Cuba turns down congressional visit to check its airports
Some members of Congress wanted to review security, technology at Cuban
Concern the Obama administration is overlooking security risks
White House is accused of denying access to information
BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES
The Cuban government has denied visas to a U.S. congressional delegation
that wanted to visit the island this weekend to review its airport
security procedures and technology.
The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Michael
McCaul, R-Texas, who was to lead the delegation, complained that it's
"easier for Cubans to come to the United States than for Members of the
House Homeland Security Committee to get to Cuba."
"At a time when the Obama Administration is rolling out the red carpet
for Havana, the Cuban government is refusing to be open and transparent
with the Representatives of the people," McCaul said in a statement.
McCaul said security at airports designated as "last departure points"
for flights to the United States States "are critically important to our
homeland security, but these security concerns seem to be taking a back
seat to the President's legacy building effort."
Rep. John Katko, R-NY., who chairs a House subcommittee on
transportation security and was to be on the trip to Cuba, detailed the
concerns that McCaul referenced in his statement.
"We still don't know if Cuba has the adequate body scanners and
explosive detection systems in place, whether it has the technology to
screen for fraudulent passports or ID, whether or how aviation workers
are screened, and if Federal Air Marshals will be allowed to fly
missions to Cuba on commercial flights," Katko said in a statement.
"This is a government that was only just removed as a state sponsor of
terrorism list one year ago, and it is not enough to rely on the Castro
regime's word that these airports are secure."
The dispute became public during a congressional hearing last month in
which McCaul accused the Obama administration of "rushing unnecessarily"
to reestablish commercial flights to Cuba.
Katko said at the hearing that Transportation Security Administration
officials had told him privately that security at Cuban airports was
"bleak," with only two Chinese-made full-body scanners in the country,
little training for drug-sniffing dogs, and little information on how
airport workers are selected and vetted.
Those same airport conditions currently apply to the charter flights
from Cuba to several U.S. airports.
A TSA official at the hearing, Larry Mizell, declined comment on the
security issue, saying that information was classified as "sensitive."
But he added that, in his opinion, security at Cuban airports had
improved over time.
Mizell and other officials from Homeland Security and other agencies who
testified at the hearing assured the Congress members that all seven
Cuban airports inspected by TSA as of May met the standards of the
International Civil Aviation Organization.
Katko accused the administration of failing to provide Congress with
information requested on the issue. "The Administration's lack of
transparency on this issue is unacceptable, and leads me to believe that
the Administration is either hiding something, or worse, simply
negligent of the security concerns associated with this policy," he
said. "The Administration is eager to have as many people as possible
visit Cuba — except for those who are attempting to examine Cuban
The congressional delegation had been trying to obtain visas for the
Cuba trip for six weeks.
Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said Monday that the Cuban
government's visa rejection was "troubling and highly suspicious" as the
Obama administration promotes travel to Cuba. "What are the Cuban
dictators hiding from the American people?"
The Cuban government so far has authorized six U.S. airlines to fly to
nine Cuban destinations starting in September: Camagüey, Cayo Coco, Cayo
Largo, Cienfuegos, Holguín, Manzanillo, Matanzas, Santa Clara and
Santiago de Cuba.
Flights to Havana have not been authorized, a decision believed to be
due to the small size of the capital's airport and its lack of capacity
to handle the ever-growing number of arrivals.
U.S. airlines also want to hire their own personnel in Havana and use
the more modern Terminal 3, which handles all international flight. U.S.
charter flights now use Terminal 2, the oldest at the Jose Martí
The Obama administration expects to authorize up to 110 daily flights
between the United States and Cuba.
Nora Gámez Torres: @ngameztorres
Source: Congressional committee denied entry to Cuba to check airport
security | In Cuba Today -