Carnival Corp. should simply reverse course.
It stands to lose more than it gains if its Fathom cruise line sets sail to Cuba on May 1 as planned. It will be sailing to the island without Cuban-born Americans, banned by Cuban law, to which Carnival acquiesced.
The company can put to rest — now — the hurt, the outcry, the lawsuit and the venom that its decision has unleashed by staying put at PortMiami, unless the Cuban government relents on this vindictive and discriminatory policy against those who fled the island in search of something far better. Cuba’s law, a relic of the Cold War — continued by a regime that, itself, is an anachronism — prohibits Cuban nationals from returning to the island by sea. Those restrictions do not apply for Cuban-born Americans who fly to the island, a ridiculous double standard.
This week, opposition to Carnival’s agreement to abide by the law that excludes Cuban-born Americans grew more vociferous:
▪ Two plaintiffs, Amparo Sanchez and Francisco Marty, were denied cruise tickets to Cuba and filed a class-action lawsuit against Carnival Corp. and its Fathom cruise line, alleging that the company is violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in places of accommodation.
Carnival has responded that it hopes Cuba will waive the discriminatory law and that the lawsuit is “without merit or substance.” Jim Walker, a Miami-based maritime attorney, says, though, that it’s a credible claim. “A cruise ship is just a floating hotel,” he told the Editorial Board.
▪ Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez slammed the policy, saying that it violates the county’s human-rights rules.
▪ About 50 protesters picketed in front of Carnival’s headquarters in Doral, spurred by Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago’s revelation that she could not make Fathom reservations because of where she was born.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Rebeca Sosa was right when she said: “If you don’t have the ability as a U.S. citizen to go wherever you want, then I have a problem with that — because the United States is a democracy.” Of course, this is exactly how many Americans felt, for decades denied access to Cuba pre-normalization.
To be clear, anyone seeking to do business in Cuba has to make some sort of deal with the devil. Since normalization, travel restrictions that hamstrung U.S. citizens have been loosened, but there are restrictions nonetheless.
American tourists who fall into one of 12 categories now can land on the island without first receiving permission from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control.
There is precedent for Cuba’s unseemly exclusion. A few years ago, the cruise line NCL initially was prohibited from letting Israeli passport holders disembark in Tunisia. The cruise line said it did not know that would be the case, and eliminated Tunis as a port of call.
Last year, Kuwait Airways suspended flights between New York and London after the U.S. Department of Transportation objected to its turning away Israeli passport holders. This was a win for an Israeli citizen who filed a discrimination complaint after the airline — based in a country that does not recognize Israel — refused to sell him a ticket for the New York-London route.
For years, Carnival has been a stellar local corporate citizen. Its foundation has generously spread its largess to improve literacy, pediatric care, the arts and education.
But its triumph in becoming the first U.S. cruise company to secure Cuba’s OK to sail to to the island comes at the expense of community members who themselves refused to acquiesce to the Cuban dictatorship. And it’s discrimination, plain and simple, something Carnival should not perpetuate. Reverse course.