World

Cuban spy's ex-wife's lawsuit could halt Cuba flights, hinder Obama's efforts

All direct U.S. flights to Cuba may be halted if the ex-wife of a Cuban spy wins a lawsuit to garnish money that South Florida charter companies pay in fees to Cuba, lawyers in the case said Monday.

Ira Kurzban, attorney for the charterers, said he filed a motion Monday to dissolve the writs of garnish by Ana Margarita Martinez, and asked U.S. Judge Frederico Moreno for an emergency hearing.

The eight charter companies, all based in South Florida, have stopped making payments to Cuba, he added. "My clients are now in breach of contract, and Cuba can stop them landing any time."

Martinez's suit could deal a blow to the Obama administration's efforts to increase people-to-people contacts with Cuba, and force Cuban-Americans to go through third countries to visit the island.

An estimated 200 charter flights to Cuba leave monthly from Miami, New York, and Los Angeles carrying 20,000 passengers, industry experts said. The companies must pay Cuban agencies for landing rights, fuel, ground support, and other services.

Charter-company and Cuban officials met in Havana last week to study the legal situation, and Havana decided to withhold a reaction until it determines how the legal case is moving, said a travel-industry member who declined to comment further because of the sensitivity of the case.

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