Last updated: 02:03 PM ET, Thu April 14 2016

As Cuban Americans Protest Ban, Cruise Lines Work to Change Law

Destination & Tourism | Janeen Christoff | April 13, 2016

As Cuban Americans Protest Ban, Cruise Lines Work to Change Law

PHOTO: Havana, Cuba (courtesy Thinkstock)

Carnival Corp. is one of a handful of cruise line operators taking heat from the Cuban American community, some of whom are being locked out of sailing on their upcoming cruises to Cuba.  

A large sect of Cuban Americans are not allowed to sail to the country thanks to a Cuban law instituted in the 1980s dictating that Cuban-born Americans cannot arrive in the country via seagoing vessels or ferries.

Several potential Fathom cruise passengers have taken to the media to share their booking experiences, angered that the cruise lines would agree to such descriminatory stipulations. 

Maria de los Angela Torres, a professor at the University of Illinois and a Cuban immigrant who came to this country as part of Operation Pedro Pan, a U.S.-led rescue of the children whose parents opposed Fidel Castro, told the Telegraph that she was in the process of booking a cruise with Fathom when she was told that, because she was born in Cuba, she wouldn’t be able to travel with the cruise line. Torres has been returning to Cuba each year since 1978 for academic research, but won't be allowed to enter by boat.

Their concerns do beg the question: Is it okay to sell cruises to some people in the U.S. and not to others?

Carnival Corp. is using a multi-level approach to address the concerns. They put out a statement in response to the protests, stating, "Of course, it is our policy to obey the regulations and laws of the countries we sail to around the world. However, we have requested a reconsideration of this particular regulation especially as it relates to cruise travellers.

"We understand and empathize with the concerns being voiced and will continue to work the issue with Cuban officials. It is our hope and intention that we will be able to travel with everyone."

Carnival Corp. president and CEO Arnold Donald went a step further in speaking with Bloomberg TV. 

"We are excited, we're honored and privileged to be the first company approved by the U.S. and Cuban governments to sail to the country in more than 50 years," Arnold told Bloomberg. "We're dealing with a decades-old mode of transport law here. Cuban Americans can fly into Cuba, which for us creates an uneven playing field and we've asked the Cuban government and continue to negotiate to be able to have Cuban-born individuals able to sail with us. Our first cruise is May 1. We're working toward a resolution here but until then, we will respect the rules that are in place."

Cuban Americans say that companies like Carnival are sacrificing human rights for profits. But Donald said by opening up the route, his company is trying to encourage and impact social change -- the whole reason behind launching the volunteerism-focus Fathom brand.

"We are cautiously optimistic that because people are already allowed to fly in that this decades-old policy might be reconsidered," Donald told Bloomberg. "We're hoping that by having Cuban Americans not born in Cuba on these cruises and the fact that Cuban-born Americans can already fly in, that we impact change here."

It's also important to note that Carnival isn't blind to the concern, as it employs many Cuban Americans throughout the company. And they are not alone in their pursuit to bring cruise passengers to Cuba. 

Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line (whose CEO, Frank Del Rio, was born in Cuba) are among many lines that have also applied for approval to operate cruises to the country. Carnival just happens to be the first major cruise line to be granted permission. 

Protesters gathered at Carnival’s headquarters in Doral, Fla., on April 12 and attorney Robert Rodriguez told reporters that he is planning on filing state and federal lawsuits, likely arguing a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

TravelPulse editor-in-chief Tim Wood contributed to this report.

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