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    With rough legal seas behind it, Fathom cruise will set sail for Cuba

    With rough legal seas behind it, Fathom cruise will set sail for Cuba

    Carnival’s Fathom line makes history Sunday with first U.S. cruise to
    Cuba in more than 50 years
    Protests, two lawsuits, exile ire over a Cuban policy threatened to
    scuttle the cruise
    After Cuban policy shift, about a dozen Cuban-born passengers will be aboard
    BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
    mwhitefield@miamiherald.com

    The change in Cuban policy came too late for Francisco Marty and Amparo
    Sánchez, who were born in Cuba and had been denied bookings on Carnival
    Corp.’s first cruise to Cuba, to shift their travel plans.

    So when Carnival’s Fathom line ship Adonia steams out of PortMiami
    Sunday afternoon on the first U.S. cruise to the island in more than
    half a century, they won’t be aboard even though Cuba relented, dropping
    a decades-old policy on April 22 that prevented those born there from
    entering or leaving by vessel.

    After Marty and Sánchez were thwarted in trying to book a Fathom voyage
    to celebrate a special occasion, they filed a class-action suit, since
    withdrawn, against Carnival and Fathom alleging the companies were
    violating civil rights by denying tickets to Cuban-born individuals and
    going along with the Cuban policy.

    But Tucker Ronzetti, one of their lawyers, said the pair would like to
    go on a future cruise to Cuba.

    “We filed our case with one, simple goal: to end discrimination against
    Cuban-born Americans who were being denied cruises to Cuba based on
    their place of birth,” said Ronzetti when the suit was dropped Thursday.
    “We look forward to all U.S. citizens, Cuban-born or otherwise, now
    equally enjoying cruises to Cuba.”

    There will be about a dozen travelers born in Cuba, including several
    Cuban-born Carnival executives, making the seven-day trip that
    circumnavigates the island and includes stops in Havana, Santiago de
    Cuba and Cienfuegos, said Roger Frizzell, Carnival’s chief spokesman.

    Arnie Pérez, Carnvial’s chief legal officer, and his wife Carmen, both
    born in Cuba, are expected to be the first ones off the ship when the
    Adonia docks in Havana, its first port of call, at 10 a.m. Monday. The
    arrival will be marked with pomp and circumstance, including a
    traditional exchange of plaques with Fathom’s Cuban partner, Havanatur.

    “Our arrival in Havana will be a special moment in history that
    contributes to a more positive future,” said Frizzell. “We are extremely
    excited and very humbled by this historic opportunity for our guests to
    experience Cuba.”

    But in recent weeks, it has been anything but smooth sailing for
    Carnival and Fathom. Protests, two lawsuits, exile ire and condemnation
    by politicians threatened to scuttle the cruise indefinitely. In the
    face of it, Carnival said the Adonia wouldn’t sail until Cuba dropped
    its discriminatory policy and all its potential passengers would be able
    to travel on an equal footing.

    Then on April 21, Carnival got a phone call from Cuban authorities
    saying it was “likely” they would be ending the policy barring vessel
    arrivals and departures by those born on the island, said Frizzell. But
    Carnival didn’t learn of the actual shift in policy until around 5:30
    a.m. the next morning after a statement about the change was published
    in Granma, the Communist Party’s newspaper.

    It capped intense negotiations by Carnival to hasten the end to the
    Cuban policy. Pérez, Carnival Chief Executive Arnold Donald, and Fathom
    President Tara Russell made several trips to the island to try to break
    the impasse.

    Amidst the controversy, Adonia reservations slowed to a trickle, said
    Frizzell. But after Cuba’s announcement, he said, “We saw the floodgates
    begin to open.”

    All the cabins on the 704-passenger-capacity Adonia have been sold out,
    but the actual passenger count is 600 because of higher numbers of
    single occupancies.

    There will be full refunds or the ability to book on a future Fathom
    cruise for anyone who couldn’t get the proper credentials in time, said
    Frizzell.

    Fathom will send off the Adonia with Cuban flair. Passengers can pick up
    a café Cubano at a coffee kiosk and the cruise line will be handing out
    hand fans. As the Adonia heads out to sea from PortMiami, a band will
    play and the ship will be saluted with a water spray canon on a tugboat.

    Before the Fathom imbroglio was resolved, it bubbled over into what
    lawyer Pedro Freyre called “a quintessential Cuban drama. It was
    definitely a very Cuban, very emotional issue.”

    Although some people referred to the vessel restriction as a Cuban law,
    it wasn’t.

    “We believe it was an executive action,” said Ronzetti. “It had the face
    of a law but it wasn’t a piece of legislation.”

    And that meant Cuban leaders could change it at will.

    It had its genesis in security concerns that date back to a time when
    Cubans were stealing boats to come to the United States and there were
    fears they might return by sea for sabotage or people-smuggling
    operations. In 2003, a group of armed Cubans, for example, hijacked a
    passenger ferry west of Havana, holding nearly 50 hostages, until they
    ran out of gas in international waters. Three of the hijackers were
    charged with terrorism and executed after a quick trial.

    But by 2016 when the United States and Cuba had renewed diplomatic ties
    and were trying to forge a new relationship, and both sides had given
    their approval for the new cruise service, the policy had “become an
    illogical anachronism,” said Freyre, an engagement proponent who serves
    as a lawyer for Carnival and two other cruise lines.

    As the issue of discrimination galvanized the Cuban exile community, it
    also created some strange bedfellows.

    Some hardliners saw protesting the policy as a way to possibly stop the
    Fathom cruises altogether; others simply didn’t like the idea that those
    born on the island would be treated differently from other cruise
    passengers and the hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans who take
    charter flights to the island every year.

    Some of the protestors had no intention of ever returning to the island,
    and still others saw it as a triumph of the new policy of engagement.

    “There’s never been a mechanism before for the Cuban government to
    respond to demands to change something and then to have the change
    actually happen. I think it speaks volumes about the new process,” said
    Freyre.

    But others looked at Cuba’s dropping the vessel restriction as only a
    partial victory because passport and visa restrictions remain in place
    for some Cuban-Americans.

    Organizers of a flotilla that was being organized to protest the vessel
    policy said they still planned to sail Sunday afternoon. Cubans should
    have the right “to freely enter and leave the national territory without
    there being a discriminatory visa process,” Ramón Saul Sánchez, national
    executive of the Democracy Movement, said in a statement.

    Dr. Orlando Gutiérrez-Boronat, co-founder of the Cuban Democratic
    Directorate, remains a cruise opponent. “Thousands of Cubans are lying
    at the bottom of that sea, which the cruise ships will sail on, and the
    money from those cruises will simply enrich that regime, which forced
    [them] to their deaths,” he said.

    But for Marty, one of the lawsuit plaintiffs, it was a victory. “I once
    landed on the beaches of Cuba to fight for its liberty,” said the Bay of
    Pigs veteran. “I did this with a rifle. I was not successful. I engaged
    Cuba again by sea, this time armed with the law, and I won.”

    Source: With rough legal seas behind it, Fathom cruise will set sail for
    Cuba | Miami Herald –
    www.miamiherald.com/news/business/tourism-cruises/article74753237.html

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