Will federal lawsuit prevent maiden sea voyage to Cuba?

| Apr 26, 2016 | Business Litigation

President Obama made headlines last month when he became the first sitting Commander-in-Chief to visit Cuba since 1928. Indeed, his historic visit to the island nation marked the latest step in our nation’s rebuilding of ties with our former Cold War foe, which, to date, has seen trade deals implemented, and embassies reopened in both Washington, D.C., and Havana.

With this re-establishment of both economic and diplomatic channels has also come an interest in re-establishing the tourism industry. Indeed, the travel company Fathom, a subsidiary of Miami-based Carnival Corporation, is scheduled to launch the first ship to Cuba in more than 50 years next month.

Interestingly enough, however, the Fathom cruise ship may not be going anywhere, as Carnival Corporation was recently hit with a federal lawsuit filed by two Cuban-Americans asking for the planned voyage to be brought to a halt.

Specifically, the two passengers allege in their lawsuit that they were informed that they couldn’t purchase tickets on Fathom’s maiden voyage due to the fact that they were born in Cuba and that these discriminatory booking practices violated their rights under the Civil Rights Act.      

For its part, Carnival has indicated that the lawsuit is “without merit or substance” owing to the fact that the policy of not selling tickets to Cuban-born people is not their decision, but rather reflective of a policy of the Cuban government not to let people born on the island return there by water.

According to experts, this policy was instituted for security purposes several decades ago after people began fleeing the county by boats and rafts. Here, the concern of the Cuban government was that some of these individuals could attempt to re-enter the country by the same means and engage in harmful activity.

“We have requested a change in the regulation and are actively working on the issue,” said a Carnival spokesperson. “It is our hope and intention that everyone can travel and we will continue to pursue a change in the regulation that puts cruising on the same footing as aircraft travel is today in Cuba.”   

It remains to be seen whether the Cuban government is responsive to these entreaties to change its travel policies.

It’s also worth noting that Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has requested an official legal opinion as to whether Fathom and Carnival are violating county code by restricting travel based on national origin and, perhaps more significantly, whether this policy violates the terms of a contract the two carriers have with the city to operate out of PortMiami.

Stay tuned for updates.

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