US, Cuba reach accord to re-establish commercial flights

Washington, Dec 17 (IANS/EFE) The governments of the US and Cuba have reached an agreement to resume commercial flights between the two countries, the US Department of State announced on Thursday.

The announcement coincides with the first anniversary of the beginning of the process to normalise bilateral relations.

In a statement, the State Department said the agreement was reached on Wednesday in Washington after talks headed by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Transportation Affairs, Thomas Engle, on the US side, and Ambassador Yuri Gala Lopez for the Cubans.

The agreement will allow charter companies to continue their ongoing operations and “establish scheduled air service” between Cuba and the United States, which will “facilitate an increase in authorised travel, enhance traveler choices, and promote people-to-people links between the two countries”, said the official communique.

Nevertheless, the State Department noted that “US law continues to prohibit travel to Cuba for tourist activities”.

Other official sources, cited on condition of anonymity by CNN and The Washington Post, said the accord concerns technical elements and it will take several months before US airlines can begin to sell tickets for flights to Cuba.

From Havana, the director for the US with the Cuban Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal, on Wednesday told reporters that the accord on civil aviation would be announced “shortly”.

On December 17, 2014, Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced the launching of a process to normalise bilateral relations that led, last July, to the reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington after more than half a century.

Last week, the two countries took another step toward full normalisation with the announcement of an agreement to resume direct postal service.

However, very complex issues remain to be resolved such as mutual economic compensation and ongoing important differences between the two countries in matters such as immigration and human rights.

Regarding the US economic embargo on the communist island, although Obama has taken executive action to ease travel restrictions and some commercial transactions, the complete lifting of the embargo may only be done by Congress, which at present is controlled by the Republicans, a majority of whom are against eliminating it.



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