TSA says ‘routine’ Miami airport tour by Cuban officials ‘did not access sensitive technology or systems’

‘They received a general overview of TSA’s security operations, including equipment that anyone screened at the checkpoint may view.’

Cuban officials were granted access to TSA areas at Miami International Airport (MIA), but the tour was no different than those given to other international flight partners of the U.S. and didn’t include any security risks, the agency says.

Mark Howell, a regional spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), said his agency “routinely works with all countries with direct flights to the United States … to foster strong global aviation security posture.”

That includes Cuba, which has direct flights to six stateside airports.

“TSA works closely with its Cuban counterparts to promote civil aviation security in both countries,” Howell said by email.

“This involves the TSA inspecting Cuban airports to certify their ability to host flights to the United States, and occasional reciprocal visits by the Cuban transportation ministry to U.S. airports to demonstrate best practices. Cuban officials did not access sensitive technology or systems. They received a general overview of TSA’s security operations, including equipment that anyone screened at the checkpoint may view, demonstrating best practices in civil aviation security, so that Cuba considers implementation of similar measures with similar systems.”

Howell noted that the TSA and Cuba have cooperated on civil aviation security “for many years,” including during ex-President Donald Trump’s administration.

“TSA officials at (MIA) have also welcomed dignitaries from Antigua, Barbados, Spain and Brazil for similar visits recently,” he added.

Late Monday, Diario Las Américas reported that the TSA had given representatives of Cuba’s regime a tour of its MIA facilities. The following morning, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava wrote online that she was “shocked” to learn of the visit, which occurred without her administration’s knowledge.

“My office has contacted the Department of Homeland Security to understand how this decision was made, and to request that the County and (Miami-Dade Aviation Department) be included in any future decisions regarding granting access to MIA facilities to foreign government officials,” she said in a statement.

Several other elected officials at the federal, state and local levels soon also expressed outrage over the incident, including U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, U.S. Reps. Mario Díaz-Balart and Carlos Giménez, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, Hialeah Gardens Sen. Bryan Ávila, Miami Rep. Juan Porras and members of the Miami-Dade County Commission, who voted unanimously to condemn the tour.

MIA Director Ralph Cutíe, whom Levine Cava appointed, said the TSA’s actions “appalled him.”

Miami-Dade Chief of Public Safety James Reyes, who is running for Sheriff with an endorsement from Levine Cava, expressed similar indignation.

“As the son of a Cuban political prisoner, it’s offensive that the federal (TSA) would have Cuban officials tour security protocols at Miami International Airport,” he said. “This decision was done unilaterally by TSA and without any knowledge of County officials.”

Many who decried the visit noted that it took place on May 20, Cuban Independence Day, a holiday commemorating the island nation’s separation from Spain and honoring those who have fought since to wrest its control from dictators. The holiday isn’t celebrated widely in Cuba, but many in the Cuban diaspora have tried to popularize it.

Miami-Dade is home to the largest Cuban diaspora in the United States, with more than 1.2 million Cuban American residents. Another 800,000 live elsewhere in the state.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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