Tampa’s historic chance
Congresswoman Kathy Castor’s call for an end to a half-century of failed Cuba policy establishes her as a Stateswoman of historic importance — to our city, our region, our state and our country. In one bold break with the past, Castor has brought us closer than we have ever been to a sane and sensible restoration of diplomatic and economic relations with the people of Cuba. Although the usual handful of hardened critics have called her naive and worse, Castor’s statements demonstrate an admirable level of research, understanding and forward-looking vision for improving the travel and economic rights of her own constituents, as well as those of our Cuban neighbors. Far from being the result of a mere stage-managed weekend tour of the island nation, Castor has been doing the homework and legwork necessary to move beyond our nation’s singular and obsolete Cuba policy. In recent years, she has successfully helped to implement allowing Cuban-Americans to visit their families and to break Miami’s unfair monopoly of flights by working to re-establish direct flights between Tampa and other U.S. cities with Cuba. Far from acting unilaterally, the congresswoman has also consulted extensively with the White House and departments of commerce and state.Most importantly, she made her first trip to Cuba — a trip that most opponents of normalization have never made. As I have done on two trips to Cuba and through my own research and work on this issue over the past five years, she saw for herself the everyday life of the Cuban people. She met with energy, economic and tourism officials to learn how U.S. policy affects their citizens and our economy in the Tampa Bay area. While acknowledging that Cuba is still a communist country, where citizens do not enjoy the same rights as American, we are sensibly suggesting that after 51 years of failed policy, it is simply, as Castor stated, “time to try something new.” The few political and business leaders who have been working for years to ensure that Tampa captures no less than its fair share of current and future economic opportunities with Cuba finally have a strong advocate on the local and national stage. The courage and leadership Castor has shown cannot be overstated. And yet, she is simply calling for a move that aligns our state and nation with the same diplomatic and economic policies we have with other socialist nations and former adversaries, from Great Britain to Germany and Japan, and from Vietnam to Nicaragua and Iraq. If Dennis Rodman is free to travel halfway around the world to visit, spend money and advocate for democratic reforms in a communist dictatorship such as North Korea, surely we should be allowed to visit a nation with which we are not at war, is only 90 miles from our shores, and with whom the Tampa Bay area has a profound historic and potentially rich future relationship. Such a change can only benefit the social, economic and democratic aspirations of the citizens of both countries. It also will strategically position Tampa’s port and airport and our agricultural, medical, technology and other industries as the natural and rightful hub for Cuban trade and travel. The Cuban people and their government much prefer Tampa to any other city in the U.S. They are only waiting for us to re-extend our hand. The momentum is building in Washington, Havana and Tampa for a more prosperous and democratic future for both of our countries. In fact, I will be joining a Tampa Chamber of Commerce organized visit to Cuba next month, along with other prominent political and business leaders. We must not risk missing out on this historic opportunity. Now is the time to rally as a community behind Castor and the enlightened leadership in Washington, D.C., to make Tampa the gateway to Cuba and the rest of Latin America.
Mary Mulhern serves on Tampa City Council.