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Tampa chamber backs bringing Cuban consulate here

By Richard Danielson

TAMPA — The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Wednesday came out in support of establishing a Cuban consulate in Tampa or Hillsborough County once the United States and Cuba normalize diplomatic relations.

"The chamber has been a supporter of re-instituting ties with Cuba, most recently through our support of increasing flights to the nation from Tampa," chamber president Bob Rohrlack said in a statement announcing the position. Supporting a Cuban consulate here, he said, "is an outgrowth of many years of hard work and discussions about how best to renew our status as the U.S. gateway to Cuba."

A resolution passed unanimously by the chamber's board said the consulate should be secure, and that business leaders believe "Tampa should return to its rightful and historical place as an economic engine" for facilitating trade with Cuba as relations between the two countries open back up again. Cuba's history with the Tampa Bay area goes back to the 1500s, the chamber said.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has been open to the idea, also endorsed by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, but he's not seeking it out.

"If the decision is made to locate it here we will do everything we are obligated to do by law, protect the diplomats and make sure the rules are abided by," he said in January. "Clearly the mayor of Miami has indicated that they are not interested. If the powers that be at the federal level decide, then we will live with it."

Buckhorn has said the U.S. embargo of Cuba doesn't work, but he wouldn't visit the country or support ending the embargo until it implements democratic elections, freedom to dissent and worship and other democratic reforms.

Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times