Cuban officials also visited Miami’s airport in 2015 and 2011, TSA confirms

Federal authorities brought Cuban aviation officials to tour Miami International Airport in 2011 and 2015, the Transportation Security Administration confirmed Wednesday, two days after the revelation of a similar visit launched a political storm in Miami.

“In August 2011, Cuba inspectors conducted a reciprocal visit to observe security measures at Last Point of Departure airports at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York and Miami International Airport in Miami,” TSA spokesperson Mark Howell said in an email. “During this visit, the Cuban delegation presented TSA with a copy of its Civil Aviation Security Program, which was a breakthrough in sharing information.”

Cuban aviation officials have been touring U.S. airports for years, including before direct flights between the two countries resumed in 2016, Howell said.

He said a Cuban aviation delegation also visited the Miami-Dade airport in 2015, the second tour under the administration of President Barack Obama.

The visit of a Cuban government delegation to Miami International Airport this week stirred a political storm among local officials and members of Congress who questioned why the Biden administration had granted access to what they claim are “sensitive” TSA facilities.

Howell said none of the visits, including this week’s, would involve sensitive areas at airports.

“It’s very similar to a media tour,” he said. “It’s not classified information. It’s basic operations information to raise the overall baseline of global aviation security.”

Cuban groups also visited security operations at other U.S. airports under the administration of President Donald Trump. In 2018, three Cuban officials visited airports in Philadelphia; Arlington, Virginia; and Atlantic City, New Jersey, Howell said.

Monday’s visit to MIA brought Cuban officials to a baggage screening area that’s not open to the public but has been toured by media and other visitors, said Ralph Cutié, aviation director for Miami-Dade County, which owns the airport. He said no county officials were notified by their TSA counterparts about the visit, which the Cuban-American said left him “appalled.”

His boss, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, a Democrat and ally of President Joe Biden, said she was shocked by the visit.

Levine Cava took office in 2020. Her predecessor, Republican Carlos Gimenez, is now a member of Congress. He said in social media posts that he is demanding an investigation into why the Biden administration allowed the visit to MIA, which he called “pathetic” and a danger to U.S. citizens.

Gimenez was mayor in 2015 and took office in the first half of 2011. In a videotaped question-and-answer session released by a spokesperson Wednesday afternoon, Gimenez said he wasn’t notified of any Cuban officials visiting MIA while he was overseeing the airport as mayor.

“As the mayor at the time, I knew nothing about it,” he said. “Had we known about it, then I think I would have raised the same concerns I am today.”

Federal authorities said the Cuba visits are part of a broader program to promote better security screening at foreign airports with direct flights to the United States. Adding to the security stakes, there are 15 flights out of Cuba into MIA on a typical day, making it the fourth busiest international route at MIA.

“TSA has cooperated with Cuba on civil aviation security for many years and has facilitated, with the Department of State, multiple such visits over the years,” a State Department spokesperson said. “Without this longstanding cooperation on civil aviation security, the direct flights between the United States and Cuba that so many Cuban-Americans and others use to visit and support their family members may not be possible.”

On Tuesday, Florida Republican senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and Miami representatives Mario Díaz-Balart, María Elvira Salazar and Giménez sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to express their “profound concern and outrage” over the latest visit of a Cuban delegation to MIA.

“As you know, the Cuban regime is designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism and has absolutely no reason to be invited to tour sensitive areas or view security protocols of an American airport which sole purpose is to safeguard the millions of travelers that pass through the U.S. commercial aviation system every year,” they wrote on the letter.

They said Congress was not notified of the visit.