Make us your home page

Obama's new policy opens way for flights to Cuba out of Tampa

WASHINGTON — More Americans will be allowed to travel to Cuba, likely from Tampa International Airport, under changes announced Friday by the Obama administration.

The White House said it was easing restrictions to enhance the "free flow of information" and promote the independence of the Cuban people from communist rule.

The change affects religious and cultural groups and college students. People will also be able to send more money to the island. But a ban on general tourism travel remains.

Up to now, people intending to fly from the United States to Cuba had to do so out of Miami, Los Angeles or New York City.

The new travel policy opens the way for any United States airport with adequate customs and immigration capability to apply to provide the service.

Tampa International Airport appears to fit the qualifications, having the customs and immigration personnel and infrastructure the government will require.

"I couldn't be happier," said Steve Michelini, managing director of the World Trade Center of Tampa Bay, a group that seeks to foster better relations between countries for trade and development. "We've been working on this for so long."

Michelini said his group has been in contact with a potential charter company to supply flights to Cuba, and he believes it could have flights available within 60 days.

In a news release Friday, TIA officials said they were eager for the chance to begin the flights.

"This is great news from an international air service development standpoint," said Joe Lopano, CEO of Tampa International Airport. "We will begin meeting with air charter companies and working with the federal authorities to make sure we meet all requirements for these Cuba flights."

Al Austin, chairman of the Hillsborough Aviation Authority, said the flights would "open up economic development opportunities for the entire community."

And board member Steve Burton said the airport had been exploring the prospect before. "I can't imagine we won't move quickly on it. … I see Cuba as a big opportunity for our area," he said.

Others were not so pleased.

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban exiles, said it was "unthinkable that the administration would enable the enrichment of a Cuban regime that routinely violates the basic human rights and dignity of its people."

But U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, predicted it would boost business and ease the hardship on families who have to pay extra to travel to Miami. She has lobbied in particular to allow direct flights out of TIA since not long after she was elected to Congress.

The Tampa Bay region has the fifth highest concentration of Cuban-Americans of any region nationally, she said. Given that, plus the presence of the University of South Florida and University of Tampa, "We will be at the forefront of the new educational exchanges," she said.

The changes will allow religious organizations to sponsor travel under a general license as well as accredited colleges and will expand access to journalists.

The administration also will restore the broader "people-to-people'' category of travel, which allows "purposeful'' visits to increase contacts between U.S. and Cuban citizens.

Around the Tampa Bay region, even some hard-liners who have fought any easing of relations between the United States and Cuba were positive.

Ralph Fernandez, a lawyer and longtime opponent of lifting the trade embargo with Cuba, said he had a hard time arguing with the change. A native of Cuba, he said the easing of restrictions should help the local economy. What's more, he said, it is not easy to find anyone, even among the older generation of exiles, who objects to the modest changes.

"The passage of time has eroded, I think, the will of resistance among many of the people,'' he said.

Obama in 2009 removed restrictions for Cubans living in the United States who want to visit family. That was not changed Friday, though access to more airports could make travel more convenient for Cuban-Americans.

For 13 years, Renee Kincaid has led a group of Tampa area Methodists to their sister churches in Cuba to offer help. It has, for years, been a minor ordeal of red tape, expense and aggravation, and the new travel policy was welcome news, she said.

"We would not have the effort, the expense,'' said Kincaid, a native of Havana who emigrated when she was 28 years old. "It would save us time and money and effort."

Obama's new policy opens way for flights to Cuba out of Tampa 01/14/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 14, 2011 11:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Richard Corcoran takes aim at public financing of campaigns

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, may not be running for governor — not yet anyway — but his latest idea will get the attention of those who are.

    House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R- Land O' Lakes, is proposing an end to public financing of campaigns. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  2. Related Group breaks ground on complex at old Tampa Tribune site

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — When Miami developer Jorge Perez first eyed a 4.2-acre tract on the west bank of the Hillsborough River two years ago, people asked him if he wouldn't prefer to build on the opposite side closer to the downtown core.

    No way.

    From left, Related Group executive associate Arturo Penaa, Jorge Perez, center, founder and CEO of the Related Group, Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Steve Patterson, the President of Related Development dig their shovels  during the groundbreaking ceremony of the 400 unit Riverwalk Manor apartment complex on site of the old Tampa Tribune building on Wednesday. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
  3. Eat 3-course meals for $35 at these 100 restaurants for Orlando's Magical Dining Month

    Food & Dining

    In the early 1900s, hotels offered "table d'hote" or "prix fixe" menus as a form of loss leader. Hotels didn't necessarily make money on these lower-priced, multi-course meals, often served at communal tables, but they made up for it on the booze. Prohibition may have contributed to a gradual shift toward a la carte …

    Bulla Gastrobar serves a variety of Spanish and Portuguese dishes.
  4. Plant City farmer hopes robot pickers can save strawberry industry from shrinking labor force


    PLANT CITY — If current trends continue, the region's status as a major strawberry producer will depend in large part on what happens in Mexico.

    Strawberry pickers work during the daytime, when fruit is more likely to bruise. Machine pickers can work at night. The owner of Wish Farms in Plant City is developing automated pickers and hopes to see them at work on a widespread basis in five years. [Times file]
  5. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman sells house for $3 million to new player

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman's multi-million Davis Islands home is staying in the Lightning family. Yzerman sold his 6,265-square-foot house Monday to new defenseman Dan Girardi for $3 million.

    The Davis Islands home of Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman sold for $3 million Monday to Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi. | [Courtesy of Hi Res Media]