Thursday, September 01, 2016

Clear skies?

Clear skies?
FRANCISCO ALMAGRO DOMÍNGUEZ | Miami | 1 de Septiembre de 2016 - 14:09 CEST.

What seemed impossible just a few years ago is about to come true: today
the airline JetBlue begins a Fort Lauderdale-Santa Clara flight route
this week. In this way regular flights between several US and Cuban
cities - except for Havana - will be opened up. According to the
low-cost carrier based in New York, they will have daily routes to
Camaguey and Holguín from the same Floridian airport.

American Airlines, now probably the largest carrier in the world, is
preparing to compete on routes from Miami to Cienfuegos, Holguín and
Varadero, this last destination in September. It is known that there
are other American companies vying for the "skies of Cuba," but nothing
official has been announced yet. Air transport executives can smell the
cake, just miles away, and this Wednesday will see the breaking of an
economic blockade that for more than half a century has isolated the

As usual, news of the direct flights sparked disparate opinions in Miami
and Havana. If we look coldly at the political factors surrounding the
restoration of commercial flights between the two countries, nothing
could be better for both. Havana, at times called the Key to the Gulf,
is a natural stopover point in the Americas; it was when maritime
navigation was the only means of transport, and remained so when
aircraft began to supersede commercial shipping.

Miami is America's leading cargo airport and one of its most important
for passengers too. Havana, Varadero, Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba
boast excellent weather conditions all year round. And, despite their
very ramshackle infrastructure, there is still a lot of space to build
on. Moreover, the ground staff, when properly trained and well paid, has
demonstrated professionalism. Although there have been more than a few
serious accidents in recent times, let us not forget that Cubana de
Aviacion, founded almost 90 years ago, was the first Latin American
line to fly to both North America and Europe.

The direct flights will certainly benefit the ordinary passenger.
Charter airlines and Cuban companies operating aerodromes have exploited
travellers for five decades now. It can be argued that many Cubans
return to Cuba because they want to, but there is a good number who go,
and will continue to go because they have children, parents and siblings
there. As a friend says, one must do what's right because filial love
prevails over any other consideration. One might say that Cuban travel
companies "take advantage" of these trips, and are "colluding" with the
regime in Havana. But we must also demand from the US laws flexibility
in taxes and risks for allowing such companies.

Thus, the dilemma of regular flights is not economic. The Cuban traveler
who comes and goes from the Island benefits; US companies earn more
money when daily flights are increased, almost 30 a day to more than a
dozen Cuban cities have been calculated; and, logically, the Government
of the Island, which would receive not only Cubans, but tourists in
transit, though it will have to repair and modernize all its air
terminals to meet the very stringent requirements of Northern civil
aviation, and respect the "nine freedoms of the air."

However, as was the case with the famous cruises to Cuba, the scope of
the controversy remains political/legal and ethical. And it goes both
ways. To start, it would be worth asking the US government a question:
Will JetBlue, American or Delta be able to deny passage to a Cuban for
political reasons, that is, if he is not welcome in Santa Clara and
Havana? Will the company be willing to issue a refund, as happens
relatively often, when a passenger is unable to get off the plane, or is
forced to return on the same flight, because his name "appears on the
computer"? And what will the US company do when it realizes that in
today's Cuba nothing functions, workers are demoralized, and do not
respect rules and schedules? And what about the Helms-Burton Law and
travelers who do not fall into one of the 12 categories of permitted

There would also be questions for the Cuban Government. Could we travel
to our country just getting a ticket on JetBlue, American or Delta and
with an American passport? If our names are on a "blacklist" of the
Cuban government, would it send that list to these companies, so that
they do not lose money? Or would it suffice for us not to be
"authorized," like branded livestock that still belongs to the herd, for
us to be denied passage? Before going for the ticket, will they charge
some minion with finding out what "crimes" (such as writing in this
publication) bar us from travelling to Cuba?

There may be no doubt that President Obama's intentions were good, aimed
at resolving the conflict. But he engaged the wrong parties. The problem
is not with the US or its presidents. The problem is with the Cubans
themselves. And maybe Obama has been right to step aside, as an
executive power. But from the ethical and legal perspective he has left
many dark clouds in the air. The skies of Cuba and the United States are
not clear. Incredible. Less than a 30-minute direct flight away.

Source: Clear skies? | Diario de Cuba -
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