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US tightens chokehold on Cuba, blocks private charter…

The United States announced Thursday it 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.

Private charter travel to Havana was popular among Miami-area celebrities and business executives.

The move comes as President Donald Trump faces a tough re-election battle in which Florida — home to a large, conservative Cuban-American community that loathes the Havana government — is a must-win state.

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 in a statement.

“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.”

Cuba’s Foreign Ministry also denounced the move, saying it “seeks to satisfy the electoral political machinery of south Florida.”

In October of last year, the United States had banned charter flights to Cuba except to Havana as it hammered away at the island’s economy.

This May, it set a limit of 3,600 flights per year to the Cuban capital.

Still, the Trump administration has stopped short of ending regular commercial flights to Cuba, although now there are none because of the pandemic.

Cuba has been under a US embargo since 1962.

Pompeo said an exception remains for authorized public charter flights to and from Havana and other authorized private charter flights for emergency medical purposes, search and rescue, “and other travel deemed in the interest of the United States.”

“Our message to the Castro regime has been clear: The United States will continue to stand up for the Cuban people and against the regime’s abuses and its interference in Venezuela to prop up Maduro’s illegitimate hold on power,” Pompeo said.

– ‘Abuses and interference’ –

The top US diplomat for Latin America, Michael Kozak, tweeted that Cuba uses money from tourism and travel “to finance its abuses and interference in Venezuela.”

“We cannot allow dictators to benefit from trips from the United States,” Kozak wrote.

But the impact of this new sanction will be limited, because since Obama restored commercial flights to Cuba, private charter travel to the island has fallen off, said John Kavulich, president of the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

“What will be impacted are the visits to the Republic of Cuba by celebrities and business executives who used general aviation private charter aircraft,” Kavulich said.

The Trump administration has made no secret of its dislike for the government in Cuba.

In June, the State Department added seven Cuban companies and hotels to its list of sanctioned entities, including the financial company Fincimex, which makes money from remittances sent to Cuba, notably though Western Union.

And last month, the US announced sanctions against Havin Bank LTD, a London-based Cuban entity also known as Havana International Bank, dealing a blow to the Cuban financial system.

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