The Trump administration announced Friday it will suspend charter flights to all destinations in Cuba except the international airport in Havana, the most recent in a series of sanctions against the island’s government for its support of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.
According to a State Department statement, nine airports in Cuba will be affected. Charter companies will have 60 days to discontinue all flights.
The U.S. Department of Transportation will also impose caps on the number of charter flights that may fly to Havana. According to a statement, the DOT will limit the round-trip flights to 3,600, the same number of authorized flights in 2019.
The administration already restricted commercial flights to those nine destinations in October and eliminated cruise trips to Cuba in June 2019.
“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 Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. “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 U.S. travelers.”
The airports affected are: Ignacio Agramonte International Airport in Camagüey; the Jardines del Rey Airport in Cayo Coco; the Vilo Acuña Airport in Cayo Largo; the Jaime González Airport in Cienfuegos; the Frank País Airport in Holguín; the Sierra Maestra Airport in Manzanillo; the Juan Gualberto Gómez Airport in Matanzas; the Abel Santamaría Airport in Santa Clara; and the Antonio Maceo Airport in Santiago de Cuba.
With the elimination of commercial and charter flights to all provinces except the capital, thousands of Cuban Americans will face more difficulties in traveling to the island to visit relatives. Cuban highways are deteriorated, and train and bus services have declined due to fuel shortages. Domestic flights have also been reduced.
“Canceling these flights might take cents out of Cuban government accounts, but it takes dollars out of Cubans’ pockets, food off the table of Cuban families and once again tries to divide the Cuban family for domestic political gains,” said Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez recently announced that 552,816 Cuban Americans visited the island last year.
Charter companies have been working overtime since the commercial flight ban last year, said Bob Guild, a consultant with Marazul Tours, which coordinates charter flights to Cuba. Marazul books travelers on South Florida-based charter companies AeroCuba, Cubazul, Havana Air, Superior Air and Xael Charters to all nine destinations now banned.
“It is incredible to me that the administration is going after the Cuban-American community and their travel to the island,” said Guild. “When you ban a way they can directly go to Santa Clara or Cienfuegos you are directly affecting their ability to see their relatives.”
Charter company AeroCuba, which offers flights to Havana, Varadero, Santa Clara, Holguín and Santiago de Cuba, updated travelers on its Facebook page Friday, saying that the U.S. Department of Transportation has canceled charter flights to interior provinces of Cuba starting March 10, 2020.
“If you have reserved to fly to the provinces after that date, you should contact your travel agency to be redirected to the flights to Havana,” the post said.
The Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, a group of several opposition organizations in Miami, applauded the cancellation of charter flights, saying “tourism to Cuba only provides profits to the Castro regime, which uses them to stay in power, killing and repressing Cubans for more than 60 years, as well as to maintain its interference in Venezuela and Nicaragua.”
In an interview with el Nuevo Herald and the Miami Herald at the end of last year, acting Assistant Secretary for Latin America Michael Kozak said the U.S. government was focused on restricting the Cuban government’s sources of revenue.
The U.S. believes the Cuban government is one of the pillars that still help Maduro stay in power by providing critical security and intelligence services.
But experts and critics of the administration question how effective the “maximum pressure campaign” and Friday’s action are, pointing out that Maduro is still in power and curtailing family travel might hurt Trump in the 2020 elections.
“This latest travel ban is another desperate move by an administration that is clearly frustrated with the impotency of its maximum pressure policy to usher regime change in Cuba or Venezuela,” said Ric Herrero, executive director of the Cuba Study Group. “Strangely, the president’s South Florida advisors seem to believe that they’ll win the Cuban-American vote this November by punishing Cuban families. They have also been down this road before, but forget that family travel bans contributed to their defeat in the 2008 presidential election. So this strategy is as confounding as it is immoral.”