The U.S. government said on Oct. 25 it would bar U.S. airlines from flying to all destinations in Cuba besides Havana starting on Dec. 10 as the Trump administration boosts pressure on the Cuban government.
The U.S. Transportation Department said in a notice it was taking the action at the request of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo 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.”
“This action will prevent the Castro regime from profiting from U.S. air travel and using the revenues to repress the Cuban people,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter. Raul Castro stepped down as president last year but remains head of the Communist Party, the country’s highest authority.
Today, I asked @SecElaineChao to suspend scheduled air service between the U.S. and all Cuban airports, except Havana’s Jose Martí Airport. This action will prevent the Castro regime from profiting from U.S. air travel and using the revenues to repress the #Cuban people.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) October 25, 2019
The move will bar U.S. air carrier flights to any of the nine international airports in Cuba other than Havana and impact about 8 flights a day.
The prohibition does not impact charter flights. There are no foreign air carriers providing direct scheduled flights between the United States and Cuba.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said in a tweet that his country strongly condemned the move and that it “strengthened restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba and its citizens’ freedoms.”
Carrie Filipetti, deputy assistant secretary for Cuba and Venezuela in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said Havana would serve as the gateway for Cuban-Americans wanting to see their relatives.
“We want to make sure that Cuban-Americans do have a route to their families. You need to enter. Havana is currently carved out for this,” she said.
She warned, however, that “we will continue to increase sanctions” and said other countries should do the same.
“It is a long path with many steps along the way,” she said to a standing ovation.
According to U.S. officials, JetBlue Airways Corp flies to three destinations in Cuba in addition to Havana from Fort Lauderdale—Camaguey, Holguin and Santa Clara—and American Airlines flies to five Cuban cities beyond Havana from Miami—Camaguey, Holguin, Santa Clara, Santiago de Cuba and Matanzas/Varadero.
American Airlines said it is “reviewing the announcement” and “will continue to comply with federal law, work with the administration, and update our policies and procedures regarding travel to Cuba as necessary.”
Jet Blue said it will “operate in full compliance with the new policy concerning scheduled air service between the United States and Cuba. We are beginning to work with our various government and commercial partners to understand the full impact of this change on our customers and operations.”
By David Shepardson, Marc Frank, Matthew Lee, Michael Weissenstein and Gisela Salomon
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.