MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — At the tables of Victor’s 1959 Cafe, a Cuban restaurant in south Minneapolis, the news coming out of Washington D.C. is as hot as the weather.
“I’m ecstatic, it’s wonderful,” exclaimed Victor’s owner, Niki Stavrou.READ MORE: Data Show COVID Cases In Minnesota Schools Have Declined, But Experts Still Watching For Long-Term Trends
Stavrou’s last cultural exchange trip to Cuba was in 2003. She says the government’s awarding to Sun Country for direct daily flights will help Minnesotans continue their humanitarian work in Cuba.
“There are church groups and things like that have been doing a lot of work,” said Stavrou. “It’s going to make it so much easier to for them get there and continue their work. It’s going to be really good for the Cuban people too.”
Stavrou’s father, Theo, is a University of Minnesota professor of Russian studies. He has helped students arrange educational exchange trips to Cuba as recently as three years ago. Theo Stavrou says there was a lot of red tape involved.
“It was a very, very complicated process. They couldn’t even stay eight weeks, they only stayed four weeks — and the other four weeks they spent in Puerto Rico,” he said.
The newly granted air service will permit commercial flights for family visits and educational, religious and humanitarian projects. General tourism is still not allowed under the U.S. sanctions in place for over 50 years.READ MORE: After WCCO's Eye-Opening Ride Along With Minneapolis Sergeant, Both Sides Of Policing Debate Give Very Different Takes
“It’s great for the hometown carrier,” explains travel agent Brian Nystedt.
Beyond the lifting of sanctions, Nystedt says Cuba needs to build up its hospitality infrastructure before the tourism carpet rolls out.
“Ten to 15 years minimum for them to build enough hotels where they can actually offer some kind of competition to other islands in the Caribbean and to Mexico,” said Nystedt.
Sun Country released a statement saying it is pleased and added, “We are evaluating our aircraft availability to determine a schedule plan for beginning the new services.”
“What could be better? It’s the way it should be and should have always been,” said Stavrou.
Sun Country will be flying to Santa Clara in the central part of Cuba as well as the city of Matanzas, which is close to Havana.MORE NEWS: Can You Get The Flu Shot And The COVID Vaccine?
Direct flights to the capitol city will be awarded later this summer. Sun Country had earlier indicated it hoped to begin the service out of MSP airport next winter or early spring.