Sun, 17 Nov 2019

The US moved to further hurt Cuba's vital tourism industry by tightening the ability of the country's airlines to lease aircraft.

The US Department of Commerce said it was revoking existing licenses for US companies leasing aircraft to Cuban carriers, and will deny future applications for aircraft leases.

The move could make it harder for Cuba to service its rapidly growing tourism sector, a key source of foreign revenue for the poor country.

READ | Cuba's overseas medical brigade a repressive sham, ex-staffers say

Washington has stepped up pressure on Havana due to its support for the embattled regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

"This action by the Commerce Department sends another clear message to the Cuban regime - that they must immediately cease their destructive behavior at home and abroad," Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

Crash

It was not immediately clear how many aircraft the move would impact.

Cuba's cash-poor carriers depend on aircraft rented from leasing companies or other airlines, which are often very old.

In May 2018, 112 people died in the crash of a 39-year-old Boeing 737 leased by national carrier Cubana de Aviacion from a small Mexican firm, Global Air.

In June of this year, US President Donald Trump announced a US ban on cruise ship stopovers by Americans on the island, forcing Havana to cut its 2019 tourism target by 15% to 4.3 million visitors.

Nearly 900 000 tourists visited the island on cruise ships last year, and almost 40% were American, according to official figures.

The announcement on Friday also expanded restrictions on imports from Cuba and on products with US content that can be sold to the country.

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