Reporting Mai Martinez
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CHICAGO (CBS) — For decades, Cuba has been a forbidden paradise for most Americans.
But now, changes made by the Obama Administration are making it easier for some to visit the island. And just last week, one company launched a direct flight from Chicago to Havana.
CBS 2′s Mai Martinez reports that convenience has many Cubans here packing their bags for their first trip to the motherland in decades.
At 90-miles Cuban Cafe, owner Alberto Gonzalez is surrounded by the sights, sounds and flavors of Cuba. But he hasn’t seen his birthplace in more than 30 years. His family fled the island in 1980 when he was just 11.
“My restaurant was designed around my childhood memories,” he says.
The Gonzalez family made the U.S. their home, but their thoughts were never far from Cuba, an island which seems almost frozen in time because of the decades-old U.S. embargo.
Now Alberto Gonzalez is preparing to make that dream a reality, thanks in large part to the direct flight from Chicago to Havana now being offered by C & T Charters.
The first flight took off from O’Hare last Friday. Erica Serrano, C & T’s director of Chicago operations, was there.
“When the plane arrived, everyone was clapping,” she says. “People were just extremely excited to really be on this first flight.”
And the calls have been pouring in ever since. But Serrano says many of the callers do not qualify for travel to Cuba.
“You’re not able to travel just to go for any tourist purposes,” she says. “You have to travel with a specific program that follows underneath the rules and regulations given to us by OFAC, Office of Foreign Assets Control.”
Because Gonzalez was born in Cuba, he can visit along with his family, and he plans to in the next couple of months.
“That will be a very happy moment in my life, to be able to go back to my homeland,” he says.
The direct flight from Chicago to Havana leaves O’Hare every Friday at 1 p.m. Round-trip tickets cost about $1,000. There are also additional fees for other necessary travel documents.
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