In the latest development in the long process of diplomatic and commercial normalization between the United States and Cuba, the Obama administration is lifting a five decade ban on ferry services from Florida to Havana. By fall of this year, American tourists should be able to shuttle across the 225-mile shipping route separating southern Florida from the Cuban capital with any of four U.S. Treasury Department-approved commercial ferry services -including Havana Ferry Partners in Fort Lauderdale, Baja Ferries in Miami, United Caribbean Lines Florida in Greater Orlando and Airline Brokers Co. in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
Robert Muse, a lawyer for Baja Ferries, told the Associated Press that the White House’s move, which was made public on Tuesday, was “a further indication of the seriousness of the Obama administration in normalizing relations with Cuba, we’re now going from the theoretical to the very specific.” Muse said that the new ferry services will provide American vacationers to Cuba with an affordable alternative to air travel.
Obama’s decision to reauthorize commercial ferry services to Cuba comes less than a month after the U.S. State Department removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Many in the U.S. and Cuba are hopeful that Tuesday’s news will portend the full legalization of American tourism to Cuba, which -despite some recent and significant regulatory changes- remains at least formally prohibited.
“We are approaching the project not just as a ferry operation but as a new, important economic driver for both countries, and development of a ferry system for the Caribbean,” Bruce Nierenberg, president of United Caribbean Lines, explained to Newsweek. Nierenberg was optimistic that, with the U.S. government’s blessing, his company would soon be operating ferry services to Cuba out of Miami, Tampa, Port Everglades and Key West.
Also this week, JetBlue announced that it would soon begin offering weekly round-trip flights to Cuba out of the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Outside of Florida, the New York metropolitan area maintains the highest concentration of Cuban Americans in the U.S.; JetBlue’s upcoming service was likely developed with this population in mind. The new nonstop flights, which will commence on July 3, should last about three and a half hours.
The company’s announcement capped off a recent two-day trip to Cuba by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo designed to promote closer trade and travel ties between his state and the Caribbean island. “By leading one of the first state trade missions to Cuba as the United States reestablishes diplomatic relations, we placed New York State businesses at the front of the line for new prospects in Cuba, that will in turn support jobs and economic activity here at home,” the governor told the press on Tuesday.
JetBlue is the first commercial airline to seize on the opportunity presented by President Obama’s initial easing of Cuban travel restrictions earlier this year. Currently, about 600,000 Americans make their way to Cuba every year -often chartering private flights to do so. Some fly to Cuba through third-party countries like Canada. New direct and over-the-table flight’s, of the type JetBlue is planning to offer, promise to normalize and grow this irregular market, encouraging greater U.S.-Cuban tourism in the process.