UPDATE 3-Cuba lifts sea ban for citizens, clears way for historic Carnival voyage
(Adds comment from Cuba and experts, context)
By Marc Frank
HAVANA, April 22 (Reuters) - Cuba said on Friday it would lift a ban on Cuban-born citizens entering and leaving the Caribbean island by commercial vessels, opening the way for U.S. cruise operator Carnival Corp to set sail for the country from Miami next week.
The decision is a sign that steps to normalize relations between the two countries continue despite anti-U.S. rhetoric from Cuba's leaders seeking to reassure hardliners following U.S. President Barack Obama's historic visit to the island.
Carnival's May 1 cruise, the first from the United States to the Communist-run country since the 1959 revolution, was thrown into doubt when the company triggered a backlash in Miami by refusing Cuban-Americans passage due to a Cold War-era law.
A statement carried by state-run media said starting April 26, Cuban citizens would be authorized "independently of their migratory status to enter and leave as passengers and crews of cruise ships."
"We are extremely pleased. We want to extend our sincere appreciation to Cuba and to our team who worked so hard to help make this happen," Carnival Chief Executive Arnold Donald said in a statement.
The new rules follow measures four years ago to make it easier for Cubans to travel, perhaps the biggest political reform in the Communist-run country prior to the detente announced by President Raul Castro and Obama in 2014.
Obama has made it easier for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba, but has not totally lifted restrictions. Continuación...