U.S. Reduces Airline Flights to Cuba          

On October 25  the U.S. Department of Transportation, at the request of Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, announced that effective December 10, all U.S. airlines would be banned from flying to all destinations in Cuba except Havana.

U.S. Government’s Announcement[1]

This announcement said this action was taken to “”further the administration’s policy of strengthening the economic consequences to the Cuban regime for its ongoing repression of the Cuban people and its support for Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.”  Charter flights, however, are not affected.

The State Department said that this new restriction will “prevent revenue from reaching the Cuban regime that has been used to finance its ongoing repression of the Cuban people and its support for Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.” It also will impede “the Cuban regime from gaining access to hard currency from U.S. travelers staying in its state-controlled resorts, visiting state-owned attractions, and otherwise contributing to the Cuban regime’s coffers near these airports.”

In addition, the State Department said the “United States continues to hold Cuba accountable for its repression of the Cuban people, and its interference in Venezuela, including its unconscionable support of the illegitimate Maduro regime. The human rights situation in Cuba remains abysmal, with state authorities harassing and arbitrarily jailing activists, dissidents, artists, and others questioning regime authority with impunity. Despite widespread international condemnation, Maduro continues to undermine his country’s institutions and subvert the Venezuelan people’s right to self-determination. Empowered by Cuba, Maduro has created a humanitarian disaster that destabilizes the region.”

Secretary of State Pompeo added in a tweet, “This action will prevent the Castro regime from profiting from U.S. air travel and using the revenues to repress the Cuban people.”

U.S. Reactions

U.S.-based Cuba Educational Travel (CET) warned that this new restriction is another counterproductive action by the Trump Administration as part of a completely failed approach to Cuba. “Travel between the United States and Cuba benefits Cuban families and entrepreneurs, and many American companies. These measures will harm many people, ”said the president of that organization, Collin Laverty. Ending flights to cities that are frequented mainly by Cubans who travel to see their loved ones is another blow for Cuban families on both sides of the Florida Strait.” CET added that this and earlier travel restrictions imposed by the Trump Administration  lead “to family separation, damage to the private sector of Cuba and the general difficulties for the Cuban people.”

The new restrictions taking effect soon before Christmas and New Year’s will adversely affect many Cuban Americans who flock to the island for family reunions over the holidays.

The president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, John S, Kavulich, said the new restrictions are unlikely to significantly harm the Cuban economy.

Cuban Reactions[2]

Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez tweeted that Cuba strongly condemned the move  as strengthening “restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba and its citizens’ freedoms” and that it would not force Cuba to make concessions to the U.S.

Another tweet by Carlos F. de Cossío, head of Cuba’s department of U.S. affairs, said,  “Eager to punish Cuba’s unbreakable defiance, imperialism is going after regular flights to various Cuban cities. It doesn’t matter that they’re affecting family relations, or the modest pocketbooks of most Cubans in both countries.”

The Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel’s tweet said, “”It is the height of impotence and failure in the face of the dignity of a heroic people that makes them act with viciousness, evil, evil.”

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[1]  State Dep’t, United States Restricts Scheduled Air Service to Cuban Airports (Oct. 25, 2019); Reuters, U.S. bars Airline Flights to All Cuban Airports except Havana From December 10, N.Y. Times (Oct. 25, 2019); Assoc. Press, Washington Banning US Flights to All Cuban Cities but Havana, N.Y. Times (Oct. 25, 2019).

[2] See also Montague, Trump Administration Cuts Flights to Most Cuban Airports, N.Y. Times (Oct. 25, 2019).

[3] See also Suspension of flights to destinations in Cuba, a blow to families, warns travel organization, Cubadebate (Oct. 26, 2019).

U.S. Announces Concrete Improvements in Relations with Cuba

Today, September 18, the United States announced new regulations to improve U.S. trade and travel with Cuba. Additional positive changes also are expected over the next several months.[1]

New Trade and Travel Regulations

The U.S. Departments of the Treasury and Commerce on Friday announced new regulations, to be effective on September 21 upon their publication in the Federal Register, that will ease restrictions on U.S. companies seeking to do business in Cuba and on U.S. citizens traveling to the island.

The new rules target travel, telecommunications, Internet-based services, business operations, banking and remittances. They also will allow U.S. companies to establish a presence in Cuba with offices, stores, warehouses and Cuban employees.

Although the new rules do not change who can travel to Cuba, the rules do ease movement of authorized travelers there by licensing transportation providers. They also lift the cap on remittances and allow U.S. travelers to open and maintain bank accounts there.

The new regulations also increase educational opportunities by allowing Internet-based courses and further expand humanitarian efforts by allowing disaster relief.

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said, “Today’s announcement underscores the Administration’s commitment to promote constructive change for the Cuban people.  These regulatory changes build on the revisions implemented earlier this year and will further ease sanctions related to travel, telecommunications and internet-based services, business operations in Cuba, and remittances.  A stronger, more open U.S.-Cuba relationship has the potential to create economic opportunities for both Americans and Cubans alike.  By further easing these sanctions, the United States is helping to support the Cuban people in their effort to achieve the political and economic freedom necessary to build a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba.”

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker added, “The regulations published today are designed to support the emerging Cuban private sector and bring us one step closer to achieving President Obama’s historic policy goals.  These actions build upon previous Commerce regulatory changes, and will ease travel restrictions, enhance the safety of Americans visiting the country, and promote more business opportunities between U.S. and Cuban companies.  In addition to expanding our commercial engagement with the Cuban people, these additional adjustments have the potential to stimulate long overdue economic reform across the country.”

According to the president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, the two departments have “gone farther at one time than most anyone expected. Not only are companies able to establish a physical presence in Cuba and hire Cuban workers, but . . . [the new rules] are also extending loans and lease payment terms for authorized products.

Other Future Changes

The U.S. and Cuba will open regular postal mail service. Initially it will be a “pilot program” allowing Cubans and Americans to send mail directly to one another using the Miami and Havana airports.

The two countries soon should finalize an agreement on resuming direct, commercial airline routes although the first flights will not happen until next year.

Progress before year-end is expected on counter-narcotics cooperation that will expand Coast Guard interdiction efforts to include the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency partnering with its Cuban counterpart; joint environmental work involving the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and setting up maritime passenger routes.

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[1] U.S. Dep’t of Treasury, Treasury and Commerce Announce Further Amendments to the Cuba Sanctions Regulations (Sept. 18, 2015); Davis, Restrictions on Cuba Travel and Business Lifted by U.S., N.Y. Times (Sept. 18, 2015); Reuters, U.S. Moves to Open Up Business With Cuba, Ease Embargo, N.Y. Times (Sept. 18, 2015); Davis, U.S. to Announce Loosening of Business and Travel Restrictions on Cuba, N.Y. Times (Sept. 17, 2015); Assoc. Press, US, Cuba to Resume Mail Service This Year; Other Steps Near, N.Y. Times (Sept. 17, 2015).