UPDATE: Today the United States administration announced tougher restrictions on travel to Cuba. While nothing has changed at the moment, there will be some changes in the next 30 days. This should not impact people attempting to go to Cuba for this conference as it should fall under the “professional” or “educational” travel categories. This may change again before November and I’ll be sure to post updates.
While tourist travel remained officially banned, Obama also allowed a broad category of “people to people” visits to Cuba. Trump’s new directive still allows individual travel in all but that category, and reverts to an earlier policy of requiring “people to people” visits only in a Treasury-licensed group.
Free and open source software is as close to a true meritocracy than anything else I’ve found. It doesn’t matter what is the color of your skin, your gender or where you live, your value is judged simply by your contributions to the project. I wrote up my favorite instance of that for opensource.com concerning my friend Alejandro who got involved with OpenNMS when he lived in Venezuela. He and his wife are now permanent residents in the US due to his work on our project.
I actually forget how I came across CubaConf, but I was immediately interested in attending. This is an annual free software conference held in Havana, Cuba.
It has been illegal for US Citizens to travel to Cuba since before I was born. Last year the Obama administration eased some of those restrictions, so it is now possible, under certain conditions, to travel to Cuba as well as to use US Dollars while there.
Cuba has been pretty isolated since the 1960s, and as it races to catch up with the rest of the world it will need access to modern technology, especially software. I see an opportunity for free software to play a huge role in the future of that country, and I am eager to meet the people who will help make that happen.
I want to use this post to encourage all of my free and open source software friends to come to CubaConf. This is a three-day event that follows a format similar to one we used for our OpenNMS user conferences. The first day is a normal conference, with various tracks and presentations set to a schedule. The second day is a “barcamp” style conference where the attendees will set the agenda, and the third day is a hackathon.
Presentations are welcome in both Spanish and English, so I’ve submitted two talks (both in English). One is on starting an open source business. This will be different from my usual talk as I want to focus on how someone in Cuba could both spread the use of free software while getting paid to do it, without as much focus on setting up a corporation or other formal business entity. The second talk is on OpenNMS. While business transactions are still difficult between the US and Cuba, I really want to bring the magic that is OpenNMS to their attention so that when things ease between our countries people will be familiar with it.
I plan to attend all three days, and Alejandro is coming with me to help with any language issues (my Spanish is passable but not nearly as fluent as a native speaker). Note that the Call for Papers is open until the end of August.
Since you might be hesitant to consider going to Cuba from the United States, I wanted to share with you how it works.
First, tourism to Cuba for Americans is still illegal. However, the State Department has come up with a list of 12 categories which qualify for visiting.
In the case of CubaConf, you will choose either number four “Professional research and professional meetings” or number five “Educational activities”. I guess number six might work “Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions” since it is kind of a workshop, but I’d stick with the first two. Since I am a free software professional, I plan to use number four, as I consider this a professional meeting.
Note that Cuba could care less about why you are there – this is a requirement of the US government.
Second, once you have a legal travel category, you’ll need a visa. In speaking with my favorite airline, American Airlines (they offer direct flights to Havana from Charlotte, NC, and Miami, FL), once you book your travel they will outsource the visa process to Cuba Travel Services who will handle the whole thing via e-mail. The visa costs $50 and it looks like there may be a $35 fee, but I’m not sure if the fee applies if you are referred via the airline and it may be built into the price of the ticket.
Speaking of things included in the price, the third thing to consider is that all Americans traveling to Cuba must have non-US health insurance. This is included as a $25 charge when you purchase your ticket.
That covers much of the “getting there” part. The fourth, and in my mind most important thing to know is that Cuba is still very much a cash-only country. American banks are still not doing business there so your credit cards won’t work, nor will the ATM, so you’ll need to bring cash. I verified this with calls to Bank of America, Chase and Citi – currently none of those banks have cards that work in that country.
There are two types of currency in use: The Cuban National Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) or “kook”. The CUC is pegged to the dollar and is the currency used by most visitors. Luckily, Havana is a pretty safe place, although I still won’t want to carry around a lot of money if I can avoid it.
I’m not sure where I will stay. Being a big Marriott fan I do have the option to stay at the Four Points Sheraton, but it seems to be pretty far away from the Colegio Universitario San Gerónimo where the conference will be held. Most people visiting stay in a “casa particular” which is a room in someone’s house, and it appears that Airbnb is also in Cuba.
I plan to use the open source way and just ask my friends organizing the conference where I should stay. It is very easy to do, as they have set up a Telegram channel for the conference. While Spanish is the main language in the channel, English is welcome, and if you are thinking about coming to CubaConf I would consider going there first.
I am very exited about the opportunity to visit Havana in November. Despite the modern history between the US and Cuba, I know I’ll make some new friends.
Software libre crea amistades inmediatas.