The number of Americans visiting Cuba despite having no family ties to the island has increased dramatically in the last year following the thaw in relations between the two countries.
Visits were up 36 percent between January and May of 2015 compared to the previous year, with over 38,000 Americans visiting compared to about 29,000 in 2014. The numbers were provided exclusively to The Associated Press by Cuban economist Jose Luis Perello, who has access to official figures.
Apart from direct travel to the island, another almost 13,000 Americans went to Cuba via third countries - a 57 percent increase over last year - traveling first through mostly Mexico, the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.
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Though travel from the U.S. to Cuba as a tourist is officially prohibited, Americans can visit Cuba by stating they are going for certain reasons such as "people-to-people" trips for cultural exchanges, or religious groups taking supplies.
"There's been almost no active enforcement" of the tourism ban under the Obama administration, said Robert Muse, a legal expert on U.S.-Cuba travel, to the AP. The U.S. and Cuban governments recently finished their fourth round of negotiations, and the two sides say they are working on a framework to open embassies.
In addition to the increase in U.S. visitors, Cuba has also seen a 14 percent rise in tourists from around the world this year following the start of U.S.-Cuba negotiations.
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--The Associated Press