Ferry to Cuba a Bridge too Far?
After two years, the Ft. Lauderdale-based company Havana Ferry Partners got its answer, though not the one for which it was hoping. The company had hoped to established a 500-600 passenger ferry service to Cuba which it says would have offered travelers a cheaper alternative to currently available flights to the island. But Treasury ( which sat on the ferry license application so long you wonder why it bothered responding now) says the service would be "beyond the scope of current policy."
But of course, that can't be the real reason. The current policy is to allow, if not encourage, travel to Cuba by, among others, licensable Cuban Americans, academics, and religious and cultural groups. The policy even expanded the number of airports allowed to offer charter flights to the island. So it's hard to imagine allowing ferry service really goes against current policy.
But re-establishing ferry service for the first time in more than fifty years does offer two challenges that the administration presumably doesn't want to bother with in an election year. Naturally, opponents would claim it's another concession to Cuba - the headlines alone, which would use words like "re-establish" and "in more than fifty years" would (mistakenly) offer the impression of detente between the U.S. and Cuban governments.
But consider, too, what exactly does it take to set up safe and incident-free ferry service to Cuba? Security screening and scanning at U.S. airports is a relatively well-oiled machine, as is security outside of U.S. airports. Given the fact that the State Department continues to label Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism, whether there's a shred of evidence to support it or not, and, given the not-entirely-distant history of Cuban exile terrorism against the island and domestic targets viewed as too-friendly to Cuba, there would have to be serious thought - and security planning - put into the first ferry service to Cuba in more than 50 years.
There's no reason ferry service can't be done safely and securely, notwithstanding the inevitable hiccups that come with doing anything security-related for the first time in the unforgiving limelight. Regulating and setting up the ferry service certainly involve a lot of static from a noisy handful of congressional opponents and maybe even a couple dozen photo-friendly protestors as close to the ferry terminal as they can get. My guess is that a political decision was made to avoid the potential headache, however small, in an election year. If so, add ferry service to the long list of good ideas jettisoned by U.S. politicians queasy over Cuba.