First flights to Cuba take off without air marshals. What now?
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is calling for the suspension of the
regularly scheduled flights between the United States and Cuba that
began in recent weeks because he says, despite previous claims, federal
air marshals still aren't aboard the new flights to and from the island.
In response to a request from the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council,
the TSA issued a statement in August that said: "In the spirit of
enhancing the security of international civil aviation, the United
States and The Republic of Cuba entered into an aviation security
agreement that sets forth the legal framework for the deployment of U.S.
in-flight security officers — more commonly known as federal air
marshals — on board certain flights to and from Cuba."
But during a House hearing Wednesday, TSA Deputy Administrator Huban
Gowadia said that the Cuban government has not yet signed the agreement,
meaning the first scheduled flights between the United States and Cuba
since 1961 began without the deployment of air marshals.
Gowadia clarified that air marshals only fly on select charters rather
than the new flights, and said the United States and Cuba are continuing
to work toward an agreement covering regularly scheduled flights.
She cited security concerns for not making public that there was no
agreement with Cuba on in-flight security officers at the time the first
scheduled flight took off on Aug. 31. It was a JetBlue flight from Fort
Lauderdale to Santa Clara.
"There have been no air marshals on board thus far despite the fact that
the administration said there would be," Rubio said on the floor of the
Senate on Wednesday. "So basically what we have here is an outright lie.
Today, only because they [the TSA] were asked, only because they were
asked, did they admit this is not happening."
He said it was "incumbent upon the TSA to lock down a federal air
marshal agreement" before more flights take to the air. In addition to
JetBlue, American Airlines and Silver Airways also have flown regularly
scheduled flights to Cuba, and several other airlines have announced
plans to begin service to Cuban provincial cities and Havana before the
end of the year.
Restoring regularly scheduled flights is part of a normalization process
with Cuba that the Obama administration began in December 2014.
Rubio called the lack of air marshals "the latest example of an
administration that is so intent on burnishing its legacy, on getting
credit for this opening that they're willing to throw everything else
out the window."
Rubio and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez have filed a bill that
would stop the scheduled flights until there is an agreement with the
Cuban government and adequate security measures are in place. The same
bill has been filed in the House.
"Given what I know now about the status of the air marshals, the TSA
should never have issued that original statement," said John Kavulich,
president of the U.S-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. "All it's done is
make existing issues worse and create new ones."
Source: TSA says no aviation security agreement on regularly scheduled
flights to Cuba has been signed | In Cuba Today -