The United States is suspending all private charter flights to Cuba, intensifying its drive to starve the Havana government of revenue over its human rights record and support for Venezuela's leftist president.
The new punishment completes travel sanctions under which all such charter flights had been banned except to Havana. Now, Cuba's capital is off-limits as well. The move comes as President Donald Trump faces a tough re-election battle in which Florida is a must-win state. Florida is home to a large, conservative Cuban-American community that loathes the Havana government.
Announcing the measure, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed the communist regime of President Raul Castro for jailing reporters and pro-democracy activists, overseeing "horrific" physical abuse and propping up President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, among other offenses. The announcement marks the latest hardening of US policy toward Cuba under Trump, who reversed a thaw in relations with Havana that began under his predecessor Barack Obama.
"The suspension of private charter flights will deny economic resources to the Castro regime and inhibit its capacity to carry out abuses," Pompeo said. "This administration will continue to target and cut the revenue the Cuban government earns from landing fees, stays in regime-owned hotels, and other travel-related income," Pompeo added.
Cuba's top diplomat on relations with the US, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, rejected the measure and said it will have "little practical impact."