April 18, 2016 at 11:21 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Cruise, travel companies challenge Cuba immigration regulation

Mi Cayito, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

A tattered rainbow flag flies over Mi Cayito, a gay beach east of Havana on May 18, 2015. Cruise and travel companies, including those that cater to LGBT travelers, are urging the Cuban government to allow those who were born on the island to travel to their homeland by sea. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A U.S. cruise line on Monday said it would postpone trips to Cuba if a policy that prohibits anyone who was born on the Communist island from traveling there by sea remains in place.

Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald in a statement said Cuban nationals are now able to book reservations for the Adonia, a 704-passenger cruise ship that the company’s Fathom brand operates.

The Adonia is scheduled to depart Miami on May 1 for a week-long cruise that is scheduled to dock in Havana and the cities of Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. Donald in his statement notes the Adonia will be the first cruise ship to sail from the U.S. to the Communist island in more than 50 years.

Ads that are promoting the cruise — that will sail to Cuba from Miami every other week — are currently running on D.C. television stations.

“As we continue our discussions with Cuba, and in anticipation of Fathom travelers being on equal footing with those who travel by air, we are accepting bookings from all travelers, including Cuba-born individuals,” said Donald. “However if Cuba’s decision is delayed beyond May 1, we will delay the start of our sailings.”

Cuban policy ‘spectacularly absurd’

Donald released his statement less than a week after a lawyer filed lawsuits on behalf of four Cuban Americans who claim they suffered discrimination because Carnival prohibited them from booking the cruise.

Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez — who were both born in Cuba — are among those who criticized Carnival’s decision not to allow Cuban nationals to book reservations on the Adonia.

The Associated Press reported that opponents of the Communist island’s government protested outside the cruise company’s headquarters in the Miami suburb of Doral. Others have called for a Carnival boycott.

“I would counsel them (Carnival) that they need to be sensitive to the fact of discrimination and they should not embrace a policy that is Cuban, which winds up discriminating against Americans,” said Secretary of State John Kerry on April 14 during an interview with WPLG, a South Florida television station.

Freedom to Work President Tico Almeida, who is Cuban American, also weighed in.

“One thing the Castro brothers have in common with too many Republicans in the U.S. Congress is they all want to diminish freedom by restricting the right to travel,” Almeida told the Washington Blade on Monday. “The Cuban ban on Cuban-born people traveling in boats is just as spectacularly absurd as the American embargo and the travel ban preventing us from visiting Cuba. It’s long past time for all of these outdated laws to end so that both Americans and Cubans have the freedom to travel.”

Gay cruise organizer opposes Cuban policy

The Obama administration announced in late 2014 the U.S. would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba that ended in 1961.

Al and Chuck Travel, a Florida-based company that caters to LGBT travelers, has organized three cruises to Cuba so far this year.

The most recent of these cruises departed from Montego Bay, Jamaica, on April 8 and made stops in Havana, Cienfuegos, Santiago de Cuba and María la Gorda. The itinerary that Al and Chuck Travel posted to its website includes a disclosure that notes Cuban nationals are not allowed to enter the island by sea.

“At this time the Cuban authorities ‘will not permit’ any person of Cuban citizenship (every person born in Cuba is considered a citizen,) regardless of dual nationality or country of residence, from embarking or disembarking at any Cuban port,” it reads.

Al and Chuck Travel President Al Ferguson told the Blade on Monday during a telephone interview that he met with Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who promotes LGBT-specific issues as the director of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education, and Cuban tourism officials in Havana on April 12.

Ferguson said in response to the Blade’s question about Cuba’s human rights record that the meeting “mostly focused on travel.” He added that the National Center for Sexual Education, which is known by the Spanish acronym CENESEX, is “keenly desiring the American gay market.”

Mariela Castro Espín, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, IDAHAT

Mariela Castro speaks at an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia rally in Las Tunas, Cuba, on May 16, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers) (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Brand g Vacations,, a Minneapolis-based company that caters to LGBT travelers, organized a cruise around in Cuba in February 2015 with more than 50 passengers.

The prohibition of Cuban nationals from entering the island by sea did not apply to the cruise because it began in Havana. Jeff Gundvaldson, co-owner of Brand g Vacations, told the Blade on Monday during a television interview that a Cuban national who had booked the cruise had to cancel because he did not obtain the necessary visa from the Communist island’s government about which he “did not know.”

“If we truly are going to have open relations with Cuba, Cuba-born nationals have to be allowed to return one way or another without bureaucracy,” said Gundvaldson. “I would be in favor of having those restrictions lifted…it’s part of what the government should require on our side along with human rights.”

The Cuban government has yet to respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

Cuba, Mi Cayito, gay news, Washington Blade

Cuban men talk to each other at Mi Cayito, a gay beach near Havana, on May 18, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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