U.S. approves eight more airports for Cuba flights
HAVANA (Reuters) - The government has given permission to eight more airports to offer direct charter flights to and from Cuba in the latest small opening in the 49-year-long trade embargo against the communist island.
Customs and Border Protection said on Tuesday Cuba flights would now be allowed from airports in Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas/Fort Worth, New Orleans, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Tampa and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Previously, Cuba flights could be flown only from Miami, New York and Los Angeles. It was not yet known when flights would begin from the new cities.
President Barack Obama said in January Cuba charter service would be expanded. At the same time, he announced a loosening of restrictions for some groups on U.S. travel to Cuba.
The embargo, imposed since 1962 with the aim of toppling the communist government put in place after a 1959 revolution, prevents most Americans from going to Cuba. Only charter flights, not regular air service, are allowed to operate on U.S.-Cuba routes.
Obama has said he wants to recast U.S.-Cuba relations. He previously removed limits on Cuban American travel to the island located 90 miles from Florida and on the sending of remittances.
Cuban Americans have flooded into the country, packing the flights available and making Americans among the top nationalities numerically to visit Cuba.
Under Obama and President Raul Castro, the longtime ideological foes also have initiated talks on migration issues and the possible resumption of direct mail service.
Some Cuban American leaders and groups have opposed Obama's measures, saying they help the Cuban government that was run by Fidel Castro for 49 years before his younger brother Raul Castro succeeded him in 2008.
Progress in the long-hostile relations came to a halt in December 2009 when Cuba arrested U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross for working in a U.S.-funded program to promote political change on the island.
The approval of the new airports comes as a Cuban court decides Gross's fate following a two-day trial last week for what prosecutors said was his involvement in "subversive projects" to "defeat the Revolution."
He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
(Reporting by Jeff Franks; Editing by Will Dunham)