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 island.
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 passengers?
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.