MIAMI – The Cuban government will allow Cuban-born citizens to travel to the country on cruise ships, reversing a long-standing policy.
In a statement released Friday in the state-run newspaper Granma, the government said it will allow Cuban-born citizens to return to the country as passengers and crew members on cruise ships, beginning on April 26.
The decision comes amid multiple lawsuits from Cuban-born citizens who claimed Carnival Cruise Line was discriminating against them. Earlier this week, Carnival announced it would accept bookings on its Fathom line from all travelers to Cuba, regardless of their country of origin.
"Mr. (Micky) Arison and Carnival have been great corporate citizens in Miami-Dade County for more than 40 years," Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a statement. "This policy change was the right thing to do, and I congratulate both Mr. Arison and Carnival on their efforts in what is probably one of the very few times that a corporation has successfully negotiated the changing of a policy with the Cuban government."
Carnival CEO Arnold Donald said in a news conference Friday that he too was happy about Cuba's decision to change its policy.
"We made history a few weeks ago and we're making history again today of being a part of it," Donald said. "Most importantly, we are a part of a positive future and that's what we’re most proud of."
"It is an honor and privilege that we will be the first cruise line in over 50 years to sail from the U.S. to Cuba and back, and that's including to have onboard those who were born in Cuba."
The protests and lawsuits that were filed after Carnival first denied Cuban-born travelers from boarding its ships admittedly made the Miami-based cruise line nervous.
"When the noise got up to the level it did we were concerned that their might be some consternation on the other side to back away," Donald said.
The Democracy Movement, which staged the protests, praised Carnival on Friday saying it is a good first step.
"A citizen of Cuba should not have to ask for a visa to return to their own homeland whether by plane or by boat," Cuban activist Ramon Saul Sanchez said.
The announcement from the Cuban government said Cuban-born citizens traveling to the island must do so through proper channels, and with the appropriate visas.
Despite the change in the policy, members of the Cuban Democratic Directorate said Carnival has still "succumbed to the Castro Regime and is collaborating with its discriminatory and repressive policies."
"No vacation cruise should travel to a country where such harsh repression still happens, where discrimination against Cuban-born U.S. citizens is still in place," said Dr. Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat, co-founder and spokesman of the Cuban Democratic Directorate. "Thousands of Cubans are lying at the bottom of that sea which the cruise ships will sail on, and the money from those cruises will simply enrich that regime which forced their deaths."