On Friday, the Cuban government's official news outlet, Granma, published a notice on its English-language website that regulations governing arrival of Cuban citizens had been changed to permit people of all nationalities to arrive by cruise ship in Cuba.
Until the announcement, Cuban law forbade Cuban nationals from returning by sea, allowing only for their ability to arrive by air. The regulation was a vestige of the Cold War, intended to prevent espionage and infiltration.
Earlier this year, Cuba had given permission for Carnival Corporation to begin operating cruises to Havana and other ports, and Carnival had begun selling tickets for the maiden voyage of its Fathom brand – to all except for Cuban citizens, in compliance with Cuban law.
However, Carnival soon faced a civil rights lawsuit from Cuban-Americans claiming discrimination, and pressure from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who called on the cruise line and on the Cuban government to allow all customers the right to make the trip by sea.
In response, Carnival said that it would sell tickets to all, and would delay its first sailing until such time as Cuba changed its immigration rules. On Friday, Cuban authorities acceded.
"The Government of the Republic of Cuba has decided . . . to authorize the entry and exit of Cuban citizens, regardless of their immigration status, as passengers and crew on merchant ships," effective April 26, Granma announced. Carnival's Fathom brand had scheduled its first Cuba-bound departure for May 1, and on Friday Carnival confirmed that its vessel Adonia would sail as planned.
“This is a positive outcome and we are extremely pleased,” said Carnival CEO Arnold Donald. “We want to extend our sincere appreciation to Cuba and to our team who worked so hard to help make this happen.”
The Cuban government held off on Cubans’ arrival by private craft, however. It intends to "authorize gradually, and once the necessary conditions are created, the entry and exit of Cuban citizens . . . on pleasure boats (yachts)."
Cubans have been departing the island for the U.S. in record numbers over the past year, both by air and by sea.