TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Reaction was mixed Friday after the Carnival Corporation announced a reversal of a Cuban policy that threatened to scuttle the cruise line’s first voyage from Miami to Havana in over half a century.
Cuba wasn’t going to allow Cuban-born passengers to enter the island nation by sea under a long-standing law that dates back to the embargo’s chilliest days. But after more than a week of talks with Carnival, the Cuban government dropped that policy.
“We will be the first cruise line in over 50 years to sail from the U.S. to Cuba and back,” Carnival CEO Arnold Donald said. “And that’s including with the opportunity to have those on board who were born in Cuba.”
Cuba’s prior ban on Cuban-born cruise passengers rankled anti-Castro activists from Miami to Tampa, sparking two lawsuits. Tampa activist Mario Quevedo called for Port Tampa Bay to stop doing business with Carnival because of the company’s dealings with the Castro regime.
Quevedo insisted Friday the policy reversal doesn’t change anything. “A bunch of gangsters do things at their convenience,” he said referring to the Cuban government.
Port Tampa Bay Vice President Raul Alfonso praised the policy change and said he looks forward to the day when Havana-bound cruise ships depart out of Tampa.
“It’s a natural,” Alfonso said. He pointed out that Havana is only 18 hours away by cruise ship from Tampa and said the port has been looking forward to commerce with Cuba for many years.
Tampa-based Frank Reno is a travel agent who specializes in organizing group travel to Cuba. He sees the cruises as a positive development after decades of chilly relations between the U.S. and Cuba. He also believes Tampa won’t be far behind in snagging its own cruise business to Cuba.
“Tampa seems like a natural in every way shape and form,” Reno said. “I think it will be a positive relationship for both the Cuban people and the American people.”