HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba denounced as “anti-terrorist paranoia” new U.S. security measures for air travelers from the island and 13 other countries, but passengers waiting to fly from Havana said on Monday thorough checks before heading to the United States were nothing new.
The measures call for inspecting baggage and patting down U.S.-bound passengers from four countries — Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria — that the U.S. government considers state sponsors of terrorism and 10 other “countries of interest.”
Granma, the newspaper for the ruling Communist Party, called the measures a “desperate directive” that was “part of the (U.S.) anti-terrorist paranoia.”
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration announced the increased screening on Sunday following a botched Christmas Day bombing attempt by a Nigerian man on a Northwest Airlines flight into Detroit.
U.S. officials believe he was trained by al Qaeda in Yemen.
Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria are listed by the U.S. State Department as nations that sponsor terrorism. Cuba has long complained about its inclusion on the list, saying the terrorism accusation is false.
The 10 “countries of interest” include Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.
Increased security measures at Havana’s airport could not be seen on Monday, but long lines of people waited to catch planes to Miami.
Most said they were heading back to the United States after holiday visits to family in Cuba.
Due to the long-standing U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, Americans are generally banned from visiting the island just 90 miles (145 km) from Key West, Florida, but U.S. President Barack Obama lifted travel restrictions for Cuban Americans last year.
There are no direct commercial flights between the countries, which have had bad relations since Cuba’s 1959 revolution, but there are many charter flights.
“I don’t think Cuba is a terrorist country, nor does it support terrorism,” said Carmen, a Cuban exile living in Florida who chose not to give her full name.
But, she said, “the screening for we Cubans is normal, they always do it.”
Ariadna Fernandez, also part of Florida’s Cuban exile community, said she approved of the new security measures.
“I don’t criticize the new inspections; on the contrary, I support them. It’s the best thing they can do for all the bad intentions they have had there (in the United States),” she told Reuters.
Linda Cubela said she expected more checks when her flight got to Miami.
“They’ve always given Cubans extra checks when we arrive in Miami. Maybe the checks help improve relations between the United States and Cuba,” she said.
Editing by Jeff Franks and Cynthia Osterman