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New cruise to Cuba beckons U.S. citizens … except the Cuban born

Published Apr. 13, 2016

A class-action lawsuit has been filed against Carnival Corp. and its Fathom cruise line, alleging that the cruise company is violating civil rights by denying Cuba-born Americans the ability to sail on its upcoming voyage to Cuba.

Carnival is abiding by a Cuban law that prohibits Cuban nationals from returning to the island by sea. Cuban-born Americans can, however, travel to the island on an airplane. Fathom is set to sail to Cuba starting May 1.

According to the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Miami on Tuesday, plaintiffs Amparo Sanchez and Francisco Marty were denied a ticket on Fathom's sailing to Cuba when they revealed they were born in Cuba.

A Fathom representative told Sanchez and Marty, who is a frequent Carnival cruiser, that Carnival has been "working on the issue for months" and did not want to lose the loyalty of its customers, according to the lawsuit. However, the cruise line told them it had to abide by the Cuban policy and could not complete their bookings on the Cuba sailings.

On Wednesday, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez also spoke out against Carnival's decision, saying the policy violates the county's human-rights rules. Gimenez has asked county lawyers to determine whether Carnival is in violation of local law that bans discrimination based on national origin.

"As a Cuban-born, naturalized American citizen myself, it is clear to me that this policy violates the code," Gimenez wrote in a memo.

The lawsuit alleges that Carnival Corp. and Fathom have "adopted a policy to support Cuba's boycott of Cuban-born individuals from traveling to and from Cuba by ship."

"If you are going to use U.S. facilities, you have to abide the laws by the United States," said Robert W. Rodriguez, the attorney for the plaintiffs.

On Fathom's website, the cruise line says it is "Carnival's policy to obey the regulations and laws of the countries to sail to around the world."

Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald said in an interview Tuesday that the cruise company has been working to petition the Cuban government to change the policy.

"Cuban-born individuals are allowed to fly to Cuba and we just want a similar process," Donald said. "We expressed that respectfully and appropriately (to Cuban authorities)."

But according to the lawsuit, Carnival's acceptance of the Cuban policy violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in places of accommodation. According to the law, a place of accommodation can be defined as an "establishment which provides lodging to transient guests," including cruise ships.

Tuesday, about 50 protesters gathered in front of Carnival Corp.'s Doral headquarters to decry the cruise company's policy.

Ramon Saul Sanchez, president of the Democracy Movement, which organized the protest, said Carnival should take a stand against Cuba's policy — or not sail to Cuba.

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"It's something very un-American for a country to tell citizens that because you are of this nationality, they can't sell you a ticket," Sanchez said.