The United States will suspend scheduled flights to nine destinations in Cuba in another attempt to limit cash flows going to the Cuban government, a senior administration official told the Miami Herald.
The airlines will have the authorization to fly only to Havana. They will not be able to fly to other destinations such as Santiago de Cuba, Camagüey, and Varadero, among others. The affected airlines, including American, Delta and JetBlue, will have 45 days to wrap up their operations to those destinations, the official added.
The measure will be effective on December 10, 2019.
The nine destinations impacted 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.
American Airlines said in a statement it was “reviewing today’s announcement regarding service to non-Havana airports in Cuba. We will continue to comply with federal law, work with the administration, and update our policies and procedures regarding travel to Cuba as necessary.”
JetBlue said the company will also comply with the new regulations. “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 in Camagüey, Holguín and Santa Clara,” the company said in a statement sent to the Miami Herald.
Delta did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Charter flights, on which many Cuban-Americans travel to Cuba from Miami, will not be affected. Scheduled commercial flights to Cuba began under the administration of Barack Obama in 2016. They improved the conditions of the service and the prices of the flights, which until then had been the monopoly of less-efficient charter companies.
“We have seen how the Cuban government has benefited from American travelers. We will not allow these funds to be siphoned to the government coffers,” the official said.
The suspension of flights is the most recent in a set of measures that the Trump administration has taken to deprive the Cuban government of revenue and punish it for its support of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requested the suspension to the Department of Transportation in a letter sent this Friday.
“Suspending flights to these nine airports sends a clear message to the Cuban government that the United States is taking firm action in response to the regime´s ongoing repression of its people and support to Maduro,” Pompeo wrote.
The U.S. does not recognize Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela. It has accused the island’s government of preventing a political transition in Venezuela by offering security and intelligence services to Maduro.
On Monday, new restrictions on the Cuban government imposed by the Department of Commerce entered into force. The agency revoked the authorizations for U.S. companies to lease planes to Cuban government airlines. As a result, Cubana de Aviacion, the leading Cuban airline, canceled flights to seven international destinations because several leasing companies canceled their contracts.
In June, the U.S. banned cruise trips to Cuba, as well as trips by private planes and yachts. In October, the administration announced new limits on remittances to the island.
The Trump administration also sanctioned companies that facilitate shipments of Venezuelan oil to the island, which had been part of an agreement conceived by Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro and that Maduro continues to honor despite the dramatic decline in Venezuelan oil production. The sanctions caused fuel shortages in September in Cuba, and the government was forced to impose austerity measures.
President Trump also authorized lawsuits against companies that benefit from property confiscated after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. American Airlines faces one of these lawsuits, in this case, for its use of the Havana airport.
About 50 airlines, including five American companies, fly to Havana and use the José Martí International Airport.
The sanctions were announced on the same day that an event organized by several organizations of Cuban exiles and opponents will be held in Miami. The secretary of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, is scheduled to deliver a speech.
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres