FLORIDA, United States, Wednesday April 20, 2016 – A federal lawsuit is claiming that Carnival Corporation is discriminating against Cuban-Americans who weren’t allowed to book tickets on a cruise to the communist Caribbean country.
CNN reports that when Carnival announced plans for a cruise ship from its Fathom line to sail from Miami to Havana in May, Francisco Marty jumped at the opportunity to surprise his children with a trip back to their native land.
Marty, who has cruised so many times that he’s a Platinum VIP in the company’s rewards programme, nevertheless got a rude awakening when a representative told him he couldn’t go on the inaugural trip because he was born in Cuba.
Now, Marty is part of a class-action lawsuit claiming that Carnival is discriminating against Cuban-Americans looking to travel to their homeland.
Filed by Marty and fellow traveller Amparo Sanchez, the lawsuit alleges that Carnival is violating federal civil rights laws and discriminating against Cubans by denying them tickets.
“VIVA CUBA LIBRE!” Clip of today’s protest in front of Carnival Cruise HQ in Doral. pic.twitter.com/rh4GtJcBWO
— Joel Franco (@OfficialJoelF) April 12, 2016
A Carnival spokesperson responded to the suit in a statement, saying, “This is not a decision by our Fathom brand, but rather a Cuba decision.”
The statement cites a Cold War-era Cuban law that does not allow Cuban-born individuals to enter the country by ships, only via plane.
The statement added that Carnival has requested a change in the law and has been working with the Cuban government on the issue for months.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry added his voice to the controversy last week during a visit to Miami-Dade College, telling the Miami Herald: “Carnival needs to not discriminate.”
A spokesman for the State Department later clarified Kerry’s remarks, explaining that Kerry “in no way meant to convey that Carnival is supporting policies that are discriminating against Cuban-American travellers.”
Kerry went on to tell CNN en Español: “The United States government will never support, never condone discrimination. And the Cuban government should not have the right to enforce on us a policy of discrimination against people who have the right to travel.
“We should not be in a situation where the Cuban government is forcing its discrimination policy on us.
“So we call on the government of Cuba to change that policy, and to recognize that if they want full relations and a normal relationship with the United States, they have to live by international laws, not exclusively by Cuban laws,” he said.
Carnival changed course on Monday, announcing that it will accept bookings on its Fathom line from all travellers to Cuba, regardless of their country of origin.
The company said it’s asking the Cuban government that travel on its ships be treated the same as air charters to Cuba and remains confident its negotiations “will result in a positive outcome for everyone who wants to travel to Cuba, including those who are Cuba-born.”
“We want everyone to be able to go to Cuba with us,” said Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corporation. “We remain excited about this historic opportunity.”
If successful, the cruise will mark the first time in over 50 years that a cruise ship has sailed from the US to Cuba, Carnival said.
Francisco Marty nevertheless remains in limbo, according to CNN.
His attorney, Robert Rodriguez, said Marty has health issues that keep him from flying to the island.
Marty reportedly took part in the abortive 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and had been hoping to return to the beach he landed on to take “before” and “after” photos for an exhibit at a Miami museum, Rodriguez said.
Then, he was told he wouldn’t be allowed on the ship.
“They said, ‘Sorry, you can’t go because you’re Cuban,’ ” Rodriguez said. “That’s just not the American way. You were given permission to sail to Cuba, not break the laws of the US.”
“I hope that Carnival cooperates, in terms of getting this litigated before the first cruise,” Rodriguez added.
The weeklong cruise is scheduled to sail to Havana on May 1, also making stops in Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. Tickets start at US$1,800 per person, excluding other costs, such as Cuban visas.
According to CNN, Rodriguez is confident the suit will succeed. One reason: the US government has weighed in on similar situations in the past.
Miami-based civil rights attorney John de Leon says there are at least two similar cases in recent history.
De Leon pointed to Kuwait Airways, which had a policy banning Israeli citizens from traveling between JFK and London’s Heathrow airport.
“The Department of Transportation came out very strongly. … They said they would not allow discrimination for anybody who is leaving an American port,” said de Leon, who is a Cuban –American.
The airline eventually suspended the flight altogether.