US bars airline flights to all Cuban airports except Havana from Dec 10

WASHINGTON/HAVANA, Oct 25 (Reuters) - The U.S. government said on Friday it would bar U.S. airlines from flying to all destinations in Cuba besides Havana starting on Dec. 10 as the Trump administration boosts pressure on the Cuban government.

The U.S. Transportation Department said in a notice it was taking the action 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."

The move will bar U.S. air carrier flights to any of the nine international airports in Cuba other than Havana and impact about 8 flights a day.

The prohibition does not impact charter flights. There are no foreign air carriers providing direct scheduled flights between the United States and Cuba.

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A vintage car decorated with a Cuban flag and carrying tourists waits in line to fill up with fuel at a gas station along the seafront boulevard "El Malecon" in Havana, January 12, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini (CUBA - Tags: TRANSPORT BUSINESS COMMODITIES ENERGY SOCIETY TRAVEL)
Tourists from Colombia look at posters in a street arts fair in Havana, February 20, 2016. Picture taken February 20, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Yalis, a 5-year old dog, barks at his owner as he jumps into the sea at the seafront Malecon in Havana, March 16, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
A taxi driver drives a vintage car in downtown Havana, January 16, 2015. The United States rolled out a sweeping set of measures on Thursday to significantly ease the half-century-old embargo against Cuba, opening up the country to expanded travel, trade and financial activities. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini (CUBA - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY TRANSPORT)
Bici taxi driver Yosvani Gomes, 39, lifts the curtains of his vehicle after a rain in downtown Havana January 20, 2015. Cuba will tell the United States in face-to-face talks this week it wants to be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism before restoring diplomatic relations, a senior foreign ministry official said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini (CUBA - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY)
Yiliana Benitez, 33, works at the H. Upmann cigar factory in Havana, February 26, 2015. Cuban cigar-maker Habanos S.A. envisions gaining 25 percent to 30 percent of the U.S. premium cigar market if the United States lifts its trade embargo on Cuba, potentially selling 70 million to 90 million cigars per year, the company said on Monday. The prospect of the United States lifting is 53-year-old embargo improved after the United States and Cuba announced on December 17 their intention to restore diplomatic relations. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini (CUBA - Tags: BUSINESS COMMODITIES)
Cowboy Ariel Peralta (C), 25, watches a rodeo show at the International Livestock Fair in Havana March 22, 2015. Picture taken March 22. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. artists and art curators who came to visit the 12th Havana Biennial walk in downtown Havana, May 29, 2015. The United States formally dropped Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terrorism on Friday, an important step toward restoring diplomatic ties but one that will have limited effect on removing U.S. sanctions on the Communist-ruled island. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Cuba's Capitol, or El Capitolio as it is called by Cubans, is seen in Havana, July 1, 2015. The United States and Cuba on Wednesday formally agreed to restore diplomatic ties that had been severed for 54 years, fulfilling a pledge made six months ago by the former Cold War enemies. U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro exchanged letters agreeing to reopen embassies in each other's capitals, with the Cubans saying that could happen as soon as July 20. The Capitolio, which resembles the U.S. Capitol in Washington, was built in 1929 and was the seat of the government until after the 1959 revolution. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Tourists take pictures of a statue representing the Republic at Cuba's Capitol, or El Capitolio as it is called by Cubans, in Havana July 9, 2015. Cubans are once again touring their Capitol, an imposing structure previously shunned as a symbol of U.S. imperialism but now undergoing renovation and set to reopen as the new home of the Communist government's National Assembly. Picture taken July 9, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Dancer Cristian Perez, 20, (R) and informatics student Ariana Dexido, 17, dance near the sea in Havana, Cuba, July 12, 2015. Picture taken July 12, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Mechanic and salsa dance instructor Ariel Domninguez, 26, (L), gives a class to Jarman Frash, 25, a medical student from Germany in Havana, February 4, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Tourists dance during a salsa class at the beach in Varadero, Cuba, August 26, 2015. Cubans are flocking to the beach in record numbers before a possible end to the U.S. travel ban that would open the gates to American tourists and bump up prices. Picture taken on August 26, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Retiree Madeline Barcelo swims at the beach with her granddaughter in Varadero, Cuba, August 26, 2015. Cubans are flocking to the beach in record numbers before a possible end to the U.S. travel ban that would open the gates to American tourists and bump up prices. Picture taken August 26, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Human resources worker Carmen Oivedo (R) talks to her daughters during their vacations at the beach in Varadero, Cuba, August 26, 2015. Cubans are flocking to the beach in record numbers before a possible end to the U.S. travel ban that would open the gates to American tourists and bump up prices. Picture taken on August 26, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Cuban tourists sail in a rented sailboat at the beach in Varadero, Cuba, August 26, 2015. Cubans are flocking to the beach in record numbers before a possible end to the U.S. travel ban that would open the gates to American tourists and bump up prices. Picture taken on August 26, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Pre-university students walk in downtown Havana to mark the first day of class for the 2015-2016 course, September 1, 2015. Universal free education is one of the pillars of the socialist society built in Cuba since Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Cuban soldiers hold flags of Cuba and Youth Communist league during a ceremony in Havana November 27, 2014, marking the anniversary of the deaths of student leaders killed during the fight against Spanish colonial rule. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini (CUBA - Tags: ANNIVERSARY POLITICS MILITARY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A picture of former Cuban President Fidel Castro is seen inside a post office in Havana, December 11, 2015. Cuba and the U.S. have agreed to restore direct postal service after a half-century rupture in one of the first bilateral deals since the former Cold War foes re-established diplomatic ties in July. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
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Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said in a tweet that his country strongly condemned the move and that it "strengthened restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba and its citizens' freedoms."

Rodriguez said sanctions would not force Cuba to make concessions to U.S. demands.

These flights carry almost exclusively Cuban Americans visiting home at a time when the Trump administration has drastically reduced visas for Cubans visiting the United States. Some 500,000 Cuban Americans traveled to Cuba last year.

The new measure takes effect soon before Christmas and New Year's when Cuban Americans flock to the island for family reunions.

Further restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba would be aimed at squeezing the island economically and expanding Trump's steady rollback of the historic opening to Cuba by Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama. The reversal, along with his pressure on Venezuela, has gone over well among Cuban Americans in South Florida, a key voting bloc in Trump's 2020 re-election campaign.

Under Obama, the United States reintroduced U.S. airline service to Cuba in 2016. Pompeo said on Twitter on Friday that "this action will prevent the Castro regime from profiting from U.S. air travel and using the revenues to repress the Cuban people."

According to U.S. officials, JetBlue Airways Corp flies to three destinations in Cuba in addition to Havana from Fort Lauderdale -- Camaguey, Holguin and Santa Clara -- and American Airlines flies to five Cuban cities beyond Havana from Miami -- Camaguey, Holguin, Santa Clara, Santiago de Cuba and Matanzas/Varadero.

American Airlines said 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." (Reporting by David Shepardson; additional reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Chris Reese and Sandra Maler)

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