HAVANA._ For the first time in more than 50 years, four U.S. companies have been granted permission by the Federal Government to open ferry services between the United States and Cuba.

The decision, which has been the subject of a lot of media attention, has also aroused public interest; particularly in Florida from where the new services will depart.

For the first time in more than 50 years, four U.S. companies have been granted permission by the Federal Government to open ferry services between the United States and Cuba.The departments of Treasury and of Commerce communicated their decision to the Havana Ferry Partners in Fort Lauderdale, the Baja Ferries in Miami, the United Caribbean Lines Florida in Orlando and the Airline Brokers Company in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Such sailings, however, can only carry Cuban-Americans or U.S. citizens travelling under the 12 authorized categories exempt from the license requirement to visit Cuba.

Among the services planned by these firms are the Havana Ferry Partners Cayo Hueso-Havana route, with an overnight Miami and Fort Lauderdale-Havana crossing to be launched at a later date.

Miami-based Baja Ferries USA intends to operate an overnight ferry between Florida and Havana three times a week.

Meanwhile, according to comments made by company president Bruce Nierenberg to the local press, United Caribbean Lines based in Orlando equally plans to operate from several ports to the Cuban capital.

This groundbreaking news has been welcomed by the ferry companies, their potential customers, and a good part of Florida’s media, as it certainly represents a step -- albeit a small one – in the direction of increased contacts on all levels between the people of Cuba and the U.S.

Nevertheless, experts on the subject caution that this activity will face serious obstacles before being implemented. The main reason for this is the economic, commercial, and financial blockade Washington has maintained against Cuba for over half a century.

That policy, condemned annually by the U.N. General Assembly since 1992, has cost the island more than 1 trillion 112, 534 million dollars.

Under these unilateral restrictions, the ferries are not allowed to carry U.S. citizens to Cuba as tourists. The prohibition of the latter to travel on normal tourist visas was instilled by the Congress’ anti-Cuban laws.

As a consequence, although initial Washington authorization exists, the actual operation of these ships will very likely be extensively limited by restrictions to be imposed by other agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and other federal agencies to the detriment of the project.

Many other details also need to be ironed out, such as the necessary agreements with Cuban authorities as well as the logistics such operations require on either side of the Florida Straits that will somehow have to find loopholes in order to bypass the unilateral sanctions.

For these, and indeed many other reasons, the idea of establishing such ferry lines was greeted with a degree of cautious optimism in the U.S. as many have seen previous business proposals with Cuba frustrated or curtailed by the ever-present blockade.

Nonetheless, these business-folk and the future passengers who will benefit from such services are not giving up on their hopes and sustain that they will do everything in their power to see them materialize. They know that the first thing they must do for their dreams to come true is to funnel all of their energy towards the lifting of the obsolete blockade.

Last December 17, Cuban president Raúl Castro and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama announced their decision to reestablish diplomatic relations between their countries, to open embassies in Havana and Washington, and to start a process towards the normalization of bilateral ties.

Obama notified Congress on April 14 of his decision to remove Cuba from the list of nations that the Department of State alleges sponsor terrorism; a decision being considered by the legislature. The latter has a 45 day period – expiring at the end of May -- to announce their decision.

Cuban authorities have said that although the exclusion of their country from the list does not imply any significant change towards the removal of the blockade, it is a just decision, given that the Caribbean nation should have never been included on a list that they describe as illegal and spurious.

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