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Tampa City Council, chamber want future U.S.-Cuba diplomatic accord signed here

By Richard Danielson
“Tampa has a history with Cuba like no other, and the world doesn’t know it. They think it’s Miami. … Miami doesn’t want it. Fine. We’ll take it.” Yvonne Yolie Capin, Tampa City Council member

TAMPA — The City Council on Thursday volunteered Tampa to be the place where history is made.

The idea is that sooner or later, Cuba and the United States will sign a treaty or other document normalizing diplomatic relations after more than half a century of Cold War hostility.

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce thinks that document should be signed here. Supporters would love to see the yet-to-negotiated agreement called "the Tampa Accord" or "the Tampa Treaty" — or in any case, something with "Tampa" in the name.

And they say there's no shortage of meaningful local backdrops, including Ybor City's Cuban Club or Jose Marti Park, which has remained Cuban soil since the couple who owned the land donated it to the pre-Castro Republic of Cuba nearly 60 years ago.

No one spoke against the idea Thursday, and two supporters who addressed the council said Tampa's history with and proximity to Cuba both weigh in favor of re-establishing the relationship.

"From Tampa, if you draw a line down to Havana, we're the closest, largest port in the world to Cuba," said local governmental affairs consultant Victor DiMaio, whose grandparents came to Tampa from Cuba almost 100 years ago to work in the cigar industry.

"That's not to be forgotten," he said. "That's one of the reasons we have such close ties and relationships with Cuba."

Having the local signing could help secure Tampa's place "as the historic and future center of U.S. travel and trade with Cuba," chamber president Bob Rohrlack told the council in a recent letter.

Last month, the chamber also came out in support of establishing a Cuban consulate in Tampa or Hillsborough County once the United States and Cuba normalize diplomatic relations. The City Council voted on April 2 to support the consulate idea.

"It would give us an international standing that would just leapfrog us with all of Latin America," council member Yvonne Yolie Capin said. "Tampa has a history with Cuba like no other, and the world doesn't know it. They think it's Miami. … Miami doesn't want it. Fine. We'll take it."

Despite the business community's enthusiasm for nonstop flights to Havana and more, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is cooler to the idea of taking any steps to reach out to Cuba while it still has a totalitarian regime.

The U.S. embargo on Cuba doesn't work, Buckhorn says, but he has no plans to visit Cuba or to support ending the embargo until Havana holds free elections and guarantees freedom of speech, association and worship.