Two Aspects of the Reintroduction of Flights to Cuba / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellanos, 5 October 2016 — With the landing in Santa Clara of an Airbus A-320 from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood on August 31st, Jet Blue restarted commercial flights between Cuba and the United States, which were suspended in 1962.

To accompany the general travel permissions, the increase in the level of remittances, better access to communications, the arrival of cruise ships, and North American hotels, the US Department of Transport, approved the launch of 110 flights to Cuba. Of those, apart from Jet Blue, American Airlines will fly 56 times a week to Cienfuegos, Camagüey, Holguín, Santa Clara and Varadero. And at the end of the year, other companies, such as Frontier, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines will start up.

Nevertheless, not everything is positive. The reintroduction of flights has twin aspects, both good and bad.

The good bits are that they are the result of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries — the most important political event in Cuba since 1959 — the evidence of the failure of the Castro regime and the embargo, and the continuing arrival of North American cruise ships and hotels. An opening which will keep widening out. We can also add that the price of one-way tickets with medical insurance* included will not exceed $100.

In the face of the chronic inefficiency of the Cuban economy, clearly shown in the disaster of the reforms, the decline in GDP, and massive emigration, doing tourism business deals with with the greatest economic power in the world, located just a few miles away from our coast, looks to be an essential component in Cuban development.

The bad part is that, after a lost half a century, we are going back to our starting point, in the worst conditions, for two reasons.

The first one is that the Cuba of the 1950’s was tied up in the development of the hotel industry, international flights, and the arrival of tourist car ferries. Havana had become an obligatory destination for foreign tourists. The clearest evidence was the opening of the Capri, Deauville, Riviera and  Havana Hilton hotels between the spring of 1957 and May 1958, with more than 1300 rooms. That plan, interrupted by the 1959 revolution, is starting up again now after about seven decades’ delay.

The second one is that Cuba is the only country in the region  where its people don’t enjoy the elementary right to participate as entrepreneurs in their country’s economy and to contract directly with foreign companies, in spite of having more than adequate professional training.

Because of those reasons, among others, getting out of the profound crisis in which the country is immersed will be impossible without removing the obstacles preventing Cubans from exercising their right to participate  in the opportunities now opening up.

The ball is in Cuba’s court. Flights starting up again should not only serve to consolidate the normalisation of relations, but also to give Cubans back their rights seized from them over fifty years ago. Without that happening on the Cuban side, the moves taken by the White House and the reintroduction of flights will not have a positive effect on Cuban society.

*Translator’s note: The Cuban government has made medical insurance is mandatory for visitors to Cuba

Translated by GH