14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 2 May 2016 — The clock struck nine as the cruise ship Adonia entered the bay of Havana. Dozens of people enthusiastically welcomed the first pleasure boat to come to the island from Miami in the last 50 years. The government did not need to issue an official call for citizens to gather there, Cubans showed up spontaneously to welcome the boat.
Traveling on the ship was Univision journalist Tony Dandrades, and the crowd welcomed him with cheers. They shouted out his name and called out in chorus “we love you.” The greeting was a show of admiration for his work which comes to Cuba by way of “the antenna” (satellite dishes) and “the weekly packet.” Dandrades shared a few minutes with the public and said he was “very happy” to be here. He then assumed his role as a journalist and said, “Now I’m going to interview you,” and gathered impressions of the day from those present.
Ana, a CubanAmerican who had been in the US for 48 years without visiting the island, told 14ymedio she was “very emotional.” With tears in her eyes she repeated, “I am Cuban,” and was received by dozens of Cubans to whom she said, “I am optimistic about the future of Cuba and its people.”
Mily Gonzalez Martinez said she left Cuba when she was four. Born in Ciego de Avila, she has been living in the United States for 46 years. Also in tears, she said: “I am very excited, very happy and glad to be here in Cuba.” And then she said: “Although I live in Miami, I grew up Cuban, my mother would not let us speak English at home.” On the changes that have recently taken place between the two countries, she said: “We have a lot of hope that these changes are good for the future and that this means they are beginning to open more doors for the people of Cuba.”
The United States firm Carnival carried about 700 people on the cruise, including some dozen CubanAmericans. This is an unprecedented event. In 1999, the government decreed a ban on Cubans entering or leaving the national territory by sea, with the aim of avoiding and preventing “terrorist actions” of which “Cuba has been a victim on numerous occasions since the triumph of the Revolution in 1959.”
The arrival of the cruise ship on the island has been marked by controversy. Members of the Cuban exile community in Miami filed a lawsuit for discrimination against the cruise company Carnival, the world’s largest, when it announced that on its new route to Cuba tickets would not be sold to Cuban Americans.
The protests against the giant of recreational ocean travel led it to reverse its decision, and on April 18 it was announced that there would be no distinctions, all passengers would be welcome regardless of national origin. The Cuban government also relented and allowed Cuban Americans to arrive by sea to the island.
Travelers on the Adonia requested visas for cultural, sporting, religious or academic purposes, given the existing restrictions in the United States on tourist trips to the island. The cruise will also visit the Bay of Cienfuegos, on the southern coast of the country, and Santiago de Cuba in the east of the island.
The spontaneous welcome of the cruise passengers this Monday occurs 24 hours after the May Day parade of “confirmation and commitment” to the Revolution, held in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.
On the newly opened floating dock at Paseo de Paula, there were handshakes and tears of emotions. It is an event that marks a before and after in the long separation of the Cuban family.
An individual with an American flag was removed from the crowd by a group of people who appeared to be members of State Security, according to what this newspaper was able to verify
People also swarmed around the area from the Muelle de Caballeria to the San Jose warehouses, where there is currently a huge artisan and souvenir market. From there, many shouted with joy, captured the historic image on their digital cameras and cellphones, and waved Cuban and American flags.
The ship was escorted by several boats with 590 people on board, of which about half were representatives of media, according to the newspaper El País.
Passengers aboard the cruise ship disembarked after noon, facilitated by a worker from Cuban Customs. The employee said that the “Cubans and crew members” would be subjected to “rigorous control” to verify their visas.