Last cruise ship leaves Cuba as fresh US sanctions bite
The last US cruise liner to stop over in Cuba sailed out again Wednesday as stepped-up US sanctions against the Communist-run island came into force. Cubans who have welcomed and benefited from such visits as part of a rapproachment with the United States under Barack Obama in 2015 and 2016 watched sadly as the Empress of the Seas headed out to sea. Passengers waved from the deck of the huge whitevessel and waved small red, white, and blue Cuban flags.
The Bahamian-flagged ship operated by US company Royal Caribbean Cruises docked in Havana on Tuesday just as the new sanctions were announced, taking many passengers by surprise. It was supposed to stay for two days, but has now left early. Pre sident Donald Trump ordered a halt to these cruise ship stopovers and a clamp-down on US visas for visiting Cuba as part of a strategy to cut the flow of dollars to a country that Washington accuses of helping prop up Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Mario Diaz, a 19 year old disc jockey waiting for a bus as he watched the cruise ship depart, said Obama’s visit here a year after the longtime Cold War foes restored relations in 2015 was an unforgettable event and one that brought great hope. “All this is so sad, really,” said Lopez, “for Trump to come in and turn everything back from one day to the next.” Fernando Santana, a 50-yearold fisherman, remembers using his cell phone to film the arrival of the first US cruise ship back in 2016.
He recalls how Cubans and visitors alike shouted with joy as blasts from its fog horn echoed across the port of Havana. Santana said Obama had worked hard to bring Americans and Cubans together. “Then a donkey came along, and with its feet it kicked down everything that the other guy had done with his head,” said Santana. Americans who were on the departing ship said they knew nothing about the new US sanctions.
Some found out while walking around Havana during the abbreviated port call. “Right or wrong, we know nothing about it as American citizens. It was a total surprise to us,” passenger Linda Mensure from Texas said. “We have got people scheduled to come next week and now they won’t be able to. It’s sad,” said Jim Johnson, from Florida, referring to vacationers who had bought tickets for cruises that were to include Cuba on the itinerary.
“I’m one of hundreds of very angry passengers aboard a cruise ship in the middle of the Caribbean,” said Cindy Hamilton, a nurse from Terre Ha u t e, Indiana, said i n a tweet. “Weall planned this cruise anticipating our stop in Cuba. Very upset!” The Treasury Department banned group educational travel, cruise ship and private yacht visits by Americans, taking aim at the most common ways US tourists and Cuban-Americans visit the Caribbean island.
The move could constitute a heavy hit on Cuba, which saw more than a quarter-million US visitors in the first four months of 2019, almost double the figure from a year earlier. The Cruise Lines International Association said the new US measure will affect nearly 800,000 reservations that were already made or being finalized. Cuba and the United States restored ties in 2015 and Obama himself visited Havana in a historic presidential trip in March 2016, meeting with then-presi- dent Raul Castro.