New Orleans mayor pushes for Cuba flights
Tue Oct 20, 2009 10:52pm EDT
HAVANA, Oct 20 (Reuters) – New Orleans hopes to cash in on an
improvement in U.S.-Cuba relations by getting direct charter flights
between New Orleans and Havana, the U.S. city's mayor said in Havana on
"We see a huge opportunity if President (Barack) Obama continues to go
in the direction he's headed," Ray Nagin said in an interview with Reuters.
"The first thing is to get the license from the U.S., then everything
else falls into line," he added, saying word on the fate of the license
could come as early as January.
Nagin was heading a delegation of New Orleans officials in Cuba to talk
with the government about topics ranging from hurricane preparation to
commercial opportunities, including flights.
Cuba and New Orleans, about 700 miles (1,125 km) apart, once had close
economic ties as goods sailed across the Gulf of Mexico, but most of
that was halted by the U.S. trade embargo imposed 47 years ago to
undermine the Cuban government.
Under Obama, the United States and Cuba have taken small steps toward
ending hostilities that date back to the 1959 revolution that put Fidel
Castro in power and turned Cuba to communism.
Obama has eased the embargo by allowed Cuban-Americans to travel freely
to Cuba, and bills are pending in the U.S. Congress that would end a
general ban on Americans visiting the island just 90 miles (145 km) from
If the ban is lifted, New Orleans would benefit by having flights to and
from Havana and an increase in tourist traffic, Nagin said.
Charter flights are currently allowed between the two countries, but not
direct commercial flights.
Nagin said his delegation had spent much time learning from Cubans how
they prepare for big storms.
The island is the frequent target of hurricanes, but has few
New Orleans is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, which left more
than 1,500 dead and caused more than $80 billion in damage when it
slammed into the U.S. Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005.
Nagin said Cuba's success arose from its ability to mobilize people and
get them out of harm's way. Storm evacuations are mandatory in Cuba but
not in the United States.
New Orleans officials believe Cuba needs to do more planning for a
Katrina-like storm of disastrous proportions, Nagin said.
"We're trying to get them to think about the ultimate catastrophe, where
80 percent of Havana is damaged and they have no communications, no
electricity and law enforcement agencies are overwhelmed," he said.
Thinking in those terms has been "a difficult mental shift" for the
Cubans, Nagin said. "They'll tell you, 'We're prepared for everything,'"
he said. (Editing by Peter Cooney)
New Orleans mayor pushes for Cuba flights | Reuters (20 October 2009)