Carnival Corp. got religion, saw the light — pick your cliché. But be sure to include this one: Carnival did the right thing.
Monday morning, the world’s largest cruise line announced that it will ignore the Cuban regime’s mandate and sell tickets to Cuban-born Americans for its inaugural cruise on May 1 on its ship the Fathom.
“We want everyone to be able to go to Cuba with us,” Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corp., said in a news release.“We remain excited about this historic opportunity to give our guests an extraordinary vacation experience in Cuba.”
That’s exactly the stance that any good corporate citizen should take and the community should applaud the company’s change of heart.
The cruise line had originally agreed to abide by Cuba’s law that discriminates against a particular group of Cuban exiles when arriving by sea, many of whom live in Miami-Dade.
But then Carnival got an earful, and rightly so, after Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago wrote of her dreadful experience when she tried to book a slot on the Fathom’s maiden voyage — all went swimmingly until Ms. Santiago had to reveal that she was born in Cuba.
That ended any chance of her being able to buy a ticket. The place of her birth excluded her.
Last week, there were protests in front of Carnival’s headquarters in Doral; Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez called for Carnival to cancel the trip — as did the Herald Editorial Board. And there were two lawsuits filed alleging that by accommodating Cuba, Carnival was in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Speaking of legal action, Mr. Gimenez raised the specter of a legal skirmish between the cruise line and the county, which owns PortMiami out of which the ship Fathom would sail. He requested a legal decision from County Attorney Abigail Price-Williams on whether Carnival was breaking county law. Late Monday night, county attorneys said Carnival’s booking policy was subject to a human-rights violation charge from the county.
Even Secretary of State John Kerry, during a visit to Miami last week, got involved, chastising both Carnival and Cuba.
Carnival owner Micky Arison was right to reverse course and end the controversy engulfing his company.
By announcing a change of heart, Carnival has placed the hot-potato issue in Raúl Castro’s lap — where it belongs.
Carnival said that it remains “optimistic” that the Cuban government will alter its sea-travel prohibition for Cuban-born individuals from the United States and other countries. Optimistic is the operative word — it’s unclear if Cuba has given Carnival or the United States any indication that it plans to change its policy.
But if Cuba doesn’t budge before Carnival inaugural sailing from Miami to Havana, the cruise company will delay its voyages until all passengers can travel, it said in the release.
If Cuba doesn’t relent, then its government will be exposed, once again, as the oppressive machine that it is when challenged.
True, by its announcement, Carnival is extricating itself from a public-relations nightmare.
But Carnival’s reversal represents the first pushback Raúl Castro has faced since the start of the new relations between the two countries.
Up to now, the island has gotten everything it’s wanted from the Obama administration while making few concessions. It’s been yes, yes, yes.
Here’s one “No” it will have to deal with. Cuba’s response will be telling.