New sanctions end most commercial air services between the US and Cuba

The US Administration has banned all commercial flights to destinations in Cuba from the United States, except for Havana. The announcement follows the publication of new regulations by the US Department of Commerce which revoke licensing for companies that lease aircraft to Cuba, resulting in Cubana having to cut its route network.

The measure to prohibit US airlines from flying to Cuba will take effect on 10 December and follows a request by the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to the Department of Transportation to suspend existing flight authorisations in order to strengthen US sanctions. “This action will prevent the Castro regime from profiting from US air travel and using the revenues to repress the Cuban people,” Pompeo said on Twitter.

The decision means that JetBlue and American will no longer be able to fly their services to Camaguey, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Manzanillio, Matanzas, Holguin, Santa Clara, and Santiago. Only flights to Havana, which account for the great majority of US travel to Cuba, will remain legal. Charter flights to destinations outside Havana are not affected by the ban. Most scheduled flights to Cuba’s provincial cities are used by Cuban Americans visiting relatives in locations that often take extended periods of time to be reached from Havana.

Jet Blue said in a statement: “We plan to operate in full compliance with the new policy on scheduled air services between the United States and Cuba. We are beginning to work with our various government and commercial partners to understand the total impact of this change on our clients and operations”. American issued a brief statement saying it would comply with the decision.

The announcement coincided with an event in Miami calling for regime change in Cuba involving US officials, the Organization of American States (OAS) President, Luis Almagro, and various Cuban-Americans and Cuban dissidents. Speaking there, Carrie Filipetti, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Cuba and Venezuela in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said that Washington “will continue to increase sanctions” and that other countries should do the same.

Responding to the US sanctions, Carlos Fernández de Cossio, the Director General of the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s Department of US Affairs, wrote on Twitter: “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 our response isn’t changing.”

The ban on flights followed an earlier announcement by the US Department of Commerce indicating that it was revoking licenses granted for the lease or charter of planes to Cuban state-owned companies and that it will deny future applications for aircraft leases. “This action by the Commerce Department sends another clear message to the Cuban regime -that they must immediately cease their destructive behaviour at home and abroad,” the Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

The decision had the immediate effect of causing Cuba’s state airline Cubana to halt seven of its international routes, including those to Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Haiti, Martinique, and Guadeloupe. Cubana said that it may also alter or end domestic routes to Holguin and Santiago de Cuba. The airline’s Deputy Director, Arsenio Arocha, said that the company will seek the relevant solutions to continue providing services but expected to lose millions of dollars in convertible currency. 

The Trump administration has been tightening sanctions on Cuba month on month with the stated purpose of halting income to the Cuban government and having it cut its ties to Venezuela.

In doing so it has barred US cruise ships from visiting, sanctioned oil tankers moving petroleum from Venezuela to Cuba, permitted lawsuits against foreign companies and individuals benefitting from the use of confiscated property, reduced the permitted level of US content in goods exported to Cuba, cut the amount US citizens can remit to friends and family, and changed the rules relating to travel to Cuba by US citizens.

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