Saturday, April 30, 2016

With rough legal seas behind it, Fathom cruise will set sail for Cuba

With rough legal seas behind it, Fathom cruise will set sail for Cuba

Carnival's Fathom line makes history Sunday with first U.S. cruise to
Cuba in more than 50 years
Protests, two lawsuits, exile ire over a Cuban policy threatened to
scuttle the cruise
After Cuban policy shift, about a dozen Cuban-born passengers will be aboard

The change in Cuban policy came too late for Francisco Marty and Amparo
Sánchez, who were born in Cuba and had been denied bookings on Carnival
Corp.'s first cruise to Cuba, to shift their travel plans.

So when Carnival's Fathom line ship Adonia steams out of PortMiami
Sunday afternoon on the first U.S. cruise to the island in more than
half a century, they won't be aboard even though Cuba relented, dropping
a decades-old policy on April 22 that prevented those born there from
entering or leaving by vessel.

After Marty and Sánchez were thwarted in trying to book a Fathom voyage
to celebrate a special occasion, they filed a class-action suit, since
withdrawn, against Carnival and Fathom alleging the companies were
violating civil rights by denying tickets to Cuban-born individuals and
going along with the Cuban policy.

But Tucker Ronzetti, one of their lawyers, said the pair would like to
go on a future cruise to Cuba.

"We filed our case with one, simple goal: to end discrimination against
Cuban-born Americans who were being denied cruises to Cuba based on
their place of birth," said Ronzetti when the suit was dropped Thursday.
"We look forward to all U.S. citizens, Cuban-born or otherwise, now
equally enjoying cruises to Cuba."

There will be about a dozen travelers born in Cuba, including several
Cuban-born Carnival executives, making the seven-day trip that
circumnavigates the island and includes stops in Havana, Santiago de
Cuba and Cienfuegos, said Roger Frizzell, Carnival's chief spokesman.

Arnie Pérez, Carnvial's chief legal officer, and his wife Carmen, both
born in Cuba, are expected to be the first ones off the ship when the
Adonia docks in Havana, its first port of call, at 10 a.m. Monday. The
arrival will be marked with pomp and circumstance, including a
traditional exchange of plaques with Fathom's Cuban partner, Havanatur.

"Our arrival in Havana will be a special moment in history that
contributes to a more positive future," said Frizzell. "We are extremely
excited and very humbled by this historic opportunity for our guests to
experience Cuba."

But in recent weeks, it has been anything but smooth sailing for
Carnival and Fathom. Protests, two lawsuits, exile ire and condemnation
by politicians threatened to scuttle the cruise indefinitely. In the
face of it, Carnival said the Adonia wouldn't sail until Cuba dropped
its discriminatory policy and all its potential passengers would be able
to travel on an equal footing.

Then on April 21, Carnival got a phone call from Cuban authorities
saying it was "likely" they would be ending the policy barring vessel
arrivals and departures by those born on the island, said Frizzell. But
Carnival didn't learn of the actual shift in policy until around 5:30
a.m. the next morning after a statement about the change was published
in Granma, the Communist Party's newspaper.

It capped intense negotiations by Carnival to hasten the end to the
Cuban policy. Pérez, Carnival Chief Executive Arnold Donald, and Fathom
President Tara Russell made several trips to the island to try to break
the impasse.

Amidst the controversy, Adonia reservations slowed to a trickle, said
Frizzell. But after Cuba's announcement, he said, "We saw the floodgates
begin to open."

All the cabins on the 704-passenger-capacity Adonia have been sold out,
but the actual passenger count is 600 because of higher numbers of
single occupancies.

There will be full refunds or the ability to book on a future Fathom
cruise for anyone who couldn't get the proper credentials in time, said

Fathom will send off the Adonia with Cuban flair. Passengers can pick up
a café Cubano at a coffee kiosk and the cruise line will be handing out
hand fans. As the Adonia heads out to sea from PortMiami, a band will
play and the ship will be saluted with a water spray canon on a tugboat.

Before the Fathom imbroglio was resolved, it bubbled over into what
lawyer Pedro Freyre called "a quintessential Cuban drama. It was
definitely a very Cuban, very emotional issue."

Although some people referred to the vessel restriction as a Cuban law,
it wasn't.

"We believe it was an executive action," said Ronzetti. "It had the face
of a law but it wasn't a piece of legislation."

And that meant Cuban leaders could change it at will.

It had its genesis in security concerns that date back to a time when
Cubans were stealing boats to come to the United States and there were
fears they might return by sea for sabotage or people-smuggling
operations. In 2003, a group of armed Cubans, for example, hijacked a
passenger ferry west of Havana, holding nearly 50 hostages, until they
ran out of gas in international waters. Three of the hijackers were
charged with terrorism and executed after a quick trial.

But by 2016 when the United States and Cuba had renewed diplomatic ties
and were trying to forge a new relationship, and both sides had given
their approval for the new cruise service, the policy had "become an
illogical anachronism," said Freyre, an engagement proponent who serves
as a lawyer for Carnival and two other cruise lines.

As the issue of discrimination galvanized the Cuban exile community, it
also created some strange bedfellows.

Some hardliners saw protesting the policy as a way to possibly stop the
Fathom cruises altogether; others simply didn't like the idea that those
born on the island would be treated differently from other cruise
passengers and the hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans who take
charter flights to the island every year.

Some of the protestors had no intention of ever returning to the island,
and still others saw it as a triumph of the new policy of engagement.

"There's never been a mechanism before for the Cuban government to
respond to demands to change something and then to have the change
actually happen. I think it speaks volumes about the new process," said

But others looked at Cuba's dropping the vessel restriction as only a
partial victory because passport and visa restrictions remain in place
for some Cuban-Americans.

Organizers of a flotilla that was being organized to protest the vessel
policy said they still planned to sail Sunday afternoon. Cubans should
have the right "to freely enter and leave the national territory without
there being a discriminatory visa process," Ramón Saul Sánchez, national
executive of the Democracy Movement, said in a statement.

Dr. Orlando Gutiérrez-Boronat, co-founder of the Cuban Democratic
Directorate, remains a cruise opponent. "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
[them] to their deaths," he said.

But for Marty, one of the lawsuit plaintiffs, it was a victory. "I once
landed on the beaches of Cuba to fight for its liberty," said the Bay of
Pigs veteran. "I did this with a rifle. I was not successful. I engaged
Cuba again by sea, this time armed with the law, and I won."

Source: With rough legal seas behind it, Fathom cruise will set sail for
Cuba | Miami Herald -

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