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Sunday, May 27, 2018
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U.S. needs fresh approach in communicating with Cuba

TAMPA — Issues affecting relations between the United States and Cuba, such as the potential loss of Cuba consular services that could affect current limited travel between the two countries, cannot be resolved without fresh, post-Cold War discourse, U.S. Rep Kathy Castor said Tuesday.

“That’s the larger issue ...with the latest hiccup,” the Tampa Democrat said, referring to uncertainty about whether Cuba consular services will be able to continue to process visas and licenses necessary for certain U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba.

Castor said problems result from conducting communications in the same fashion that’s been carried over from years ago.

“We need to take steps in modernizing relations,” she said.

Castor’s remarks at Tampa International Airport coincided with Tuesday’s launch of the 11th weekly scheduled charter flight between Tampa and Cuba, which serve airports in Havana, Holguin and Santa Clara.

The Tampa-Cuba flights have carried more than 90,000 passengers since they were launched a little more than two years ago and have generated $1.4 million for Tampa International in airline fees and passenger spending.

The current schedule would generate another $1.4 million next year, Tampa International Chief Executive Officer Joe Lopano said.

That could be jeopardized if officials don’t find a long-term solution to an impending glitch in how licenses are processed for U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba.

Cuban officials said Monday that M&T Bank in Buffalo would extend the period early next year it would continue to process travel services for the Cuban Interests Section.

But it appears Cuban officials will have to find and work with another financial institution because M&T no longer will serve foreign delegations.

Otherwise, travel opportunities could be curtailed, and dampen economic gains such as those achieved through the resumption of Tampa-Cuba flights a little more than two years ago.

Castor said she has contacted local, state and federal officials, including the U.S. State Department, to resolve the issue that’s affected by long standing challenges to a political solution.

She cited the example of President Obama shaking hands with Cuba President Raul Castro Tuesday during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela.

“That’s not an endorsement of the government of Cuba or of their human rights (record),” Castor said.

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