Cuba used to be a hot destination for American tourists seeking sun, cigars, fishing and fun. Likewise, Cubans used to take overnight trips to the U.S. for shopping and family festivities. While the revolution changed that in the 1950s, many hope that inexpensive, convenient travel between the two countries is returning. In preparation, the U.S. granted licenses for ferry service to Cuba, set to resume late this summer.
On Tuesday, the Obama administration approved ferry licenses, which would re-establish the popular travel route. The Treasury Department did not confirm which companies received licenses, but some of the companies themselves have announced that they obtained them. Allowing regular ferry travel between the U.S. and Cuba could open a way for hundreds of thousands of people and millions of dollars to journey back and forth between Florida and Havana each year. The possibilities could be an economic win on both sides, but will be particularly important for Cuba’s economy.
Licenses were granted to four companies to begin operating ferry services the 90 miles between Florida and the Caribbean island country for the first time since the Cold War started. The move is part of the attempt to normalize relations with Cuba as announced late last year by President Barack Obama. His administration has since been engaging in talks with the Cuban government.
One of the licenses was reportedly issued to Baja Ferries USA. The Miami-based company is part of a major shipping group with cargo and passenger operations, including service that carries 250,000 people a year on Mexico’s West coast. Baja Ferries has said it plans to offer ferry crossings three to four days a week. They plan to use ships that will carry about 1,000 passengers, their cars and additional cargo. They are also talking about overnight service with sleeping cabins and dining facilities.
Another license was reportedly granted to Puerto Rico-based America Cruise Ferries. They also plan to operate ferries three times a week between Miami and Havana that will carry about 1,000 passengers as well as vehicles and freight.
A third company that has been mentioned that sought a license was Havana Ferry Partners. That company has indicated plans to attract 100,000 passengers a year with ferry tickets that will be much cheaper than airplane fares. They reportedly plan to offer service from Fort Lauderdale, Key West and Tampa.
The Cuban government made no immediate comment on the ferry license news. The proposed ferry services must still obtain approval from that nation, but the U.S. move will clear the way for negotiations. Miami-based United Caribbean Lines, who also said they got a license, acknowledged that they are already in contact with the Cuban authorities to obtain necessary clearances for an approved port, which they hope will be Havana.
Before Cuba’s 1959 revolution, ferries ran daily between Florida and the island country. Under the U.S. trade embargo, Americans were not allowed to visit the nation on regular tourist vacations. It should be noted that the proposed ferry service would take passengers in 12 approved categories, such as family visits, school-related cultural and religious activities. While restrictions on travel between the two countries have been eased, “tourism” is still not permitted and probably will not be when ferry service to Cuba is set to resume.
By Dyanne Weiss