Cuba Cruise Stops Plunge Over 2 Years
Cuba cruise visitors plunge 90 percent after Castro's comments, US buyout
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NEW YORK - The number of cruise ships visiting Cuba has plummeted nearly 90 percent since 2005, after Fidel Castro complained that the industry did little more than flood the country with trash and a U.S. cruise giant bought out a Spanish company that ran tours to the island.
Jose Antonio Lopez, general director of Cuban cruise concern Aries SA, said Wednesday that only about 11,000 cruise passengers visited Cuba in 2007, compared to 102,000 two years earlier.
In May 2005, Castro lashed out at cruise ships, saying "floating hotels come, floating restaurants, floating theaters, floating diversions visit countries to leave their trash, their empty cans and papers for a few miserable cents."
"We have told (fellow Caribbean states) that Cuba will not accept cruise ships," Castro said.
Barely two months later, Cuba canceled a contract with an Italian company that administered the island's cruise terminals in a joint-venture with a government-run firm since 1998.
But Lopez blamed the sharp drop on cruise traffic on Washington's trade embargo, which prevents U.S. tourists from visiting the island and prohibits nearly all trade between both countries. He said that despite the canceled contract with the Italian company, cruise arrivals to Cuba declined only about 10 percent until October 2006, when Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. bought Spain's Pullmantur Cruises.
Royal Caribbean canceled a route that brought a cruise liner called "Holiday Dream" to Cuba, he said.
"The cause is the blockade and the (U.S.) Torricelli Law which keeps cruise ships from reaching the ports of Cuba," Lopez told to reporters during a tour of the Havana docks. He said officials only expect about a dozen cruise ships, most operated by British and German firms, to come to Cuba between January and April of this year.
"Everyone wants to come to Havana but no (company) can because they penalize them," Lopez said.
Last year, about 7,000 of the 11,000 cruise ship passengers who visited Cuba docked at the Havana terminal, with the rest arriving at ports in the eastern city of Santiago and the small Isla de la Juventud south of the main island, Lopez said.