In 1998, Zachary Sanders, now 38, worked as an English teacher in Mexico and decided to take a trip to Cuba to see for himself how a socialist country operates.
The U.S. government, which still has shattered ties with Cuba, didn’t approve of Sanders trip however and sued him for not having ‘valid’ travel documents. Years of legal battles between Sanders and the U.S. government ended on Friday with Sanders being found guilty and sentenced to having to pay $US6,500 in fines.
“I wanted to learn about how a socialist country worked in practice,” Sanders says. “I had no illusions. … I’m not like some diehard supporter of the (Cuban) government or anything like that.”
The United States imposes strict restrictions for Americans wanting to travel to Cuba which are based on a fifty year old trade embargo against the communist regime. The implied restrictions as well as the enforcement of the embargo and the punishments for violating it, vary from state to state.
As for Sanders, the U.S. government claims he didn’t have approval to travel to Cuba.
Sanders was ‘caught’ when he returned to the United States from the Bahamas and didn’t tell U.S. customs at that time that he had visited Cuba. The customs officer grew suspicious, checked Sanders’ luggage and found a box of Cuban cigars that he hadn’t reported.
Today, Zachary Sanders works as a lawyer in New York, primarily representing underprivileged migrants. He was refused a practicing license in the state of New Jersey on grounds that he went to Cuba knowing full well that what he did was illegal.