TAMPA — Next month, Tampa International Airport begins offering nonstop flights to Cuba.
Activist Al Fox says that's great and he plans to go on one of the flights. But he wonders how long it can last if business depends primarily on Cuban-Americans visiting relatives.
"How is Tampa going to sustain three, four flights a week? It ain't going to happen," Fox said Friday at the Tiger Bay Club of Tampa's monthly meeting. "The business in Tampa will come when Anglo-Americans can buy a ticket on that plane. That's where the primary business is going to come from."
Fox, a failed congressional candidate, is the founder and president of the Alliance For Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation.
The son of a woman born in Cuba, he's been lobbying for more than a dozen years to open relations between the two countries.
He said the embargo and travel restrictions stem "from vengeance and pride" by a small group of powerful Cuban-Americans in Miami. And he said neither party is immune from the influence. Democrats "feed at the same ATM trough in Miami as the Republicans."
"There's no question Cuba is a controlled society," he said after his speech. "But is it the most controlled society on the planet?"
Under its embargo against Cuba, the United States has limited which citizens can travel to Cuba and spend money there. Visits strictly for tourism are illegal.
Fox has been a controversial figure but on Friday even he was surprised that Tiger Bay members, known for asking tough questions, were largely sympathetic to his point of view.
"This was a lot easier than I thought it'd be," he said.
One person in attendance was former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink.
She said after the meeting that she had not been to Cuba "really out of respect for my friends" who are concerned about human rights abuses. But she said she supports reducing many of the restrictions and believes the government eventually will.
"Even in Miami there are increasing groups of influential people who believe this: This policy we've had for 50 years, it does not work," she said. "So maybe it is time to try something different."
Fox said his next lobbying effort will be to repeal the Florida law preventing students and faculty members from public and private universities from traveling to Cuba. Florida is the only state in the nation with such a law.