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First US cruise liner in decades arrives in Cuba

US passengers have arrived in Havana on board a cruise ship from Miami. It is the first cruise ship in decades to depart from a US port for the communist island nation, following the thaw in diplomatic relations.

Carnival's cruise ship Adonia arrived in Havana with than 700 passengers on board Monday. The arrival of the ship restarts commercial travel on waters that have witnessed only hostility since the end of the 1970s between the US and its Caribbean neighbor across the Florida Straits.

The Straits were blocked by the US during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and tens of thousands of Cubans attempted perilous voyages in small craft over the following years, many of them dying in the process of trying to reach the US.

Restarting cruise-ship connections is an important element of a bid by US President Barack Obama's administration's to increase tourism to Cuba, after last year's historic decision to restore diplomatic relations and move toward normalization.

"Times of change often bring out emotions and clearly the histories here are very emotional for a number of people," Carnival CEO Arnold Donald told reporters.

The ship will visit three Cuban ports over the seven-day voyage. Carnival said the Adonia will cruise every other week from Miami to Cuba. The Adonia is one of Carnival's smaller ships - roughly half the size of some larger European vessels that already dock in Havana.

Barack Obama Raul Castro Kuba Havana

US President Barack Obama and Raul Castro began the process of restoring relations in late 2014, but the full embargo must still be lifted by the US Congress

US embargo still in place

Uncertainty over whether the cruise would be allowed to happen was resolved last week when the Cuban government lifted restrictions for seaborne visits of Cuban nationals to and from the United States, opening the door for Cuban-Americans to board the ship.

The cruise company initially refused to accept reservations from such people, because of Cuban restrictions first imposed when the island's Communist regime feared landings by anti-Castro militants.

That prompted charges of discrimination amid a firestorm of criticism.

But the world's leading tour ship operator eventually relented and began to allow reservations from Cuban-born customers.

Among them was 61-year-old Isabel Buznego who as a youngster emigrated with her family from Cuba and was returning to the island for the first time.

"My dad wanted to come because he had never been able to come, but he passed away," she told the AFP news agency. "So I'm coming in his name. That is why I have so many different emotions, but I am mostly happy."

The Miami Herald newspaper reported that a boat carrying activists protesting the trip to Cuba was nearby in Florida waters before the ship's departure on Sunday. But the paper said the boat pulled away before the Adonia set sail.

Watch video 01:48

Obama: A 'new day' for Cuba and the USA

jr/jr/jm (AFP, AP)

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