Weird Laws In Cuba

Foreigners at home: Overcrowding is a major problem in many Latin American cities. To prevent it from happening in Havana, the government enacted a law in 1997 that forbids rural residents from moving to the capital. Anyone who does so becomes an illegal migrant in his or her own country—and faces deportation. This prevents citizens living in impoverished areas from seeking opportunities in the city. Even more controversial is the fact that rural Cubans tend to be darker skinned, prompting accusations that the law is rooted in racism.

Thumbs out: Because very few Cubans own cars, hitchhiking is encouraged. In larger cities and towns, there are even designated stops where people gather to wait for rides. Government cars, distinguishable by white, blue, and brown license plates, are legally required to pick up hitchhikers if they have room for passengers. During daylight hours, these stops are manned by officials who will report any car that fails to do so.

Visitors unwelcome: As a foreigner, don’t expect the same treatment. While private cars will happily offer rides to their fellow Cuban hitchhikers, they’re actually forbidden to pick up foreign tourists unless they have a taxi license. Similarly, don’t plan on staying overnight at the home of a new Cuban friend—because that’s forbidden, too. Only legally recognized casas particulares—private accommodations—are allowed to host foreigners … after paying the government for a permit.

Where’s the beef? Cubans may have an edge when it comes to couch surfing or a free ride, but in every other case, tourists get the best of the best—particularly when it comes to food. Only state-owned hotels and restaurants are allowed to serve lobster or beef—places where Cubans generally can’t afford to eat. Purchasing either on the black market can result in jail time.

Mocktail: When you order a Cuba Libre (“free Cuba”) cocktail—a mixture of cola, light rum, and lime—in its namesake country, don’t expect it to be made with Coca Cola, which is banned for the same reason as Monopoly. Nor will it be made with Bacardi, which is no longer sold in Cuba despite the distillery’s origins in Santiago de Cuba in 1862. Oh, and don’t call it a Cuba Libre. Cubans prefer to call it mentirita—“little lie.”

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