The United States is suspending all private charter flights to Cuba as another way to starve the government in Havana of revenue, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Thursday.
The measure intensifies a previous order that had banned all US charter flights to Cuba except to the capital Havana.
Pompeo slammed the communist regime in Cuba for continuing to jail reporters and pro-democracy activists, suppress dissent, oversee “horrific” physical abuse and prop up President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, among other offenses.
The announcement marks the latest hardening of US policy toward Cuba under President Donald 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 has been under a US embargo since 1962 and Trump has ramped up sanctions again, canceling or suspending many of the agreements made under Obama.
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.
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 in the statement.
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.
The bank has been in operation since August 1973, and is the only one with entirely Cuban capital outside Cuba. Its principal shareholder is the Central Bank of Cuba.
Those sanctions came just as Havana had allowed the US currency to circulate, permitting some state stores to sell food for dollars. It recently eliminated a 10 percent tax on dollar transactions.