MIAMI, United States. – A federal judge in Miami ruled this Tuesday against four important cruise companies in South Florida (Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises) for participating in “prohibited tourism activities” and “trafficking” by transporting passengers to Cuba and benefitting from the use of docking installations in Havana that were once confiscated by Fidel Castro’s government.
According to information published by the daily El Nuevo Herald, the case, which is the first decision of its kind that could affect similar lawsuits, now goes to trial by jury which is scheduled for May. At the trial, damages that the cruise lines will have to pay will be decided.
“By using the Terminal and one of its docks in various manners, Carnival, MSC SA, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian committed trafficking acts,” stated federal judge Beth Bloom, whose ruling was in favor of Havana Docks, a company that holds operations privileges at Havana’s port.
According to Bloom, the cruise ship trips to Cuba “constituted tourism activities” and not activities that were adequate for the promotion of people-to-people contact. In addition, they paid “millions of dollars to the Cuban government in order to carry out inadmissible trips,” she added.
According to court papers, quoted by El Nuevo Herald, the companies made at least US$1.1 billion in earnings and paid US$ 138 million to Cuban government entities.
Bloom’s ruling states that after the U.S. government authorized “transport services via ships” that allowed cruise lines to travel to Cuba during the “thaw period” started by the administration of Barack Obama, these four companies did not follow regulations and laws that enforce compliance with the U.S. embargo against Cuba, and they ventured to travel to the island.
The cruise company could only transport U.S. passengers under 12 legal categories, and tourist activities were prohibited by law and by the Cuban Assets Control Regulations managed by the U.S. Treasury Department. There was no compliance with any of those regulations, stated Bloom.
“The four companies contracted Cuban government agencies to offer “tourist services’ that included trips to the beach, visits to night clubs and tourism tours that were classic tourism activities,” stated Bloom.
The cruise companies’ defense was based on how they interpreted “people-to-people” contact, and the Helms-Burton Law, which calls for an exception of responsibility if the use of confiscated property is related to “legal trips”.
“The fact that [the Department of the Treasury] promulgated licenses to travel to Cuba, and that officers of the Executive Branch, including the president, encouraged the Defendants to so, does not exempt them automatically from responsibility if they engaged in tourism prohibited by law,” stated Bloom.
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