Political pressure mounts against Carnival over Cuba trip

View of the Fathom Adonia Cruise ship from Carnival Corp. at PortMiami earlier this month.
View of the Fathom Adonia Cruise ship from Carnival Corp. at PortMiami earlier this month. Courtesy

Carnival Corp.’s scheduled sail to Cuba — even if Cuban-born Americans can’t buy tickets — has accomplished a rare and unintended political feat: bipartisan agreement against the cruise company’s plans.

Some Republican and Democratic members of Congress and candidates running for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives told the Miami Herald on Friday that Carnival shouldn’t transport passengers to the island while Cuba maintains its policy barring native Cubans from traveling by sea to their country of birth.

Asked about the mounting political pressure, a Carnival spokesman said Friday afternoon that the company hopes Cuba will lift its decree before the ship’s departure.

“We continue to believe that Cuba will allow Fathom to travel there in the same way charter aircrafts do today before we sail there on our inaugural cruise on May 1, based on our ongoing discussions with Cuban officials,” Carnival spokesman Roger Frizzell said in a statement.

“We appreciate and understand the concerns being voiced, and we are hopeful this will be resolved before we ever sail.”

According to current regulations, Cuban-born Americans can travel to Cuba on airplanes.

We have confidence this issue will be resolved before we ever sail.

Roger Frizzell, Carnival Corp. spokesman

Opposing the trip were 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).

“Carnival should not sail to Cuba until the ban on Cuban-born passengers is lifted,” Grayson told the Herald in a phone interview. “I would not forbid Carnival to sail through public action, but I would heavily discourage it and try to persuade Carnival not to sail to Cuba until the policy is changed.”

Through a spokesman, the Cuban-born Beruff said in a statement that Carnival should “stop all trips to Cuba.” “Since when do we let Communist dictators tell us what to do?” In a statement, DeSantis said that the U.S. has given unilateral concessions to Cuba, and “the last thing we need is for these concessions to compromise the values of our country.” Lopez-Cantera, whose father was born in Cuba, called the trip a “fiasco” and said agreeing to Cuba’s policy would be “bad business.”

A spokeswoman for a fifth Senate candidate, Republican Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores, near Tampa, said the U.S. should “demand a reversal of the regime’s position” but would not directly comment on whether Carnival should cancel its trip. The same was true for Republican defense contractor Todd Wilcox of Orlando, who is also running for Senate.

The Doral-based cruise company faces significant backlash, including local protests and a lawsuit, over the trip, planned for the company’s new Fathom brand. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a Cuban-born Republican in a nonpartisan post, called on Carnival earlier this week to cancel its plans — and asked county attorneys to find out whether Carnival’s booking policy is discriminatory under a county ordinance protecting human rights. Carnival sails from PortMiami, a county facility.

On Friday, the county’s Community Relations Board and Hispanic Affairs Advisory Board both wrote to Carnival asking it to reconsider its plans.

That politicians like Curbelo, Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen, all vocal critics of Obama’s Cuba rapprochement, would insist on keeping Carnival from sea is hardly surprising. Ros-Lehtinen gave several interviews decrying the plans. Curbelo posted on Twitter last week that engaging Cuba “shouldn’t require discriminating against Americans.”

“When you make deals and provide concessions to a murderous, brutal dictatorship, they do not raise their standards,” Diaz-Balart told the Herald in a statement Friday. “Instead, they make you lower yours.”

That the three Republicans would be joined by Democrats Garcia and Taddeo, promoters of the White House’s policy, is more noteworthy.

Taddeo, who is Colombian American, weighed in even before Secretary of State John Kerry told the Herald on Thursday that it was wrong for Cuba to exclude Cuban-born Americans from sailing to the island. In a statement Wednesday, Taddeo urged Carnival to follow in the footsteps of its competitor Norwegian Cruise Lines, which stopped travel to Tunisia after that country barred Jewish passengers from disembarking at port.

“I encourage Carnival to follow the example set by Norwegian and refuse to cooperate with a policy that singles out and discriminates against one group of Americans,” said Taddeo, who also wrote to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew asking him to push Cuba to “see the error in this policy.”

Discrimination is discrimination.

Democratic congressional candidate Joe Garcia of Miami

“Discrimination is discrimination, and we should never tolerate governments who discriminate under the guise of policy for anyone, not for sexual orientation, race, creed, or national origin,” Garcia said in a statement to the Herald.

Both Curbelo and Garcia are sons of Cuban exiles, though they usually disagree on Cuba policy, with Garcia — once a hard-liner — favoring far closer U.S. ties. Taddeo’s position has also evolved, from her support for the U.S. trade embargo in 2008 to her current support for lifting the embargo and for Obama’s recent Havana trip.