One of the quickest ways to start a passionate argument is to suggest normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba. Try telling someone who had property seized by Fidel Castro's goons that it's time to move on. Talk to someone who had family members imprisoned or tortured. Ask a refugee what it was like to deal with Castro's secret police. However, there also is a persuasive counterpoint that ending sanctions and turning Cuba into an ally is in the national interest. It certainly could be an economic boon to Tampa, and it could lessen any potential of terrorists using Cuba as a staging area in the future. And change is coming to the island. Castro is a feeble old man now. His brother and successor as president, Raul Castro, said he will step down in 2018. Other nations are doing business with Cuba. Of course, no nation has the history with Cuba that we do.
I bring this up because U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa, is in Cuba now as part of a four-day mission to explore economic possibilities. She also plans to talk about making visas easier to obtain for those with family members there. Castor is no newcomer to this party. She has long advocated improving ties between the two countries. “If we can take the next step nearer to better relations, we can help people and create business jobs in the Tampa area,” she told the Tribune's Ted Jackovics before leaving on her trip. “There is not a day that goes by that I don't hear from someone seeking help with regard to an issue involving Cuba.” U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, whose district covers parts of Hillsborough and Polk counties, takes a harder line. “I would love to see us have normalized relationships with Cuba, but I don't believe that can happen until we have regime change and a democratic form of government,” he said during a meeting with the Tampa Tribune's editorial board. There you have the essence of the argument from both sides, and there is plenty of support for both points of view. “I would rather see us give aid to the Cuban people to establish a democratic form of government, so they can elect their leaders and then let us invest. The economic opportunities over there are endless for us,” Ross said. “It's 90 miles off the coast — the auto industry, agricultural industry, technological industry, there's so much that can be there. But to accept normalized relationships under the Castro regime, I think, is absurd.” Whenever there is talk about loosening tough sanctions in place since 1960, Castro's history of human rights violations becomes an issue. Castor's visit underscores the point that it's time for talk. Before they can find the answer, leaders first have to be willing to ask serious questions about a complicated issue. It won't be easy. “We have failed in our foreign policy with Cuba for the last 50 years, from the start of the Bay of Pigs until today,” Ross said. “We have missed out on every opportunity. I wish I had an answer for you on that, but I don't.”