Friday, June 7, 2013

Tampa speaks up

Miami-Dade is the U.S. capital of engagement with Cuba, with dozens of flights per week filled mainly with Cuban Americans.  Many of those flights require a second cargo-only plane to carry passengers’ excess baggage, a large and uncounted stream of U.S. exports to Cuba.  Cuban Americans have responded enthusiastically to openings in Cuba, helping relatives there open businesses and acquire real estate, so much so that a friend of mine calls Miami-Dade one of Cuba’s largest trading partners. 

But Miami’s political leadership still represents, with the partial exception of Rep. Joe Garcia, the views of those Cuban Americans who oppose all engagement with Cuba.

Tampa’s engagement with Cuba is far less than Miami’s, although its connections with Cuba are far deeper, going back more than a century to the days when Jose Marti went there to seek the local Cuban community’s support for Cuba’s struggle for independence from Spain.

In contrast to Miami, Tampa’s political and business leadership stands up for engagement with Cuba and wants more of it.  Three city council members just joined the Tampa Chamber of Commerce in a trip to Cuba.  How strong is the political push?  Look at Rep. Kathy Castor’s April letter to President Obama calling for a comprehensive reform of Cuba policy. 

What is the trend?  It would be wrong to underestimate the strength of the pro-embargo forces – note Congressional voting patterns, the Florida legislature’s passage of legislation to punish firms that do business with Cuba, and the fact that Senator Nelson remains in Miami’s camp, not Tampa’s. 

But the changes taking place are important.  No other state has stood so strong for the Cuba embargo, and the strength of its argument in presidential politics was sapped by the 50-50 split in the Cuban-American vote in the 2012 election.  Tampa’s argument for change based on economic and foreign policy interests can only augur well for the future.

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