Miami-Dade’s mayor on Wednesday called on Carnival to cancel cruises to Cuba if Cuban-born Americans can’t buy tickets, and accused the Doral-based company of violating the county’s human-rights ordinance by enforcing a Cuban law restricting who can travel to the island by sea.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez called a press conference to raise the possibility of a court fight between the world’s largest cruise company and the county that owns the port where Carnival plans to launch its first cruises to Havana next month. At issue is a rule banning Cuban-born Americans from traveling to the country by sea, a category that covers much of the Miami area’s political leadership.
“I find it offensive that I as a citizen of the United States, although born in Cuba, cannot buy a ticket simply because of my national origin,” Gimenez told reporters. He said he’s asked county lawyers to rule on whether Carnival’s booking policy violates a county ordinance banning discrimination based on national origin.
Carnival said it had no choice but to enforce the rule when booking tickets for its new Miami-to-Havana route out of PortMiami. The company said it is asking the Castro regime to waive the rule before the first ships sails on May 1 under Carnival’s new “impact travel” brand called fathom, which is marketed as encouraging interactions between cruise passengers and the countries they visit.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“This is not a decision by our Fathom brand, but rather a Cuba decision. Cuba allows Cuban-born individuals to enter the country by airplanes, but not yet by ships,” Carnival spokesman Roger Frizzell said in a statement. “We believe there is a much better opportunity to effect a change in the policy by having an active dialogue with the Cubans versus some of the policies in the past many years.”
Gimenez stopped short of saying he would block Carnival from using PortMiami for its upcoming Cuba cruise, but said he wanted to know what authority he has to enforce the human-rights law. “What can we do about it so that they come into compliance?” he said. “This is not about one particular cruise. This is really about Carnival. They’re an important partner, and there are a lot of jobs here in Miami-Dade County. But they’re still violating the ordinance.”
Gimenez said he spoke with Micky Arison, Carnival’s chairman and owner of the Miami Heat, earlier in the day about the cruises. Gimenez said Arison hopes Cuba will agree to waive the rules, allowing the company to avoid a stand-off with Miami-Dade. Insiders note the Castro regime is sensitive to being seen as bending to political pressure from Miami, complicating the matter as the controversy gets more attention from elected leaders and the media.
There was pressure among U.S. cruise operators to be first into Cuba following President Obama’s relaxing of commercial barriers in late 2014, and Carnival announced its debut voyages in March during the president’s historic trip to Havana.
And while initial coverage of the fathom voyages mentioned restrictions against Cuban-born Americans buying tickets, the political uproar only followed once Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago wrote on April 7 about her failure to book a berth over her Cuban birthplace.
Earlier this week, Rebeca Sosa, a Cuban-born county commissioner, asked Gimenez’s administration to research what steps could be block Carnival from turning away Cuban-born passengers. “If you don’t have the ability as a U.S. citizen to go wherever you want, then I have a problem with that,” she said. “Because the United States is a democracy.”
In a memo titled “Inquiry Regarding Possible Human Rights Violation the Code of Miami-Dade County,” Gimenez on Wednesday asked county lawyers whether they agree that Carnival is violating a local law that bans discrimination based on national origin.
“As a Cuban-born, naturalized American citizen myself,” Gimenez wrote “it is clear to me that this policy violates the Code.”