SUNDAY, OCT. 17, 2027 — United Delta Airlines wants to bring you to the warm, sunny Caribbean for the low, low cost of free.
Beginning tomorrow morning at 8 a.m., Delta United will open its lottery for free tickets from Worcester International Airport to Havana.
The Cuba-U.S. Tourism and Exchange Program, or CUSTEP, known informally as the “Cuba Libre” plan, was the brainchild of Cuban Ambassador Jim McGovern and Cuban Tourism Minister Roberto Knowles. It’s been in the works since the election of President Frederico Torres and the normalization of U.S.- Cuba relations in 2021.
“After six years of negotiations, we’re extremely happy to be able to partner with Delta United Airlines to allow American citizens to explore Cuba,” reads a joint press release from Ambassador McGovern’s office, the State Department, and the National Institute of Mental Health.
“We want to give everyone a chance to relax and unwind in the beautiful island and enjoy the warm hospitality. As we say, Cuba is open for business.”
Beginning tomorrow, citizens can sign up online or in person at a Delta United ticket counter. Five winners will be chosen each day from each state. If chosen, they can claim up to four round trip tickets to Havana.
Worcester is one of six airports around the country which has been chosen to participate in Cuba Libre program. Worcester was considered a perfect spot because of its central New England location, its number of high tech companies, its high population of Spanish speakers, and recent major upgrades to the airport.
“Our once-sleepy airport is becoming quite a hotspot,” says Mayor Awad Musa. “This is another feather in Worcester’s cap since beginning international flights (to Cancun, Santo Domingo, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and St. John’s) last year,” said Mayor Awad Musa.
The Cuba-U.S. Tourism and Exchange Program was designed foster economic development between the two nations.
“This is a great way to let potential investors to see the infrastructure, check out real estate, all while enjoying time with their families,” said Ambassador McGovern at a press conference yesterday to introduce the program.
The National Institute of Mental Health is co-funding the flights via a $170.2 million dollar grant.
“Let’s face it, the last three winters have been brutal,” said Worcester Public Health Director Dr. Jen MacDonell, M.D., Ph.D. “Studies have shown what we’ve guessed all along – peoples’ physical and mental health suffers during cold, dark winters. It can can cause all sorts of problems – exhaustion, irritability, obesity, car crashes, and decline of work.
“With this program, yes, the government is essentially using taxpayer money to subsidize vacations, but with the goal of helping people stay healthy, safe, alert, and productive.”
According to the National Institute of Climate Change, Worcester’s average January temperature is 25 degrees Farenheit. The average January temperature in Cuba is 70 degrees. The average high is 79 degrees and the average water temp is 79 degrees.
“You don’t have to tell me that twice!” said Mayor Musa, who said he already had his tickets for the first flight out of Worcester.
Waiting in line this morning at the Delta United counter for a shot at their own tickets were Lynn MacConnell and her wife, Patricia Lang, of Oxford. The couple met while serving as Peace Corps volunteers in Cuba. “We were the first class in-country in 2022,” says Ms. MacConnell. “So to have a free trip back is what we needed, especially during this winter.”
Mike Stevenson of Barre, also waiting in line, agrees. If he wins tickets, he’ll bring his girlfriend and their two children, 7 and 10. “We were going to go to Disney World,” he said, “But Cuba is a lot more affordable and,” he whispered conspiringly, “maybe even educational.”
Outside the airport were a handful of demonstrators from The Worcester-Puerto Rican Alliance, who spent much of the last two years campaigning heavily against the CUSTEP.
“Why should American taxpayers’ money be pumped into the Cuban economy,” asked WPRA President Marcela Criado, “while Puerto Rico languishes since all the manufacturing jobs left in the 1990’s? We certainly could use that money from tourism and business.”
The Cuba Libre program is set to run until May 30, 2028, and and a very limited number of seats are still available. To enter the lottery, please go to www.USA-Travel-Cuba.com.
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