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Cuba is the only country in the world where the U.S. government restricts travel by American citizens. With the goal of a barrier-free economic and commercial partnership between our two countries, that needs to change.
Lifting the travel ban could help thousands of Cubans improve their standard of living and increase their economic independence from the state. Cuba’s hospitality sector pays significantly higher wages than other sectors. Growth in the job market, higher wages, and increased access to hard currency for the Cuban people in the forms of tips and direct payments from tourists would improve the quality of life of many Cubans.
For that reason, we applauded the recent arrangement signed by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Cuban Ministry of Transportation that provides for the re-establishment of scheduled air services between the United States and Cuba. The U.S. airline industry is the big winner in this agreement, as it stands to have the opportunity to add 110 new daily flights between Cuba and U.S. airports all across the country.
While the Chamber has long supported the normalization of relations between the countries, a more immediate priority has been the removal of barriers that prevent American citizens from traveling freely to Cuba. With support from senior U.S. and Cuban government officials, and in alignment with our member company priorities, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched the U.S.-Cuba Business Council (USCBC) in Washington, D.C., in September with the long-term objective of creating a barrier-free economic and commercial partnership.
For more than 25 years, USCBC Board Member American Airlines has been connecting Cuban and American citizens through its charter flights from Miami-Dade, home of the largest Cuban-American population in the country. Flights like these create real opportunities for the American people to serve as ambassadors of democracy and freedom, and for American businesses to spread the values of entrepreneurship and free enterprise. The air services agreement will provide airlines the opportunity to expand that connectivity and the important role that American citizens and companies can play in advancing the bilateral relationship.
As Scott Kirby, President of American Airlines, recently indicated:
Scheduled service will produce even greater traffic between the two countries than under the current charter system. That is so for many reasons. First, travel via charter service is often not as well-received as scheduled service. Second, some people have been reluctant to travel between the U.S. and Cuba while there was a total lack of dialogue between the countries. With the warming of relations, that has changed. And now, for the first time in over 50 years, there is reason for U.S.-Cuba business travel to take off.
With an increase in traffic there is a strong case to be made that these additional people-to-people contacts will lead to Cuba becoming more open and democratic, such as those encouraged by the U.S. government in Eastern Europe during the Cold War.
Our previous approach to relations with Cuba over a half century, though rooted in the best of intentions, failed to empower the Cuban people and isolated us from our trading partners. The establishment of frequent scheduled passenger service between United States and Cuba, just as American Airlines already does to over 50 countries, will create new American jobs for our airlines and enable business travel to Cuba from across the U.S. to increase seamlessly and without the necessity of additional time-consuming regulatory proceedings, driving further change and opportunity in Cuba.