Cuba’s no Cubans-rule puts cruise lines in uncharted waters

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Carnival Corp.’s maiden voyage to Cuba next month will be filled with almost 700 cruisers looking to spend time assisting in economic, environmental and community development there. The one thing the boat won’t be carrying, however, is any Cubans.
Raul Castro’s government prohibits native-born Cubans from returning by sea, and makes other forms of travel difficult for them as well, a remnant of discord that remains unaltered by U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent visit. Into the middle of this now comes the U.S. cruise industry. Faced with the choice of waiting for Castro to lift the prohibition or gaining access to Cuba immediately, companies such as Carnival have chosen the latter. The argument is that engagement may help facilitate change—but not everyone is happy with that calculus.
“Something precious is lost when a foreign government dictates what kinds of U.S. citizens can sail out of the Port of Miami,” Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago, who is Cuban-American, wrote after she was denied a ticket for Carnival’s new Fathom cruise to Cuba.
Carnival said it asked Cuba to reconsider the regulation. “We understand and empathize with the concerns being voiced and will continue to work the issue with Cuban officials,” Carnival spokesman Roger Frizzell said. “It is our hope and intention that we will be able to travel with everyone.”
For the moment, Cubans may not. The rule dates to the 1980s when that nation loosened some restrictions to allow immigrants to return to see family, said Wilfredo Allen, a Cuban-American immigration attorney in Miami. He said enforcement is spotty, with the closest scrutiny aimed at Cuban-Americans, not those who live in Mexico, the Caribbean or elsewhere.
Carnival officials signed agreements with Cuba last month during Obama’s historic two-day trip, allowing the MS Adonia, leaving from Miami May 1, to arrive the following morning in Havana. It will be the first U.S. cruise liner to land there in more than 50 years.
Under U.S. laws, travel to Cuba is permitted only for Americans who fall into one of 12 categories outlined by the Treasury Department, including professional research and meetings, athletic events, journalism, educational activities and “people-to-people” travel.
The new Fathom brand, Carnival’s 10th cruise line, is aimed at the “social-impact travel” market, or travelers who are attracted to meaningful experiences with deeper social purpose.

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