HAVANA, Oct 26th (Nytimes) The Transportation Department announced Friday that it would suspend flights from the United States to nine airports in Cuba beginning in December.
The policy will sever air service to every international airport there except the one in Havana.
The suspensions were made at the request of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who endorsed the measure as “in line with the president’s foreign policy toward Cuba,” according to a statement from the State Department, which has targeted Cuba in the last year over its support for President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela.
The Trump administration has said it does not recognize Mr. Maduro’s government and has explored a variety of strategies to compel Mr. Maduro to step down, including offering Mr. Maduro amnesty in August if he voluntarily resigned. As Mr. Maduro has stayed in power, the Trump administration has taken aim at Cuba with increasingly punitive sanctions and restrictions.
The new suspensions announced on Friday follow several other recent measures aimed at complicating travel to and within Cuba. In June, the Trump administration banned cruise ships and several other classes of vessels from travel to the island.
Last week, the Commerce Department said it would restrict the leasing of commercial aircraft to Cuba’s state-owned airlines.
The elimination of flights to any airport outside Cuba’s capital comes just over three years after flights between Cuba and the United States were restored under the Obama administration, leading to scheduled flights between the two countries for the first time in more than 50 years.
John S. Kavulich, the president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said the new restrictions were unlikely to significantly harm the Cuban economy.
“There’s no question that Cuba is being punished for its relationship with Venezuela,” he said. “It’s a highly visible decision but in terms of practical impact on Cuba, this is more shock and awe than it is bite and bleed.”
In a tweet, Bruno Rodríguez, Cuba’s foreign minister, criticized the restrictions and said that they would unnecessarily disrupt travel but not compel Cuba to make any concessions.
The policy is scheduled to go into effect on Dec. 10, allowing airlines in the United States 45 days to discontinue suspended routes and make arrangements for passengers scheduled to fly on those routes after that date. The timing will force airlines to cut flights to the island shortly before Christmas and New Year’s, when many Cuban Americans usually fly home for the holiday season.