U.S. bans all flights to Cuba outside Havana in latest crackdown

American Airlines and JetBlue, which fly routes to Cuba other than Havana, will have to submit to new regulations from the Transportation Department.
Image: FILE PHOTO: Tourists in a vintage car pass by the U.S. Embassy in Havana
Tourists in a vintage car pass by the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Nov. 1, 2018.Alexandre Meneghini / Reuters

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By Doha Madani and Josh Lederman

President Donald Trump's administration is banning all flights to Cuba other than those to the city of Havana in the latest round of crackdowns on the small island nation.

The ban, which goes into effect on Dec. 10, was announced Friday by the Department of Transportation.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao that the flights are being suspended indefinitely because of Cuba’s repression of its people and support for Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro.

An excerpt of the letter said the move was 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 Maduro.

American Airlines and JetBlue both fly routes to cities in Cuba other than Havana and will have to end those routes in accordance with the new regulations.

JetBlue said in a statement Friday that it plans to operate in full compliance with the new policy.

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"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 airline said.

American Airlines said it was also working to comply.

"We are reviewing today’s announcement regarding service to non-Havana airports in Cuba," the airline said in a statement. "We will continue to comply with federal law, work with the administration, and update our policies and procedures regarding travel to Cuba as necessary."

American said it currently operates 11 daily flights in Cuba, six of which are in Havana.

The White House's restrictions are yet another roll back of the friendlier relationship President Barack Obama began with Cuba before the end of his administration.

In June the Department of the Treasury and the State Department said group educational or cultural trips to Cuba, or "people-to-people" travel, would no longer be permitted.

"Veiled tourism has served to line the pockets of the Cuban military, the very same people supporting Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and repressing the Cuban people on the island," the Department of State said in a statement at the time.

Last year the State Department added 26 tourist attractions to a long list of restricted sites Americans are barred from visiting in Cuba, including hotels, marinas and shops.

It is still legal for Americans to visit Cuba, though the increased sanctions and restrictions on travel have dampened interest and reduced tourism dramatically.

CORRECTION (Oct. 25, 2019, 6:25 p.m.): A previous version of this article misstated Elaine Chao’s position. She is the Transportation secretary, not the Treasury secretary.