Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade’s human-rights law requires Carnival to sell tickets to Cuban-born passengers, county lawyers say

The Carnival Corp. ship slated to sail from PortMiami to Cuba beginning on May 1.
The Carnival Corp. ship slated to sail from PortMiami to Cuba beginning on May 1. Carnival Corp.

Carnival was heading for a legal battle with Miami-Dade County if it hadn’t abandoned its policy of barring Cuban-born passengers from its new Cuba cruises.

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Late Monday, Miami-Dade’s county attorney issued a memo saying Carnival risked violating its terminal lease at PortMiami if Carnival complied with a Cuban law that bars anyone born in that country from returning by sea. Hours earlier, Carnival announced it would reverse course and begin selling tickets to the Cuban-born for a new Miami-to-Havana cruise slated to start May 1 out of PortMiami, which Miami-Dade owns. The Doral-based company said it expects Cuban authorities to change the rules to accommodate the cruise company’s new policy.

Carnival Corp. faced growing political pressure to end the practice of barring Cuban-born Americans from buying tickets on one of its ships. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez last week said he thought Carnival’s policy violated the county’s human-rights ordinance banning discrimination on national origin, and suggested he might try to block Carnival from using PortMiami for the cruise.

The issue now appears to be moot, with Carnival lifting its booking restrictions and saying it will delay its cruise until Cuba allows Cuban-born passengers to disembark.

Gimenez had asked for a legal opinion, and after 10 p.m. on Monday County Attorney Abigail Price-Williams sent the memo saying Carnival’s former booking policy could allow PortMiami to revoke the company’s license to operate at the facility. “To refuse, withhold, or deny the service of a public accommodation to anyone on the basis of his or her national origin is a violating of the anti-discrimination provisions of” county law, Price-Williams wrote. The memo included a footnote describing Carnival’s change in policy announced Monday morning.

Price-Williams’ memo stops short of declaring Carnival in violation of the county’s human-rights ordinance. She wrote that Carnival’s former booking policy is covered by the ordinance and “may be challenged as an unlawful practice.” The county would first need to obtain a ruling from a court or the Miami-Dade Commission on Human Rights that a violation had actually occurred, Price-Williams wrote.

If a ruling was secured, Price-Williams wrote PortMiami director Juan Kuryla would have the authority to revoke the business license that allows Carnival to operate at the terminal. She said Kuryla could also revoke only the license that would be issued to Fathom, the new Carnival line created in advance of the Cuba cruise.

In a note to employees Monday morning, Carnival CEO Arnold Donald linked the change at least in part to sensitivity toward local issues.

“With 120,000 employees representing more than 60 countries from around the world, respecting the sensitivities of people from all backgrounds is a core value,” Arnold wrote. “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.”

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