U.S. agency denies humanitarian cargo flights to Cuba

U.S. agency denies humanitarian cargo flights to Cuba

HAVANA, Nov. 19th  (Reuters)  The U.S. Transportation Department said on Wednesday it is denying exemptions for two charter flight companies to deliver humanitarian cargo to Cuba, the latest crackdown by the Trump administration.

Two U.S. companies had applied to deliver cargo flights to ship small or personal parcels containing food, medicine, hygiene and medical supplies, arguing the deliveries were humanitarian in nature.

The Transportation Department said the State Department determined the flights did not fall within exemption guidelines and said they “would not be in the foreign policy interests of the United States.”

The administration effective Oct. 13 suspended the authority of U.S. and foreign carriers to operate Cuban-U.S. charter flights.

One U.S. operator, Skyway, argued the flights should be permitted to address coronavirus pandemic impacts, including significant shortages of food and medical supplies for Cubans, leading residents to grow their own food and shop at government-run stores with exorbitant prices.

The Transportation Department suspended private charter flights to Cuba to increase American economic pressure on the Cuban government after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought the suspension.

“The Castro regime uses tourism and travel funds to finance its abuses and interference in Venezuela. Dictators cannot be allowed to benefit from U.S. travel,” Pompeo said in August.

Trump, a Republican, has clamped down on Cuba following the historic move by Democratic predecessor Barack Obama to reopen U.S.-Cuba ties.

The Trump administration tightened restrictions on U.S. travel and remittances to Cuba and sanctioned shipments of Venezuelan oil to the island.

The administration also made it harder for Cubans to visit family in Florida by reducing its Havana embassy to skeletal staffing and shutting down the consular section in the wake of mysterious illnesses among its diplomats.

Democratic President-elect Joe Biden said during the campaign for the White House that he would promptly reverse policies on Cuba enacted by Trump that “have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.”