/cashpoint cards and exchanging money as US dollars are no longer legal tender in Cuba."
  • "In view of serious accidents that have involved tourists, you should not use mopeds or three-wheel Coco-Taxis when travelling around Cuba. Also, crime is on the increase, most commonly in the form of opportunist theft (loss of travel bags, handbags, etc containing passports and funds)."
  • "You must pay an airport departure tax of 25 Convertible Pesos (CUCs) per person when leaving Cuba. This must be paid in local currency"
  • "Dengue Fever is endemic to Latin America and the Caribbean and can occur throughout the year. In 2007 there has been a marked increase in the number of reported cases of dengue across the region. "
  • "There is a low threat from terrorism. But you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks which could be in public areas, including those frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers."
  • "We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling. You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for all the activities you want to undertake"

 

  • Terrorism - "There is a low threat from terrorism. But you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks which could be in public areas, including those frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers. In 1997, Miami-based Cuban exiles launched a short-lived bombing campaign against the Cuban tourist industry. An Italian tourist was killed and other tourists injured, following a bomb that exploded in one of Havana's main hotels. The Cuban authorities say they arrested Miami-based Cuban exiles entering Cuba with intent to attack tourist sites in early 2001."

  • Crime "Crime is on the increase. Theft from luggage during baggage handling, both on arrival and departure, is common. You should remove all valuables, lock suitcases and have them shrink-wrapped before check-in. In December 2006, a British tourist was stabbed in Havana. The non-fatal stabbing took place as the victim was being mugged in the early evening in the Vedado area of Havana. In October 2005 in Havana there were two incidents of robberies from foreign nationals by violence and stabbing. One stabbing was fatal the other was superficial. These attacks took place in the early hours in Centro Havana.

  • You should take all necessary precautions if you are in Centro Havana at night. You should take a taxi to your accommodation rather than walk, even if your accommodation is only a few blocks away. There are a small number of bogus tour agents/taxis operating at the airports and around old Havana. You should not travel with anyone other than your recognised tour operator. If you need to take a taxi, ensure it is a registered one and not a private vehicle. There have been a number of attempted robberies from vehicles on the Havana airport road; keep doors and boots locked and do not stop other than at traffic lights. Car-related crime and mugging incidents are increasing, not only in Havana but Santiago and other areas less frequented by tourists.
  • There have been attacks on foreigners using hire cars after staged punctures and by bogus hitch-hikers. Do not pick people up; if you get a puncture in a lonely spot, drive on several kilometres preferably to a town, before stopping. Beware of pickpockets and bag-snatchers, especially in the area of Old Havana, on buses/trains, at major tourist sites and in nightclubs. Don’t carry large amounts of cash when away from your hotel; avoid wearing ostentatious/expensive jewellery; leave travellers' cheques, credit cards, passports and other important documents in a safe deposit or similar at your hotel. If you pick up hitch-hikers, ensure you have no valuables or important documentation temptingly within reach. You should carry a copy of your passport and not the original, which should be locked away with other valuables. Beware of thefts from rooms, particularly in private guest houses (‘casas particulares’). "

A very comprehensive report, however no mention of the dangers like you would find in the other 3 countries on the list.

I have had annual travel insurance from Direct Travel for many years now (long before they were taken over by AIG) and in fact was off to Cuba last November. I did not cancel the trip because of the article as in fact it came out a day after we should have returned, but because we could not get a car rental for the period in question

It was probably fortunate that we did not go as had we had a claim they probably would not have paid out because we had gone to such a dangerous place! Saying that of course Cuba has thousands of European tourists visiting the country every year. If I do go in 2009, I will have to get my travel insurance from another provider

4th December 2008 It was reported in many newspaoers that a new poll was showing that most Cuban Americans in Florida are in favour of lifting the US trade embargo against Cuba. According to the report fify five per cent of participants in the poll,which signals hope for better US-Cuba relations opposed to continuing the embargo that the United States has maintained against Cuba for nearly fifty years.

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