A lawsuit threatens flights to Cuba from the U.S
A legal conflict between a U.S. citizen who accuses the Cuban government of sending a spy to marry her is causing a stir in the air industry for those charter companies that currently operate the U.S-Cuba route.
It looks like direct Cuba holidays for U.S. travellers could soon be over as a lawsuit by a Florida woman against the Cuban government could shut down direct charter flights between the United States and the island nation, as compensation payment for what the Cuban government alledgedly owes her.
Ana Margarita Martinez is seeking damages on the grounds that Cuba ordered a Cuban spy in the United States to marry her, El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish language edition of The Miami Herald, reported. Her lawyers have garnished payments made by eight charter airlines flying passengers to Cuba holidays for landing rights after a Florida court awarded her $27 million.
The case is now in federal court after moving between U.S. and Florida courts several times. Martinez's lawyers have filed a motion last week to return it to a state court, while lawyers for the U.S. government say it should be in federal court.
The Obama administration has been trying to build new ties with Cuba, arguing that it will encourage democracy in Cuba. The eight airlines involved stopped making payments to the Cuban government after Martinez's lawyers filed a writ of garnishment six months ago, but in order to keep Cuba holidays for Cuban-Americans going strong (U.S citizens are forbidden from travelling to the island), Cuba has so far continued to allow them to land.
Ira J. Kurzban, attorney for the Miami-based charter firms, said that the lawsuit brought by Ana Margarita Martinez could lead to Havana suspending their landing rights, according to a court document released Tuesday. The attorney asked U.S. District Judge Frederico Moreno to deny Martinez’ plea because if his clients do not make the payments agreed upon with Cuba for lack of funds, their flights will end since they depend on those landing rights.
The companies involved are ABC Charters, Airline Brokers Company Inc, C&T Charters, Cuba Travel Services, Gulfstream Air Charter, Inc., Marazul Charters, Inc., Xael Charters and Wilson International Services, Inc.
Charter flights are currently the only option for direct air travel between the United States to Cuba, and currently the form of transport most Cuban-Americans use to go on Cuba holidays and visit family in the island.
Martinez told Efe last Saturday that she asked that funds be withheld from those companies so she can collect the compensation that a Miami-Dade Circuit Court awarded her in 2001.
“I’ve waited a long time and I still haven’t been paid. It’s very hard to find Cuban funds, so we decided that it could be done through the charter flight companies that pay the Cuban government a percentage of the flights,” Martinez said in an interview.
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