The U.S. Department of Transportation has granted temporary approval to small cargo airlines in South Florida to fly emergency aid to Cuba, where large protests have erupted in recent days in response to a long-simmering economic crisis worsened by the COVID pandemic.

The department said IBC Airways and Skyway Enterprises could each operate 20 flights from Miami to Havana through late September carrying humanitarian aid and diplomatic cargo for the U.S. Embassy.

Last August, the Trump administration suspended the authority of all U.S. and foreign air carriers to provide charter flights between the U.S. and Cuba, besides a limited number of authorized public charter flights, as part of its campaign to ratchet up economic pressure on the Cuban regime to make reforms.

The order allowed exceptions for emergency medical situations, and the DOT ruled Wednesday that current conditions allow exemptions to the cargo ban. 

Cubans are feeling the effects of severe shortages of food and medicine, hyperinflation and long blackouts in oppressive heat, all byproducts of a centrally planned economy that has left the country underdeveloped for decades. Protestors are angry about having to stand in long lines for basic necessities, lack of jobs and restrictions on liberties.

IBC said in its request that its shipments will include personal parcels containing food, medicine, and hygienic and medical supplies. IBC’s cargo fleet consists of seven Saab 340 aircraft.

Skyway operates Shorts 360 turboprops.

Another carrier, iAero Airways, informed the DOT that if the department granted the IBC and Skyway applications it also would seek to transport humanitarian aid to Cuba for customers.

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US blocks air cargo flights with aid for Cuba