Airlines Dropping Cuba Routes Amid Lower Than Expected Demand

When U.S. airlines were fighting it out last year to win approval for flights to Cuba, they were no doubt expecting Americans would be rushing to airports under recently-loosened rules for personal travel to the island nation. But that demand hasn’t been as robust as expected, prompting two domestic carriers to drop a few routes to Cuba.

Silver Airways has made “the difficult but necessary” decision to halt all its Cuba service on April 22, reports the Miami Herald, giving up its dream to eventually fly routes to all nine Cuban cities (not including Havana) that the U.S. has authorized for commercial flights. The airline will continue to monitor the situation, however, and “will consider resuming service in the future if the commercial environment changes.”

Frontier Airlines will be dropping its Miami to Havana flight on June 4 because costs have been higher than expected while demand has been lower.

“Market conditions have failed to materialize there, and excess capacity has been allocated to the Florida-Cuba market,” the airline said in a statement.

So where are all the travelers? One factor could be that tourist travel is still not allowed: If you’re planning on traveling to Cuba, you must qualify for one of 12 categories, including visiting family, working as a journalist, official government business, or others.

Some of the shine may also be off the idea of visiting Cuba now that it’s no longer banned by the government.

“This lack of demand coupled with overcapacity by the larger airlines has made the Cuban routes unprofitable for all carriers,” Silver said in statement.

Other airlines are adjusting as well: JetBlue has put smaller planes on its Cuba routes, notes the Herald, and in February, American Airlines dropped three of its 10 daily flights from the country.

Obama Finally Took Time Off From Golfing & Hanging with Rappers to Ease Limits On Cuban Rum And Cigars

As of Monday, U.S. citizens who travel to Cuba will no longer be limited to bringing back goods worth up to $400 — including $100 worth of tobacco and alcohol. President Obama ordered the changes, which also clear the way for Cuban-origin pharmaceuticals to gain U.S. regulatory approval.

Instead of those special quotas, normal limits on Americans’ importation of foreign products for personal use will apply.

The changes are meant to “open up space for Cubans to improve their livelihood,” said a senior White House official who spoke about the changes on background. It’s the sixth round of amendments to U.S. sanctions on Cuba, in a process that began nearly two years ago.

The new rules cover a wide range of areas, from medical-related business projects to a new provision that will allow air cargo to transit Cuba. They also widen the field of grants, scholarships, and awards that can be provided to Cuba or to Cuban citizens, which will now include scientific research and religious activities.

Another change will allow U.S. companies or individuals to work on developing or repairing parts of Cuba’s infrastructure.

The changes “will create more opportunities for Cuban citizens to access American goods and services, further strengthening the ties between our two countries,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

Detailing the changes, the Treasury Department says that its Office of Foreign Assets Control will now operate under rules that will bring more chances for the U.S. and Cuba to share medical innovations and scientific collaboration. For instance, U.S. nationals will be able to conduct joint medical research alongside Cuban nationals — for commercial or noncommercial use.

As a whole, the moves are meant to help the Cuban people and to advance U.S. interests in the region, the White House says.

Cuba Gives Final Approval For First Commercial Flights From Florida

If you’ve had your bags packed and been ready to go to Cuba, there’s good news: the island nation’s government has have given the final go-ahead for commercial flights taking off from Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

JetBlue and American Airlines are now cleared to start commercial service to several airports on the island, reports the Miami Herald. It’s good timing, too, since JetBlue has a flight scheduled to Santa Clara from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood-International Airport on Aug. 31, nabbing the first regularly scheduled commercial flight to Cuba in more than 50 years.

American is next up, with its first flight from Miami International Airport to Cuba starting on Sept. 7. Eventually, JetBlue is hoping to add service to Holguín and Camagüey in November, again, after it receives approval for those airports. American has received approval to land and take off from all five Cuban airports already, and will offer 56 weekly flights to Cuba total.

Thus far the Department of Transportation has only given preliminary approval to American, JetBlue, and the other airlines that applied to fly 20 daily routes to Havana. That approval is expected to land later this year, while Cuba’s will have to sign off on those flights as well.

Cuban Coffee Returning to the U.S. for First Time in Half a Century, But Only For Nespresso Brewers

Nestle SA’s Nespresso says it will become the first company to import coffee from Cuba to the United States in more than 50 years amid smoothing trade relations between the Cold War adversaries.

The U.S. State Department in April added coffee and other products to its list of eligible imports produced by independent Cuban entrepreneurs.

That regulatory change cleared the way for Nespresso to begin U.S. sales of Cafecito de Cuba, a premium espresso roast for its home brewers, this autumn, the company said on Monday.

Initially available in limited quantities, Cafecito de Cuba aims to deliver on Nespresso’s mission to deliver “exclusive, unique coffee experiences,” Guillaume Le Cunff, Nespresso USA president, said.

Nespresso also is partnering with nonprofit TechnoServe, to support independent coffee farmers on the Caribbean island.

“We want consumers in the U.S. to experience this incredible coffee and to enjoy it now and for years to come,” said Le Cunff, who aims to forge long-term relationships with Cuban producers.

Cuba harvests about 100,000 60-kg bags of arabica coffee annually, according to International Coffee Organization (ICO) data. While that is about five times the annual production of Jamaica, it is just a fraction of this year’s expected 13.5 million bag harvest from Colombia, the world’s biggest grower of high-quality washed arabica coffee.

Nespresso sells brewing machines and single-use coffee capsules. Its flagship espresso maker dominates the market in Europe, where such drinks are preferred, but trails Green Mountain Coffee Roasters’ Keurig system in the United States.

Nespresso competes with a bevy of other global brands for sought-after beans. Those rivals include Starbucks Corp , which told Reuters it has “no plans to import coffee from Cuba at this time.”

The United States imposed trade restrictions on Cuba in 1960, after the government of revolutionary leader Fidel Castro seized private land, nationalized scores of private companies and imposed heavy taxes on U.S. imports. President John F. Kennedy issued a permanent embargo in 1962.

President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro stunned the world in December 2014 by abruptly announcing that the countries would move to restore diplomatic relations.

U.S. Airlines Get The Go-Ahead To Start Scheduled Service To 9 Cuban Cities

After waiting for more than 50 years to carry passengers from the U.S. to Cuba, airlines stateside have gotten the final go-ahead from the Department of Transportation to begin scheduled service to nine cities on the island nation — not including Havana.

Last fall, the U.S. and Cuba decided to kiss and make up, a thawing of relations that led to the loosening up of travel between the two nations. Airlines were chomping at the bit back then to start flying, but had to wait until regulators could hash out exactly how things would work.

In the meantime, the airlines filed applications for one of the 20 new scheduled routes to Havana, as well as 90 routes to nine other Cuban destinations.

The U.S. DOT has now approved six domestic airlines to begin scheduled flights between Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis/St. Paul, and nine Cuban cities as early as this fall: American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines, and Sun Country Airlines.

The arrangement allows for 10 daily roundtrip flights, for a total of 90 daily roundtrips, between the U.S. and each of the following cities: Camagüey, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Holguín, Manzanillo, Matanzas, Santa Clara, and Santiago de Cuba. That doesn’t mean per airline, that means the carriers are dividing the 90 daily roundtrips between them.

“A decision on the Havana routes will be announced later this summer,” the DOT says.

“Last year, President Obama announced that it was time to ‘begin a new journey’ with the Cuban people,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Today, we are delivering on his promise by re-launching scheduled air service to Cuba after more than half a century.”

For 1st Time Since 1978, U.S. Cruise Docks in Cuba

The first U.S. cruise ship in nearly 40 years crossed the Florida Straits from Miami and docked in Havana Harbor on Monday, restarting commercial travel on waters that served as a stage for a half-century of Cold War hostility.

The gleaming white 704-passenger Adonia appeared on the horizon around 8 p.m. EST. Cubans fishing off the city’s seaside boulevard, the Malecon, watched it slowly sail toward the colonial fort at the mouth of Havana Harbor. The ship stopped off the city’s cruise terminal and began slowly turning into a docking position, the first U.S. cruise ship in Havana since President Jimmy Carter eliminated virtually all restrictions of U.S. travel to Cuba in the late 1970s.

Inside the cruise terminal, CBS News’ Portia Siegelbaum says there was a conga band and a colorful welcome display to greet the American tourists as they disembarked from the ship.

Travel limits were restored after Carter left office and U.S. cruises to Cuba only become possible again after Presidents Obama and Raul Castro declared detente on Dec. 17, 2014.

The Adonia’s arrival is the first step toward a future in which thousands of ships a year could cross the Florida Straits, long closed to most U.S.-Cuba traffic due to tensions that once brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. The straits were blocked by the U.S. during the Cuban Missile Crisis and tens of thousands of Cubans have fled across them to Florida on homemade rafts — with untold thousands dying in the process.

The number of Cubans trying to cross the straits is at its highest point in eight years and cruises and merchant ships regularly rescue rafters from the straits.

The Adonia is one of Carnival’s smaller ships — roughly half the size of some larger European vessels that already dock in Havana — but U.S. cruises are expected to bring Cuba tens of millions of dollars in badly needed foreign hard currency if traffic increases as expected. More than a dozen lines have announced plans to run U.S.-Cuba cruises and if all actually begin operations Cuba could earn more than $80 million a year, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council said in a report Monday.

Most of the money goes directly to the Cuban government, council head John Kavulich said. He estimated that the cruise companies pay the government $500,000 per cruise, while passengers spend about $100 person in each city they visit.

Carnival says the Adonia will cruise twice a month from Miami to Havana, where it will start a $1,800 per person seven-day circuit of Cuba with stops in the cities of Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. The trips include on-board workshops on Cuban history and culture and tours of the cities that make them qualify as “people-to-people” educational travel, avoiding a ban on pure tourism that remains part of U.S. law.

Optional activities for the Adonia’s passengers include a walking tour of Old Havana’s colonial plazas and a $219 per person trip to the Tropicana cabaret in a classic car.

Before the 1959 Cuban revolution, cruise ships regularly traveled from the U.S. to Cuba, with elegant Caribbean cruises departing from New York and $42 overnight weekend jaunts leaving twice a week from Miami, said Michael L. Grace, an amateur cruise ship historian.

New York cruises featured dressy dinners, movies, dancing and betting on “horse races” in which steward dragged wooden horses around a ballroom track according to rolls of dice that determined how many feet each could move per turn.

The United Fruit company operated once-a-week cruise service out of New Orleans, too, he said.

“Cuba was a very big destination for Americans, just enormous,” he said.

Cruises dwindled in the years leading up to the Cuban Revolution and ended entirely after Castro overthrew the U.S.-backed government.

After Carter dropped limits on Cuba travel, 400 passengers, including musical legend Dizzy Gillespie sailed from New Orleans to Cuba on a 1977 “Jazz Cruise” aboard the MS Daphne. Like the Adonia, it sailed despite dockside protests by Cuban exiles, and continued protests and bomb threats forced Carras Cruises to cancel additional sailings, Grace said.

The following year, however, Daphne made a several cruises from New Orleans to Cuba and other destinations in the Caribbean.

Cuba cut back on all cruise tourism in 2005, ending a joint venture with Italian terminal management company Silares Terminales del Caribe and Fidel Castro blasted cruise ships during a 4 ½ hour speech on state television.

“Floating hotels come, floating restaurants, floating theaters, floating diversions visit countries to leave their trash, their empty cans and papers for a few miserable cents,” Castro said.

Today, the Cuban government sees cruises as an easy source of revenue that can bring thousands more American travelers without placing additional demand on the country’s maxed-out food supplies and overbooked hotels.

Before detente, Americans made surreptitious yacht trips to Cuba during Caribbean vacations and the number of Americans coming by boat has climbed since 2014, including passengers on cruise ships registered in third countries and sailing from other ports in the Caribbean. Traffic remains low, however, for a major tourist attraction only 90 miles from Florida.

Aiming to change that as part of a policy of diplomatic and economic normalization, Obama approved U.S. cruises to Cuba in 2015. The Doral, Florida-based Carnival Cruise Line announced during Obama’s historic trip to Cuba in March that it would begin cruises to Cuba starting May 1.

Unexpected trouble arose after Cuban-Americans in Miami began complaining that Cuban rules barred them from traveling to the country of their birth by ship. As Carnival considered delaying the first sailing, Cuba announced April 22 it was changing the rule to allow Cubans and Cuban-Americans to travel on cruise ships, merchant vessels and, sometime in the future, yachts and other private boats.

Norwegian Cruise Line says it is in negotiations with Cuban authorities and hopes to begin cruises from the U.S. to Cuba this year.

Cruise traffic is key to the Cuban government’s reengineering of the industrial Port of Havana as a tourist attraction. After decades of treating the more than 500-year-old bay as a receptacle for industrial waste, the government is moving container traffic to the Port of Mariel west of the city, tearing out abandoned buildings and slowly renovating decrepit warehouses as breweries and museums connected by waterfront promenades.

Cruise dockings will be limited by the port’s single cruise terminal, which can handle two ships at a time.

Scientists Want to Turn Guantanamo Bay Prison Camp Into a Marine Research Lab

Last month, President Obama gave new details on a longstanding commitment to shut down the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention camp, despite strong criticism of the trouble and cost of resettling the prison’s current detainees.

But there’s another question closer to the heart of some scientists: once the facility is closed, what becomes of the environment in which it’s based? Researcher Joe Roman, a conservation biologist at the University of Vermont, has an answer for this, proposing that the naval base be transformed into a marine research centre and international peace park.

“Guantánamo could become the Woods Hole of the Caribbean,” said Roman, in reference to a prestigious ocean institute in Massachusetts. “This could be a powerful way for the Obama administration to achieve the president’s 2008 campaign promise to close the prison — while protecting a de facto nature reserve and some of the most important coral reefs in the world.”

Outlining the proposal in a commentary published in Science, Roman and James Kraska, professor of law at the US Naval War College, suggest that a research facility jointly run by the US and Cuba could unite the two nations, while “helping meet the challenges of climate change, mass extinction and declining coral reefs”.

Roman says that the decades of political and economic division between the US and Cuba have resulted in the latter’s coastlines becoming a kind of “accidental Eden”, featuring pristine mangrove wetlands, seagrass beds, and tropical forests ripe for scientific study. Bolstered further by Cuba’s conservation efforts in recent times, the biologist suggests the country’s coral reefs, fish diversity, and marine life are “unparalleled in the Caribbean”.

Aside from scientific goals, the proposed research centre could also conveniently solve political problems, Roman and Kraska suggest.

“The Obama administration has made it clear that diplomatic relations with Cuba and the transfer of detainees do not mean that it is willing to discuss the return of the Guantánamo base to Cuba anytime soon,” they write. However, a jointly administered science facility might offer a neutral path forward in both nations’ interest.

Then there’s the environment to consider. Apart from studying the rich marine life currently in residence, a sustainability-focused research future for the territory would prevent an influx of US tourism dollars and business investment threatening the natural habitat as relations with Cuba thaw.

It’s a bold proposal and there’s no guarantee the US government will want to pursue it, but we hope it’s something they’ll consider seriously.

“With a reduced US footprint at Guantanamo, most of the land and sea could be given to threatened Cuban manatees and hawksbill sea turtles,” Roman and Kraska write. “For the next generation, the name Guantanamo could become associated with redemption and efforts to preserve and repair the environment and international relationships.”

Sprint Is Now the First American Wireless Carrier to Offer Roaming in Cuba

Surely the most annoying thing about hanging out in Cuba all these years is the fact that no American wireless carrier offers roaming, which would allow users to experience no interruption in their texting and/or calling (what’s that?) habits when abroad. Thankfully, Sprint has decided to make some inarguable history by becoming the first wireless carrier in the United States to offer roaming in Cuba, another sign that the future of U.S.-Cuba telecommunications is very bright indeed.

“As the commercial relationship between the U.S. and Cuba continues to progress, it is expected that the number of travelers to Cuba will increase exponentially,” Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said in a statement. “We want to make sure any Sprint customer traveling to Cuba can use their phone the same way as they do in the United States.”

Through a historic partnership with Cuba’s own ETECSA, a state-run company with a “telecommunications monopoly,” Sprint users will easily be able to send and receive calls and/or texts without interruption. According to Mashable, Cuba has already experienced an increase in visitors since President Barack Obama’s moves toward a reconciliation with the country, a fact placing Sprint at the front of an exciting new industry.