When ferry services last ran to Cuba from the US, Mack the Knife was in the charts and there were no McDonald’s restaurants outside America.
Cuba still doesn’t have a branch of the burger chain – well, outside of Guantánamo Bay – but it could soon have its ferry back after more than half a century, as the Obama administration approved the reinstatement of a service between Florida and Havana.
Cuba is yet to approve any immediate recommencement of the service, and it is unclear if the administration there would look favourably on a significant new route for people and goods to move between the US and its island neighbour.
But things are moving on the US end. Baja Ferries, a Mexico-based passenger service, has received a licence from the US Treasury Department to run an overnight service.
The Sun-Sentinel newspaper in Florida reported approvals had also been received by Havana Ferry Partners, of Fort Lauderdale; United Caribbean Lines Florida, in the Orlando area; and Airline Brokers Co, of Miami.
Havana Ferry Partners wrote on its Facebook page: “This is a historical event. Thanks to President Barack Obama, to whom we are very grateful, for his leadership.”
Airline Brokers posted its approval notice on its Facebook page, adding that it had waited since 1991.
Robert Muse, a lawyer for Baja Ferries, told Associated Press that the new service could provide a much cheaper way for travellers to visit the two countries, and provide a vital method of transporting imported goods now legal via new loopholes in the trade embargo.
Muse said it was “a further indication of the seriousness of the Obama administration in normalising relations with Cuba, we’re now going from the theoretical to the very specific”.
Before the 1959 revolution, daily ferries used to run, with tourists visiting the beachfront hotels and casinos of Havana, and the large expat Cuban community shuttling the 315 miles from south Florida to see family, friends and even seek medical or dental treatment.
The New York-based airline JetBlue said this week it would offer weekly flights from JFK airport to Havana from 3 July, the first carrier to announce a new service since restrictions were eased.
For decades, private charter flights were the only way for the 600,000 travellers who make the journey each year, 80% of them Cuban-Americans visiting relatives. But tourism is on the rise, particularly after Obama’s announcement in December that the trade embargo would be relaxed.
Around 30,000 Americans currently travel purely for the purposes of tourism to the country every year, which is still officially illegal, although pressure groups are campaigning for this restriction to also be lifted.
Source: The Guardian