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U.S. suspends charter flights with Cuba

Aug. 14 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has suspended all private charter flights to Cuba, in a move to deprive the Caribbean nation of a revenue source.

In a statement Thursday, the United States' top diplomat said he was suspending all charter flights between the United States and Cuba to prevent it from earning money from landing fees, tourism and other travel-related income.

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"The Cuban military and intelligence services own and operate the great majority of hotels and tourism infrastructure in Cuba," Pompeo said in a statement, urging travelers from all nations to reconsider the island nation as a tourism destination. "The suspension of private charter flights will deny economic resources to the Castro regime and inhibit its capacity to carry out abuses."

The order will be in effect Oct. 13, the Department of Transportation said in a statement, adding exceptions will be in place for authorized public charters to and from Havana and authorized flights for emergency medical purposes, search and rescue and other travel deemed in the interest of the United States.

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"Dictators cannot be allowed to benefit from U.S. travel," Pompeo tweeted.

Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, director-general of U.S. affairs at Cuba's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the measure was of little practical impact but that Cuba rejects it as it affects Cubans with family on both sides of the Florida Straits.

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"The measure seeks to satisfy the electoral political machinery of South Florida and confirms imperialism's contempt for Cubans and Americans of Cuban origin," he said in a statement tweeted by Cuba's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The move follows the Transportation Department's step in late May to limit the number of public charter round-trip flights to 3,600, the total number of such flights during 2019.

In a letter in early January, Pompeo told Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao the move to limit such flights would strengthen the economic pressure on Cuba and force it to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and "to cease its unconscionable support for the illegitimate and totalitarian regime of former President [Nicolas] Maduro in Venezuela."

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The United States has accused Cuba, along with Russia and China, of aiding Maduro in his effort to cling to power despite more than a yearlong campaign of tightening diplomatic and economic vises on the socialist leader to pressure him to step down.

The United States leads a coalition of more than 50 countries backing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guiado's claim to the presidency after Maduro's 2018 re-election was deemed illegitimate early last year.

In October of last year, Pompeo announced the suspension of air service between the United States and Cuban international airports other than Havana's Jose Marti International Airport.

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"This action prevents revenue from reaching the Cuban regime that has been used to finance its ongoing repression of Cuban people and its support of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela," Pompeo said in his announcement last fall.

On Thursday, he said the U.S. message to Cuba hasn't changed: "The United States will continue to stand up for Cuban people and against the regime's abuses and its interference in Venezuela to prop up Maduro's illegitimate hold on power."

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