By Patricia Zengerle
MIAMI (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Carnival Corp on Thursday for barring Cuban-Americans from its planned cruises to Cuba and called on the Cuban government to change its policies to allow them.
"Carnival needs to not discriminate," Kerry said in an interview with CNN en Espanol and the Miami Herald.
Cuban-born Americans cannot visit the island by sea, due to a Cuban law that dates to the Cold War era, and therefore are barred from joining in Carnival's sailings to the island, the Miami Herald has reported. People born in Cuba can, however, travel to the island on an airplane.
"American citizens, Cuban Americans have a right to travel, and we should not be in a situation where the Cuban government is forcing its discrimination policy on us," Kerry said.
"So we call on the government of Cuba to change that policy and to recognize that if they want a full relationship, a normal relationship, with the United States, they have to live by international law and not exclusively by their own," he said during a trip to Miami.
Carnival officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the company has told the Miami Herald it had no choice but to enforce the rule when booking tickets for its new Miami-to-Havana route. It said it has asked the Cuban government to waive the rule before the first ship sails on May 1.
A State Department official said, "Secretary Kerry in no way meant to convey that Carnival is supporting policies that are discriminating against Cuban American travelers."
Miami is the center of the U.S. Cuban-American community, and many of its residents from the island nation, who fled Cuba after its Communist revolution, are vehemently opposed to President Barack Obama's moves toward more normal relations with Havana.
Critics of the policy say Washington should not ease a half century of restrictions on travel and trade until Cuba has free elections and its human rights record improves.
Kerry, who gave two interviews to local media, met with business leaders and addressed college students, said Cuba could move more quickly to improve its rights record. But he said he was sure a more open relationship with the United States would yield positive changes.
"I think more could happen faster. More should happen faster. But I'm not surprised. Nobody expected that. This has been 50-plus years of the status quo ... but there are changes that are in place for the positive," Kerry said.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Dan Grebler and Diane Craft)