HAVANA (Reuters) - About 300 U.S. citizens stranded in Cuba since Havana suspended regular air travel earlier this month due to the coronavirus pandemic were repatriated on two charter flights on Friday.
Among them were Cuban Americans who had feared a ban on Cuban citizens’ leaving would stand in their way, but they received special dispensation from the Cuban immigration office.
“I thought I was going to have to stay here for a long time, for many months,” said Rodolfo Díaz, 45, who went to live in the United States 15 years ago and was visiting family.
“I’m really relieved to be able to go,” said Diaz, adding that he had been worried for his job as a systems operator in a nuclear plant in Georgia but his manager had been understanding of his predicament.
“I’m crazy excited about returning home,” said Carlos Villar, 29, who moved to Florida 12 years ago, at Havana’s international airport on Friday. “I know there’s a lot of risk there, but home is home.”
A spokeswoman for Delta Airlines, which operated the two charter flights, said there were 313 passengers in total but deferred to the State Department when asked if all were U.S. citizens.
The State Department not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The U.S. embassy in Havana, which arranged the flights, said it would continue to explore options for repatriation of U.S. citizens who wished to return home. But no more charter flights were scheduled.
Cuba suspended regular international air travel at the start of the month in a bid to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
So far, the country of 11 million inhabitants has registered 1,285 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 49 deaths.
Reporting by Rodrigo Gutierrez, Mario Fuentes, Nelson Gonzalez and Nelson Acosta; Writing by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Cynthia Osterman
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