US further restricts air travel to Cuba

The United States has imposed more travel restrictions to Cuba, further unravelling the historic accessibility implemented by the previous administration of Barack Obama.

“Today, at my request, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) suspended until further notice all public charter flights between the United States and Cuban destinations other than Havana’s José Martí International Airport,” said US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo in a statement on Friday.  

Tourists in Cuba
Tourists vacationing in Cuba

According to Pompeo, nine Cuban airports currently receiving US public charter flights will be affected and public charter flight operators will have a 60-day wind-down period to discontinue all affected flights.  

In addition, the US Secretary of State said the DOT will impose “an appropriate cap” on the number of permitted public charter flights to José Martí International Airport.

“DOT will issue an order in the near future proposing procedures for implementing the cap,” Pompeo said, claiming that the latest action “will prevent the Cuban regime from benefitting from expanded charter service in the wake of the October 25, 2019 action suspending scheduled commercial air service to Cuba’s airports other than Havana.”

Image result for Michael R. Pompeo
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the announcements re further travel restrictions to Cuba.

“Today’s action will further restrict the Cuban regime’s ability to obtain revenue, which it uses to finance its ongoing repression of the Cuban people and its unconscionable support for dictator Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela,” he added.  

“In suspending public charter flights to these nine Cuban airports, the United States further impedes the Cuban regime from gaining access to hard currency from US travellers,” Pompeo continued. 

The announcement prompted an outcry from critics. 

“This is heartbreakingly cruel,” tweeted Engage Cuba, a nonprofit conglomeration of private companies and organizations calling for the curtailment of the trade and economic embargo that the US has imposed on Cuba. “Cuban families now cannot travel to see their loved ones. Just tragic.” 

“We have now three years of the Trump administration, how have the lives of the Cuban people been concretely improved by their policy?” asked Engage Cuba in a tweet to Pompeo. 

Prior to the commercial airline restriction, the Trump administration last June restricted people-to-people exchanges, involving cultural and educational tours, with Cuba.

On the same day, Trump also prohibited cruise ships, private yachts, fishing boats and other vessels from docking in Cuban ports. 

Before Friday’s announcement, Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, tweeted that roughly 624,000 Cubans living overseas had visited the Spanish-speaking Caribbean island in 2019. 

He disclosed that the vast majority of the visitors, about 553,000, were Americans. 

About 3.9 million people visited Cuba in the first 11 months of 2019, a decline of 8.5 per cent from the corresponding period a year earlier, according to figures released by the Cuban government.