US Restricts All Commercial Flights To Cuba Except Those To Havana

The US government is banning flights to all Cuban cities except Havana. The decision will effectively end the Obama administration's policy of easing tensions between the two countries. Supporters of the ban say it will limit the Cuban government’s access to cash and impede the repression of Cubans and support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Meanwhile, opponents of the ban say that barring flights will make it harder for Cuban Americans to visit relatives outside the capital and will have little impact on the Cuban government.

The State Department said JetBlue flights to Santa Clara in central Cuba and the eastern cities of Holguin, Camaguey would be forbidden as of December. American Airlines flights to Camaguey, Holguin and Santa Clara, the beach resort of Varadero and the eastern city of Santiago are also being canceled. Flights to Havana, however, will still be permitted.

“This action will prevent the Castro regime from profiting from US air travel and using the revenues to repress the Cuban people,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter. Raul Castro resigned as president last year but is still the head of the Communist Party, the country’s governing power.

The decision to ban flights to other cities on the island is also an attempt to thwart tourism to Cuba, which is prohibited by US law. There are, however, few statistics on how many travelers use the flights for tourism since most are booked by Cuban Americans flying to cities far from Havana by road to visit relatives.

“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,” Carlos F. de Cossío, head of Cuba’s Department of US affairs, said on Twitter. “Our response isn’t changing.”

Despite the change, charter flights to destinations outside Havana won’t be affected by the ban. Those flights, though, are usually more expensive and less convenient. Another legal option is to fly to Havana and drive the rest of the way, an option that remains unsafe since Cuban roads are notoriously unreliable. JetBlue and American Airlines have issued statements saying they would comply with the decision.

Carrie Filipetti, deputy assistant secretary for Cuba and Venezuela in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said Cuban Americans could still travel through Havana 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. Adding that the government “will continue to increase sanctions” and said other countries should also the same.

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Others, however, aren’t happy with the changes. Lourdes Díaz, a retired Cuban-American who arrived in the US the year after Fidel Castro came to power, said she disagrees with the sanctions and believes they help the Cuba government more than hurt it. “The only thing that suffers is the people,” Diaz said.

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