If the Obama administration has its way, commercial flights between Havana and the U.S. will be underway by December via a tack to sidestep the decades-old travel ban requiring congressional approval, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The White House is jockeying to broadly designate "cultural and tourism ties" as the path to loosen the ban and ensure a future administration cannot undo President Barack Obama’s foreign policy achievement in normalizing relations with Cuba, according to the Journal.
By expanding a practice known as "people-to-people" travel for tourists wanting to visit the island without being part of a tour group, as is the current requirement, "the administration in effect can chip away at the travel ban."
Current U.S. laws permit Americans to visit "only for specific purposes, including business trips, family visits or the people-to-people exchanges," the Journal notes.
The U.S. imposed travel and trade restrictions with the island nation in the 1960s, after communist dictator Fidel Castro took office. But according to the Journal, Obama has executive authority to grant exceptions, which he did in December when he announced Americans could use credit and debit cards in Cuba and expanded commercial sales and exports between Havana and the U.S.
He is taking the same posture with Cuba as he has with Obamacare and the Iran nuclear deal, the newspaper reports, hoping "the initiatives will become so embedded in American policy over Mr. Obama’s final 18 months in office that undoing them would be too difficult."
"Mr. Obama hopes that the re-establishment of U.S. relations with Cuba becomes so integral to American travelers and business leaders that it would be too politically risky for any president to revoke," according to the Journal.
"That, in part, relies on expanding Americans' access to the island nation."
The White House is "working to establish a bipartisan coalition to dismantle the U.S. embargo on Cuba, at least piece by piece — starting with the travel ban."
The U.S. and Cuban governments are negotiating a new air travel proposal between the nations, an official told the newspaper, but Forbes reports that Cuba shouldn’t expect to be flooded with Americans anytime soon.
The poverty-stricken nation caters to "small numbers of Canadians, Europeans and South Americans willing to put up with dingy rooms, mediocre beaches and shortages of everything from soap and toilet paper to meat" for now has little to offer in the way of tourism, according to Forbes’ travel writer, Dan Reed,
and even if travel embargoes are lifted, Cuba "will likely will continue to struggle in competition with swanky resorts throughout the rest of the Caribbean."
And from a profitability standpoint, there are much more lucrative destinations for airlines to pursue.
"To sum up the quality of opportunity that Cuba represents to U.S. airlines, the loquacious (aviation consultant Michael) Boyd ventured that any junior airline planning executive who suggests offering service to Havana likely could find himself or herself working next at the 'Slurpee machine at the 7-11,'" according to Reed.
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