A little more than two years after President Obama approved limited American tourism to Cuba, cruise ships departing from U.S. ports are no longer permitted to make Havana a port of call. On Tuesday, June 4, President Trump imposed a travel ban on American visits to the Caribbean island, leaving some cruise ship passengers in the lurch. Meanwhile, cruise ship companies scrambled to arrange alternate stops or revise itineraries so as not to violate the ban.
The Reason for the Restrictions
A statement issued by the U.S. Department of State said that the reason for the new travel restrictions was to avoid “enriching the Cuban military, security, and intelligence services.” In particular, the statement cited the Cuban government’s treatment of its people; it also alleges Cuban government involvement in the crisis in Venezuela, and the Cuban government’s support of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro in particular. While the Trump Administration’s intentions to curtail American tourism to Cuba had been known for a while and many cruise ship companies had been watching developments closely, the decision to end travel effective immediately on June 4 took some travelers by surprise.
The Roots of Today’s Unraveling
The U.S. and Cuba have long had a fraught relationship. The most recent strains on it have roots in the wake of Fidel Castro’s ascent to power in 1959 and his embrace of communism. The U.S. cut diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1961, followed shortly thereafter by economic sanctions and other measures meant to break Castro’s hold on the island country. In 2014, there was some limited restoration of international diplomacy between the U.S. and Cuba, with President Obama loosening some sanctions and travel restrictions in 2015.
A Sudden Change of Plans
According to Cruise Lines International Association, an industry group, more than three-quarters of a million cruise ship travelers may be affected, including those aboard ships that recently set sail with plans to visit Cuba. Most cruise ships already at sea when the travel ban went into effect visited alternative ports, such as Nassau, Bahamas, instead of Havana. Some cruise lines, such as Norwegian, made special arrangements for affected passengers already at sea, including limited refunds and credits toward future cruises to help make up for it.
What to Do If Your Travel Plans are Affected
Passengers whose plans to visit Cuba by cruise may not see those same offers; each cruise ship company may be handling the situation differently. Travelers who booked a cruise that included a stop in Cuba should consult with their travel agent or the cruise line they booked through for up-to-date information about alternative itineraries and any compensation that may be available to them.