U.S. barring private charter flights to Cuba

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Transportation said on Thursday it will suspend private charter flights to Cuba to increase U.S. economic pressure on the Cuban government.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote on Twitter that he had sought the suspension of “private charter flights between the U.S. and Cuba.”

“The Castro regime uses tourism and travel funds to finance its abuses and interference in Venezuela. Dictators cannot be allowed to benefit from U.S. travel,” he wrote.

The order suspends all charter flights between the United States and all airports in Cuba, except for authorized public charters to and from Havana and other authorized charter flights for emergency medical purposes, search and rescue, and other travel deemed in the U.S. interest.

For most existing charter flights, the suspension becomes effective on Oct. 13. The order was issued on the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s birthday, one U.S. official noted.

In May, the Transportation Department imposed a cap on charter flights to Cuba at 3,600 per year.

That action capped charter flights at about 2019 levels, preventing any increase. The United States last October banned regularly scheduled flights to all Cuban cities except Havana. In January, the Transportation Department barred charter to flights to any Cuban airports except Havana.

Trump has clamped down on Cuba following the historic move by Democratic predecessor Barack Obama to reopen U.S.-Cuba ties.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis