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Starting on December 10, The United States government under the Trump administration has made a well-calculated move on Friday to bar US airlines from flying to all destinations in Cuba except Havana to increase its ongoing pressure on the Cuban government. According to sources in Washington, the purpose behind the move is to punish Cuba for 'repressing' its citizens in addition to Cuba’s support for Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro.
The action was being taken 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", said the US Transportation Department in a notice.
Affecting close to eight flights per day, the move will forbid flights of US air carriers to any of the nine international airports in Cuba excluding the capital Havana. Charter flights do not get impacted by this prohibition. Also, no foreign air carriers offer direct scheduled flights between the US and Cuba.
The Foreign Minister of Cuba Bruno Rodriguez tweeted that his country vehemently condemned the move and that it "strengthened restrictions on US travel to Cuba and its citizens' freedoms". Rodriguez also reiterated that the sanctions would not force Cuba to give in to the demands of the US government.
Last year approximately 500,000 Cuban Americans travelled to Cuba. The passengers travelling with these US air carriers are mainly Cuban Americans visiting home at a time when the Trump administration has reduced visas for Cubans visiting the US to a great extent. It would be just before Christmas and New Year that the latest move would take effect when Cuban Americans visit their home Cuba for family reunions and get-togethers.
There would be further restrictions on Americans travelling to Cuba. This serves the US government’s purpose of weakening the island’s economy while bolstering Trump’s consistent rollback of the historic opening of ties between the two countries by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. The Obama administration had reintroduced airline service to Cuba in 2016. Trumps’ reversal policy in addition to his steady pressure on Venezuela has gone down well amongst Cuban Americans in South Florida which happens to be a crucial voting bloc for Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.
Pompeo tweeted on Friday and said "this action will prevent the Castro regime from profiting from US air travel and using the revenues to repress the Cuban people".
JetBlue Airways Corp according to US officials flies to three destinations in Cuba besides Havana from Fort Lauderdale - Camaguey, Holguin and Santa Clara while American Airlines flies to five Cuban cities in addition to Havana from Miami - Camaguey, Holguin, Santa Clara, Santiago de Cuba and Matanzas/Varadero.
American Airlines stated that 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".
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