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  • Writer's pictureJason Leppert

Inside How Carnival Accomplished What Others Have Not in Cuba Negotiations

Following today’s news that Carnival Corporation has received approval to operate its Fathom brand with all passengers onboard – Cuban-born American citizens included – CEO Arnold Donald hosted a conference call to further detail the final go-ahead. The company’s historic first cruise is now just nine days away.

The decision is not just between Cuba and Carnival, but is a revision of a decades-old Cuban edict that will apply to all cruise lines winning approval to sail between the U.S. and Cuba. The changes become official on April 26, per Cuban officials.

“This is an extraordinary and very positive outcome from discussions we have been having for quite some time,” Donald said. “We’ve very proud to be part of this positive outcome that will impact so many.”

Carnival Corp. began seeking regulatory and government approvals once the Obama administration announced a relaxing of trade embargoes in September 2015. Cuban officials approved Carnival’s application during Obama’s trip to Cuba in late March.

While Fathom had originally received permission by the Cuban government to sail to the country from Miami, it had a decades-old regulation that prohibited Cuban-born travelers from returning by sea.

Carnival Corp.’s Fathom strategy with Cuba has involved a lot of calculated risks. When asked by reporters Friday if he knew of the issues around Cuban-born Americans traveling on Fathom, Donald made it clear that the company was working to correct the issue from the outset of negotiations.

“We were confident that we would resolve the issues involved here. In planning cruise itineraries, there is a lot of lead time needed for passengers to schedule vacation time and travel agents to help them make plans,” Donald said. “We felt confident that we could resolve the Cuban-born restrictions issue ahead of the planned May 1 itinerary when we announced it.”

When Carnival got official approval in late March for the cruise, bookings began in earnest. 

Once the restriction became more widely known, protests ensued, and Carnival decided to suspend its planned Cuban cruises until the policy was changed.

When the company announced April 11 that it was going forward with the Cuba sailings despite the restrictions for Cuban-born Americans, the news was thoroughly disappointing to Cuban Americans. 

Donald said Friday that although he certainly understood the Cuban American community’s outrage and faced concerns from Carnival Corp.’s numerous Cuban American employees, he was concerned the protests would derail negotiations. 

In making their announcement in suspending the cruise this week, the company both showed concern for human rights over profits and, seemingly, used the delay — and the potential financial hit to the Cuban ports scheduled to host the cruise — as leverage to make Cuban officials change their stance. 

Donald thanked Fathom president Tara Russell and Carnival Corp.’s general counsel and Cuba native Arnie Perez for their leadership in guiding the negotiations. As to what made Cuba decide to permit all cruise passengers, Donald deferred, pr

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