An increasing number of U.S. citizens are traveling to Cuba on charter flights, with the potential for a rapid rise, if travel restrictions are fully lifted. Photo: Granma

According to a July 12, 2009 article published in the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times) current U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, at that time president of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee noted that despite being able to travel to Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Vietnam, China and North Korea, the only place in the world where U.S. citizens are prohibited from visiting without an authorized license was - and still is - Cuba. The U.S. official made these statements while expressing support for the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, which as he noted then, and again more recently in 2015, would not mean an end to the blockade.

President Eisenhower took away U.S. citizens’ right to travel to Cuba 55 years ago, on January 17, 1961. Despite recent initiatives, such as the authorization of charter flights between the two nations and the fact that citizens no longer must wait to receive a government approved license for one of the 12 legal travel categories, but can travel immediately on a general license, U.S. travel policy to Cuba has remained virtually unchanged for more than half a century.

A memorandum of understanding regarding the establishment of regular flights between Cuba and the United States, reached last December, could allow for 110 regular daily flights between both counties.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Affairs, Thomas Engle, who led the U.S. delegation to talks on the issue, noted that the agreement includes 20 flights to Havana and the rest to nine other international airports on the island.
Engle highlighted that the accord benefits U.S. travelers, business and airlines, while both parties are working hard to implement the measure.
The agreement paves the way for U.S. airlines to negotiate with Cuban authorities and establish routes between airports in both countries.

U.S. airlines have expressed great interest in establishing regular flights to Cuba. Over 100,000 U.S. citizens have visited the island since last year. Photo: AFP

Experts have highlighted an over 50% rise in visits by U.S. citizens to the island in 2015, which could quickly increase if the current tourist travel ban is abolished. Today, American Airlines operates over 20 weekly charter flights to Cuba. On December 12, 2015, it opened a weekly Los Angeles-Havana route, in association with tour operator Cuba Travel Services. American Airlines has expressed its desire to establish regular flights to the island from Miami and other U.S. cities at the beginning of 2016.
Meanwhile, Delta Airlines applauded the U.S. and Cuban governments on reaching an agreement allowing regular scheduled services between the two countries.


United Airlines described the December agreement as an historic step, which will strengthen economic and development ties between the U.S. and Cuba, also noting that it is prepared to launch flights as soon as approval is granted.

Such statements made clear that ending the ban – the longest in history – is of interest to both Cuba and the U.S.
President Obama and Kerry himself have appealed to Congress to lift the blockade.
It is also worth remembering that, at the end of 2000, Republican majority whipTom DeLay, used underhand tactics to prevent the tourist travel ban from being tempered – in appropriations bills which had received majority support in both the House and Senate.

The former majority leader, with links to brothers Lincoln and Mario Díaz-Balart, grandchildren of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, left Congress under a cloud of corruption charges; while Lincoln Diaz-Balart resigned to avoid being ousted. It was precisely lobbying by groups led by members of the Díaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen families which saw the travel ban enshrined into law, a measure which can now only be dismantled by Congressional action.

Everyday, support for the notion that the travel ban has gone on for too long, grows.

The Trading with the Enemy Act, which is applied to Cuba, was created in October, 1942 by Roosevelt as a measure to combat Nazism, and was implemented only during the five years in which the U.S. participated in World War II. The punitive measure was aimed at activities by a group of business interests led by PrescottBush - grandfather to current presidential candidate Roland Arriman - and Nazi sympathizer millionaire Fritz Thyssen, who started to provide financial backing to the party in 1933. The two tycoons were associates of the Harriman International Co, affiliated with the German Steel Trust (GST) which managed exports from Nazi Germany to the United States. GST produced 58% of the iron used for weapons to sustain Hitler’s regime including tanks and other armaments.



Despite the litanies of Cuban-American CongressmenDíaz Balart, Ros Lehtinen, Menéndez, Cruz and Rubio, 64% of voters surveyed support the expansion of trade, travel and diplomatic relations with Cuba. According to polls conducted in March 2015, by the research consulting firm Benenson Strategy Group (BSG), which feature opinions from both Republican and Democrat voters, the majority of U.S. citizens support the lifting of the blockade.
Likewise, 72% of respondents believe that trade and diplomatic relations with the island will be more beneficial than sanctions and isolation, while 71% think that policies based on rapprochement will be better for the United States and the Cuban people.

The U.S. Daily El Nuevo Herald, a historically anti-Cuban publication, and AP both reported the results of anApril 14 survey by the firm Friendly Planet Travel, revealing that 88% of U.S. citizens who have traveled to Cuba favor the lifting of the blockade. The poll also showed that the majority of U.S. citizens who have visited the island describe having “warm and open” conversations with Cubans in all environments.

Every year at the United Nations General Assembly, the overwhelming majority of countries demand an end to the blockade, with 2015 seeing a record 188 votes in favor and only two: Israel and the United States, against.

Another recent accomplishment has been Cuba’s participation in the latest session of the Organization of American States (OAS) which clearly showed that the United States is increasingly alone in its efforts to isolate the Caribbean nation, a situation President Obama has been obliged to acknowledge.

According to analysts, these opinions will have an impact on the 2016 electoral campaign, especially in Florida, historically a counter-revolutionary stronghold, where as indicated by pollster Cihan Cobanoglu, of the College of Hospitality Tourism Leadership, and reported in the Herald Tribune, 91% of people surveyed expressed support for the end to travel restrictions, while a slightly greater percentage believe that the blockade should end.
In December, 2014, shortly after Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama announced their intention to work toward the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, some 63-74% of participants in studies carried out by Pew Research support the lifting of the blockade. Another poll by U.S. firm Bendixen & Amandi International found that 97% of Cubans residing in the United States favor the restoration of ties.