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    Carnival opens bookings for Cuban-born guests pending a change in Cuba policy

    Carnival opens bookings for Cuban-born guests pending a change in Cuba
    policy

    Carnival Corp. will accept bookings by Cuban-born Americans on its
    Fathom Cuba sailings
    The cruise company is expecting a change in the Cuban regulation
    If not, it will delay its May 1 sailing until all guests can travel
    BY CHABELI HERRERA
    cherrera@miamiherald.com

    Cuban-born travelers can now book a cruise on Carnival Corp.’s Cuba
    sailings, the cruise giant announced Monday.

    Carnival Corp. said it remains “optimistic” that the Cuban government
    will alter its policy prohibiting people born in Cuba from traveling
    there by sea. If no change comes before Carnival Corp.’s inaugural May 1
    sailing, the cruise company will delay its voyages until all passengers
    can travel, Carnival Corp. said in a release.

    The announcement follows a turbulent week for the world’s largest cruise
    company, in which protesters, politicians and even Secretary of State
    John Kerry spoke out against Carnival Corp.’s acceptance of the
    discriminatory Cuban regulation.

    Throughout the controversy surroundings its trip, Doral-based Carnival
    Corp. has maintained that it has been in frequent discussions with the
    Cuban government about a possible change to the regulation. A shift
    would put cruise companies on a level playing field with air charters
    that now take Cuban-born people to the island on a daily basis.

    “We want everyone to be able to go to Cuba with us,” said Arnold Donald,
    CEO of Carnival Corp., in a release. “We remain excited about this
    historic opportunity to give our guests an extraordinary vacation
    experience in Cuba.”

    The cruise company’s social impact line, Fathom, is scheduled to sail
    next month from PortMiami on weeklong voyages to Havana, Cienfuegos and
    Santiago de Cuba. Carnival Corp. gained approval from the Cuban
    government on March 21 to be the first American cruise company to sail
    to the island in more than 50 years.

    Fathom has updated its reservation system to allow Cuban-born guests to
    book a cruise on its 704-passenger Adonia, the company announced Monday.
    Tickets start at $1,800 per person, excluding Cuban visas, taxes, fees
    and port expenses. If the voyage is postponed, guests will get a full
    refund on cruise expenses as well as other travel expenses, including
    hotel accommodations and air travel.

    In a letter to employees Monday, Donald said ensuring Cuban-born
    individuals can travel to Cuba has been a “top priority” for the cruise
    company.

    “We have an obligation to all our employees, and to the communities in
    which they work and live, to be the best corporate citizen we can be. We
    believe this approach best supports that objective,” Donald said in the
    letter. “Again, we remain confident that we will reach a positive
    outcome and we continue to work full speed ahead in preparing for our
    every-other-week sailings from PortMiami to Cuba.” (On alternate weeks,
    the ship sails from Miami to the Dominican Republic.)

    Travel agent Ralph Santisteban, a CruiseOne franchise owner based in
    Kendall, said interest for Fathom has been largely from other parts of
    the country and has remained that way throughout the controversy.

    “However, now with the change we may see the needle move,” Santiesteban
    said. He expects to get more Cuba inquiries from local travelers in the
    coming weeks.

    Santiesteban also applauded Carnival Corp.’s longtime efforts for a
    policy change with Cuba.

    “Kudos to Carnival for being proactive,” he said. “They’ve been working
    on this for a long time, trying to make it work for everybody, even
    before they began to be criticized.”

    Voices of opposition

    The backlash began last week following an April 7 column by Miami Herald
    columnist Fabiola Santiago, who said Carnival Corp. was discriminating
    against Cuban-born Americans by following the policy imposed by the
    Cuban government.

    Two lawsuits were filed in federal court in Miami last week, a class
    action suit and a civil suit, by Cuban-born Americans who attempted to
    book and were denied tickets on Fathom. The lawsuits alleged that the
    cruise line was violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by following a
    policy that discriminates against a class of Americans on a place of
    public accommodation for transient guests — a cruise ship.

    Plaintiffs in both lawsuits are still asking the court to put a hold on
    Carnival’s cruise plans until the lawsuits are decided.

    “Words are easy, minds can change, and Carnival has not yet agreed to a
    consent order mandating the end of its prior practice of
    discrimination,” said Tucker Ronzetti, an attorney with Kozyak, Tropin &
    Throckmorton representing the class action lawsuit.

    In a letter to Carnival Chairman and Miami Heat owner Micky Arison on
    Friday, Coral Gables attorney Angel Castillo Jr., who filed the civil
    lawsuit, posed the question that has resurfaced at nearly every stage of
    the debate: that discriminating against Cuban-born individuals is the
    same as discriminating against any other group.

    “I wonder what your response would have been if Castro had told you that
    your cruise ships could not bring Jews, African-Americans, disabled
    persons, or pregnant woman to Cuba?” Castillo wrote.

    Orlando travel agent John Layton, who is a member of the LGBT community,
    said Carnival Corp.’s decision was particularly hurtful to him as a
    member of a community that is often marginalized. Layton attempted to
    book a cruise with his Cuba-born partner, Alberto Vigo, and Vigo’s
    parents, who were also born on the island. It would have been the first
    trip to Cuba in more than 50 years for Vigo’s 87-year-old father — but
    the family was denied.

    “I have faced discrimination in other parts of my life, but this was
    just a double impact,” said Layton, who is a franchise owner for
    CruisePlanners, an American Express Travel Representative. “I knew how
    they were feeling and just in my heart, I knew it was wrong.”

    After being rejected, Layton and his family booked a five-day trip to
    Havana via air instead. Following Carnival’s announcement, Layton said
    they will still book a voyage on Fathom in the future, because it offers
    an opportunity to see more of the island in one trip.

    “It speaks volumes that a company like Carnival Corporation is willing
    to take a stand for all Americans,” Layton said.

    But last week, many local politicians were wary of Carnival Corp.’s
    desire to stand for Cuban-born Americans.

    Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez called on Carnival Corp. to cancel its
    plans, citing the county’s human rights ordinance. Gimenez raised the
    possibility of a legal fight between the cruise company and Miami-Dade,
    which owns PortMiami, where the cruise ship will depart.

    The Coral Gables City Commission passed a resolution also advising the
    county to block Carnival from using the port.

    Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez and school-board member Raquel Regalado
    endorsed Gimenez’s inquiry, but Regalado urged the mayor to do more to
    pressure the cruise giant.

    Also in opposition: four Senate candidates (Republicans Carlos Beruff of
    Sarasota, Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, Lt. Gov. Carlos
    Lopez-Cantera and Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando), Miami’s
    three Republicans in the U.S. House (Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario
    Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen), and Curbelo’s two Democratic
    rivals (former Rep. Joe Garcia and Annette Taddeo).

    On Thursday, the outcry reached the ears of Secretary of State John
    Kerry, who spoke out on the issue while in Miami, urging the Cuban
    government change its regulation.

    “The United States government will never support, never condone
    discrimination. And the Cuban government should not have the right to
    enforce on us a policy of discrimination against people who have the
    right to travel,” Kerry said during an interview with the Miami Herald
    and CNN en Español in Miami.

    Even former U.S. Attorney Bob Martinez jumped in, asking the Justice
    Department last week to investigate whether Carnival’s trip would
    violate civil-rights protections, after Martinez was also denied passage
    on the cruise because of his nationality.

    He offered a curt response to Carnival’s change of course Monday: “Smart.”

    MIAMI HERALD STAFF WRITERS DOUGLAS HANKS, PATRICIA MAZZEI AND JAY WEAVER
    CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT.

    Source: Carnival opens bookings for Cuban-born guests pending a change
    in Cuba policy | Miami Herald –
    www.miamiherald.com/news/business/tourism-cruises/article72408372.html

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