The United States will suspend all scheduled flights to Cuba except to its capital Havana, authorities said Friday, as US President Donald Trump pushes to dismantle the rapprochement begun by his predecessor Barack Obama.
The suspension, which goes into effect December 10, was announced by the Department of Transportation and affects nine airports on the island nation.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked the Transportation Department for the suspension as a means 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 (President) Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela”.
The Trump administration accuses Cuba of aiding and abetting crisis-wracked Venezuela, which is Havana’s closest ally.
Cuba rejected the measure and vowed that it would fail, with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez stating that “concessions will not be taken from us”.
Trump has moved to roll back steps toward normal relations and business ties that were established under Obama, who made moves to diminish five decades of Cold War tension and sanctions between the neighbours.
American, Delta and JetBlue airlines will be affected by the deadline to halt operations to destinations such as Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second-largest city, as well as Camaguey and the sprawling mega-resort of Varadero.
Cash-strapped Cuba depends heavily on tourism earnings to fund its government, the only one-party Communist state in the Americas.
Havana already has trimmed its 2019 tourism target by 15 per cent to 4.3 million visitors.
The United States still maintains its economic embargo on Havana, which only can be ended by the US Congress.
But it has allowed exceptions, such as cruise ship visits, which must have an educational underpinning in order to go to the island.
Some 900,000 tourists visited the island on cruise ships last year, and almost 40 percent were American, according to official data.
The charter flights on which many Cuban-Americans travel to Cuba from Miami are not affected by the change.
Commercial flights to Cuba began under the Obama administration in 2016.