Drones are all the rage. But if you’re planning on traveling to Cuba and are thinking of bringing a drone, heed my advice. DON’T!
Regardless of type or size, drones are illegal in Cuba. Even if they don’t have a fixed camera. No exceptions! CNN’s Patrick Oppmann reports that journalists coming to cover Pope Frances’ visit to Cuba in September 2015 received a written warning from the Cuban government to leave their drones at home.
To my knowledge, only one entity has permission to fly drones in Cuba. Cuban techies Fredy Landa and Alejandro Pérez de la Cruz hire out principally to hotel and tourism corporations. Still, their filming is heavily regulated.
While working in January 2016on the CUBAN SOUL documentary about the restoration of Ernest Hemingway’s recently recouped 1955 Chrysler New Yorker, we wanted to film aerial footage of the Hemingway estate–Finca Vigía–and the workshop where the car is seconded. We hired Fredy and Alejandro. But even working through them, getting permission took almost a month.
We were eventually granted the license, specific only to the date, time and location we had requested. No exceptions! Needless to say, it’s MININT (Ministry of the Interior, aka State Security) and FAR (the military) that has the say.
Score of travelers to Cuba have tried to bring in DJI Phantoms and other popular drones… just for the fun of it. Cuban Customs confiscates the drones every time.
If you must travel to Cuba with a drone (say, if you’re traveling to various countries), absolutely declare it to Customs. They’ll take care of it while you enjoy your visit… then return it to you (hopefully) at the airport on your day of departure.
Don’t be like Canadian Chris Hughes, who in October 2016 was arrested for filming with a drone in Plaza de la Revolución. What’s unclear is how he managed to get his drone through the usually very diligent Cuban Customs.
Anyone who knows Havana knows that if there’s one place not to fly a drone, it’s in Plaza de la Revolución. That’s where the governmental headquarters are located, including the Ministry of the Interior HQ, the Ministry of Telecommunications, and the Ministry of Defense. Duh!
Chris spent 13 days in jail without legal representation or due process. He was lucky. It could have been for much, much longer. There’s no such thing as habeas corpus in Cuba.
So, if you’re hoping to get sweeping aerial images of 1950s classic cars wheeling along Havana’s Malecón boulevard, leave it for some future date when and if Cuba opens up to permit drones.