US suspends private charter flights to Cuba

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JetBlue Flight 386 departs for Cuba on 31 Aug 16 from Fort Lauderdale, FloridaImage source, AFP
Image caption,
JetBlue relaunched US commercial flights to Cuba in August 2016

The US administration has suspended all private charter flights between the United States and Cuba, to increase economic pressure on Havana.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that "the Castro regime uses tourism and travel funds to finance its abuses and interference in Venezuela".

Last October the US banned regular scheduled flights to all cities in communist-run Cuba except Havana.

Tourism to Cuba has already been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Hardline policies towards Cuba and its regional ally Venezuela are welcomed by conservative Cuban-American groups in Florida, a key battleground state which Donald Trump hopes to win in the November presidential election.

The suspension of charter flights comes into force on 13 October.

Authorised US charter flights to Cuba for medical emergency purposes or for search and rescue will still be permitted.

The BBC's Will Grant in Havana says charter flights from the US have long filled the gap left by commercial airlines, many of which did not run services to Cuba until the Obama Administration briefly thawed diplomatic ties with the island in 2014.

US commercial flights to Cuba resumed in August 2016 for the first time in more than 50 years. The thaw was rolled back by the Trump Administration.

In May the US Transportation Department imposed a cap on charter flights to Cuba at 3,600 per year.