South Floridians who plan to visit Cuba will have more options to fly there this November – the latest instance of the US loosening travel restrictions to the island.
American Airlines will add five cities to the Communist-run island from Miami International Airport. US officials have approved the airline’s request of the US Department of Transportation to resume flights to Santa Clara, Varadero, Holguin, Camaguey and Santiago de Cuba.
“These additional frequencies will enhance service and access between the United States and other cities outside of Havana, as well as offer the best connectivity to Cuba via American’s Miami hub,” the airline said in a statement.
The flights are part of several Biden administration measures designed to ease a so-called “maximum pressure” campaign against the Havana government installed in 2019 by President Joe Biden’s predecessor, Donald J. Trump. The other steps undertaken by Biden include lifting a cap on family remittances and allowing American groups to visit the island for educational purposes.
The revised travel policies were announced in May, with American becoming the first to apply for the expanded flights. Since 2019, scheduled air service from the US has been limited to Havana after Trump ordered its new series of economic sanctions against the Cuban government.
The Trump administration’s sanctions were meant to punish the Cuban government for its oppressive social, political and economic policies. For Biden, the aim has been to ease economic hardships, particularly through the support of hard-pressed entrepreneurs.
But on approach to the mid-term November elections, the pace of Biden’s Cuba policy changes has been slowed by hardline conservative political opponents in the exile community. In addition, the Cuban regime itself, fearing loss of control, has resisted liberalized policy initiatives started by the Obama administration.
“The Cuban economy is so stressed,” said John Kavulich, president of the US Cuba Trade & Economic Council in New York. “It’s more stressed than is the norm and that makes entrepreneurial activity in Cuba more challenging.”
He suggested Cuba is unlikely to embrace lifting its rules restricting entrepreneurial activity until it sees support coming from the US
As it is, American won’t be starting its service until early November, when holiday traffic starts to flow among Cuban families and friends in the US who want to visit the island, Kavulich said.
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“They don’t see any immediate demand that would require implementing the flights prior to November,” he said. “They’re clearly looking toward the holidays. There should be an increased number of passenger and cargo loads. “
American now operates six flights a day between Miami and Havana.
JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines operate flights to Havana from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, according to the airlines’ websites. Although American serves the Broward County airport, there are no flights to Cuba from there.
But flying to Cuba from or through the US for pure tourism still is not allowed.
As American’s website points out, there are “13 permitted reasons for travel”:
- Family visits
- Official business of the US government, foreign governments and certain intergovernmental organizations
- Journalistic activities
- Professional research or professional meetings
- Educational academic activities
- People-to-people exchanges (for travel-related transactions purchased prior to June 5, 2019, when the Trump administration increased sanctions)
- Religious activities
- Public performance, clinics, workshops, athletic or other competitions and exhibitions
- Support for the Cuban people
- Humanitarian projects
- Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
- Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials
- Travel related to certain authorized export transactions
If travelers don’t qualify under one of those reasons, they can acquire a license issued by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control for other reasons that would be vetted by the agency on a case-by-case basis, according to the US Department of the Treasury.
Or, travelers may show they are Cuban nationals returning home.