Saturday, April 23, 2016

Cuba Eases Decades-long Restriction on Sea Travel

Cuba Eases Decades-long Restriction on Sea Travel

MIAMI — Cuba reversed a decades-old policy on Friday, lifting a
restriction that prevented Cubans from entering or leaving the country
by cruise ship or commercial vessel, according to a statement in the
country's national newspaper, Granma.

The decision, another softening of Cuba's Cold War stance toward the
United States, came after a furor in Miami prompted Carnival Cruise Line
to announce that it would delay its inaugural May 1 cruise to Cuba
unless the country changed the policy. Carnival said Friday that the
cruise, the first by an American cruise ship to Cuba in 50 years, would
depart as scheduled.

Cuba risked losing millions of dollars in the next year if the cruise
line had been forced to cancel its trips on the Adonia, a 704-passenger
luxury ship, according to an analysis by the U.S.-Cuba Trade and
Economic Council. The directive, which will take effect on Tuesday, also
marked a rare turn of events: an American corporation persuading the
Castro government to alter a policy.

Last month, Carnival became the first American cruise company to obtain
Cuban approval to sail to the island. European and Canadian cruise lines
have already been making the trip.

"We made history in March, and we are a part of making history again
today," said Arnold Donald, the president and chief executive of the
Carnival Corporation, adding, "We were very positive there would be this
outcome and were proceeding in that fashion."

Mr. Donald said the company's negotiators underscored to Cuban officials
that Cuban passengers have long been permitted to fly in and out of Cuba
and that the same policy should apply to sea travel. Cruises are crucial
to Cuba's tourism sector because they allow for more visitors without
pressuring the country's already strained hotel capacity.

Starting on Tuesday, the government will also allow Cubans aboard
commercial vessels, including cargo ships, to enter or leave Cuba.

The mayor of Miami-Dade County, Carlos A. Gimenez, who at one point
explored options for a lawsuit against Carnival, praised the resolution.

"This policy change was the right thing to do," Mr. Gimenez, who is
Cuban-born, said in a statement.

The Cuban government on Friday also hinted at its next move: the
possibility of allowing Cuban-born people to travel to the island aboard
recreational boats. That authorization, the government said, would come
gradually and when circumstances are right.

Cuban-Americans in Miami who support engagement with Cuba have long
envisioned the possibility of taking their own boats to the island,
which is 90 miles away from Florida, to visit family.

Friday's decision is significant because the Cuban government has long
been wary of sea travel between the United States and Cuba. For decades,
Cubans have fled the island by raft and rustic boats, something that
continues today. The government also feared that allowing Cuban citizens
to travel by sea would make it easier for hostile Cuban-Americans to
enter the country and to undermine the government.

In 1980, after tensions in Cuba escalated as the economy plummeted,
Fidel Castro allowed boats from the United States to pick up Cubans in
the port of Mariel. More than 125,000 Cubans left the island by boat.
Most of them were picked up by relatives, friends or recruits from Miami.

The Cuban government stressed that all passengers and crew members
entering or leaving Cuba must have valid documents to do so. It also
needled the United States, pointing out that American law continues to
restrict American tourist travel to Cuba, although regulations have been

The uproar, which Carnival did not anticipate, began this month when
Cubans in Florida tried to buy tickets for the weeklong voyage. Carnival
agents refused to book them on the cruise, saying that because they were
Cuban-born, the Cuban government barred them from entering the country
by sea.

In subsequent talks, the company and the Cuban government tried to find
a resolution. This week, Carnival, which is based in a Miami suburb and
is well-versed on local sensitivities about Cuba, faced a class-action
lawsuit by Cuban-Americans and harsh words from political leaders who
expressed outrage that an American company would discriminate against
American citizens. Carnival initially delayed the trip, but remained

"Carnival acted responsibly within the context of a horrific public
relations environment," said John Kavulich, the president of the trade

Pedro A. Freyre, whose law firm, Akerman, represents Carnival, and who
was one of several lawyers to advise the company, said Carnival began
working on getting the directive changed soon after its cruise was
approved by the Cuban government.

Mr. Freyre, who is Cuban-born and supports closer ties to the island
nation, said even he was surprised by the fervor in Miami over the cruise.

"I had been around my community long enough to know that emotions are
very deep here," he said. "At the beginning, I said, 'What? Why are
people so upset — 300,000 travel every year to Cuba.' But this one
tugged at the heart strings."

Dr. Andy Gomez, a senior policy adviser for Poblete Tamargo, a law and
public policy firm, said the face-off served as a reminder that Cuba's
thicket of laws and regulations remained far from business friendly.

But Mr. Freyre said the episode also shows that a more measured approach
to Cuba works best.

"What the Cubans did today is reflect that it's good to be engaged," he
said. "You can talk calmly about things instead of shouting at each other."

Source: Cuba Eases Decades-long Restriction on Sea Travel - The New York
Times -

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