Cuba clears way for cruise ship resumption

GMT 09:15 2016 Saturday ,23 April

Arab Today, arab today Cuba clears way for cruise ship resumption

Cubans will be free to travel by boat, having previously only been permitted
Havana - AFP

Cuba cleared the way Friday for the resumption of cruise voyages to and from the United States, lifting a restriction that barred travelers born in Cuba from the trips.

The restriction dates back to the Cold War and stemmed from fears of a US-backed invasion from the sea.

It will be lifted Tuesday, a statement published in the communist party newspaper Granma said.

The change -- until now Cubans could only travel to and from the United States by plane -- is yet another fruit of the restoration of diplomatic relations last year between Havana and Washington.

Its climax was a historic visit to Cuba last month by President Barack Obama.

Commercial flights between the two countries are also expected to resume soon.

Leisure giant Carnival, which has permission from both governments to run cruise ships between Florida and Cuba, welcomed the Cuban announcement and said the first ship will leave Miami on May 1.

The statement made no mention of ferry services, even though the United States has granted licenses to a half dozen companies to operate such sea links.

Initially, because of the now-lifted restriction, Carnival could not accept cruise ship reservations from people born in Cuba.

Amid an uproar from Miami's big Cuban-American community, largely opposed to the Cuban government, and from the US government, Carnival reversed course and said it would take reservations from people of Cuban origin.

- Cold War tension -

Carnival had said it was in talks with the Cuban government on lifting the maritime entry and exit restriction, and warned that the first cruise would be postponed past May 1 unless the Cubans changed their policy.

The government statement published Friday said Cubans can now enter and leave the country on cruise ships "regardless of their migratory status."

Carnival responded with a statement saying, it was "proud to play a role" in the change.

"Carnival will be able to include all travelers, including individuals born in Cuba, on to our cruiser voyages to Cuba, that will begin on May 1, with our historical inaugural voyage," it added.

The restriction on Cubans entering from the United States by sea goes back to the tensest days of the Cold War, after the Cuban Revolution of 1959.

It was designed to prevent anti-communist militants from landing on Cuban shores to try to overthrow the government, as in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 against Fidel Castro.

As it freed up maritime travel Friday, the government urged the United States to find ways "to prevent and confront the carrying out of terrorist actions against Cuba, which were what gave rise to the regulation" in the first place.

The lifting of the restriction on Cubans leaving on US-bound cruise ships is also sensitive.

Many Cubans fleeing poverty attempt to reach Florida in rickety vessels, and the dangerous trips have been on the rise.

Cubans fear that with the resumption of ties with Washington, the Americans will end a preferential policy under which Cuban migrants who make it to land in America are allowed to stay, but sent back if caught at sea.

Despite the restoration of ties, the United States has maintained its trade embargo against Cuba, and regular, full-fledged US tourism to Cuba is still banned.


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