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Nearly half of Tampa City Council heading to Cuba — but that's not all



The Tampa Bay area's interest in the future of Cuba continues to percolate, with a trip by Tampa officials, a panel discussion and a weekly newspaper's ad all coming at the topic from different angles.

First, Tampa Bay Times columnist Sue Carlton writes:

Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor was in the news with her recent trip to Cuba, made in the spirit of lifting more than 50 years of sanctions and brokering a better relationship.

Next, nearly half the Tampa City Council heads there at the end of May as part of a chamber of commerce event, including first-timers Harry Cohen and Yvonne Yolie Capin, and fellow council member Mary Mulhern, who has been twice.

Seems some in this city intend to be on the cusp of change.

"I think that clearly, the approach we've taken for the last half-century has not gotten us anywhere. It's time to do something different," says Cohen. "I am really going to learn. How can you possibly understand the different opportunities that exist unless you go?"

Says Capin, "Tampa is where the future of the relationship between the United States and Cuba will unfold. I truly believe that."

Council members would want their constituents to know the trip will not be funded with public money, and that it is scheduled for a week when there is no city council meeting, so they won't be missing important votes.

Notably, the flight is expected to be out of Tampa, not Miami.

"When things eventually open up, I think it's very important that Tampa be ready to take advantage of whatever opportunities are there," Cohen says. "We want to be the gateway."

Read Carlton's full column here.

• • •

If you're interested in the topic, there's a chance next week to learn more.

Two nonpartisan groups, the World Trade Center Tampa Bay and the Florida Council of Churches, will co-host a panel discussion Wednesday on whether the United States should take Cuba off a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Castor, D-Tampa, this month returned from a trip to Cuba and said U.S. officials should remove it from the list, as well as end travel restrictions and the 51-year-old trade embargo on the nation.

"Cuba is changing," Castor said on April 8 after her return. "They have embarked on economic reforms that the United States of America should promote. The United States of America now should normalize relations and begin a constructive dialogue with the island nation."

At 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Hilton Tampa Downtown (formerly the Hyatt Regency), a panel will discuss legal, social, cultural and economic issues related to Cuba and their impact on the Tampa Bay area. It includes:

John B. Grandoff III, Tampa attorney with Hill Ward Henderson.

Rob Lorei, news and public affairs director for WMNF-FM.

Annie Betancourt, former state representative and member of the board of directors of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

Bill Hauf, president of Island Travel and Tours, the licensed airline operator for charters to Cuba.

Ralph Fernandez, Tampa attorney and longtime anti-Castro regime activist.

The event is open to the public, but seating is limited and reservations are required. Tickets, which include lunch, are $40 or $500 for a corporate table of eight. To make reservations or for more information, call Sokha Im at (813) 864-4500 or e-mail Tickets also are available at

• • •

Meanwhile, Friday’s La Gaceta included a full-page ad saluting Castor.

It said: “We respectfully urge President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and the leadership of Congress to follow the lead of Congresswoman Castor as she conveys the wishes of an overwhelming majority of Cuban-Americans, Tampa Bay residents and American citizens to end the failed policies of the past and embark on a brighter future.”

La Gaceta editor and publisher Patrick Manteiga wrote that the ad started with his “personal frustration over the politics of name-calling and the hurtfulness and meanness aimed at people who voice the opinion that the U.S. policy regarding Cuba should be changed.”

The ad is signed by about 300 people, including about two dozen current or former elected officials. Current elected officials who signed the ad include Hillsborough Clerk of Court Pat Frank, Hillsborough County commissioners Kevin Beckner and Mark Sharpe, state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, state Rep. Betty Reed, and Tampa City Council members Capin, Cohen, Mulhern and Frank Reddick.

[Last modified: Friday, April 19, 2013 6:38pm]


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