Monday, July 16, 2018
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: St. Petersburg gains upper hand in bid for Cuban consulate

As diplomatic initiatives go, this isn't exactly a Nixon goes to China moment. Instead, you might think of St. Petersburg's recent foray into international relations as the Camp Kriseman Accords.

Over the last weekend, representatives of the Cuban government toured St. Petersburg scouting potential locations for its consulate now that the United States and our neighbor 90 miles to the south have decided to rekindle diplomatic relations after nearly 60 years of casting stink eyes toward one another across the Florida Straits.

For an operation that will largely involve vast amounts of paper-pushing and official-looking stamps and bureaucratic shrugs of helplessness, you would think wherever the Cuban mission eventually lands was tantamount to "The Mojito Candidate" meets "From Havana, With Love."

With the easing of tensions between the U.S. and Cuba, no small amount of hand-wringing has ensued over which community in Florida would welcome an official presence of all those Caribbean commies.

Miami has been particularly problematic since it is heavily populated by post-1959 immigrants who are still awfully sore about Fidel Castro's rule over the island nation. Both Miami Mayor Tomas Regaldo and the Miami Beach Commission have essentially conveyed the message that a Cuban delegation in their midst would be about as welcome as ketchup on a Cuban sandwich.

Tampa, with its long, deep Cuban roots dating back well over a hundred years as a hotbed of revolution led by the likes of Jose Marti, would seem to be a more obvious fit for a Cuban diplomatic office. The Tampa City Council, Hillsborough County Commission and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce have all warmly endorsed the prospect of a Cuban consulate —except for one very public official.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has said he would not support a Cuban diplomatic presence in Tampa until the government in Havana implements more freedoms among its people. But really now, what is the likelihood Cuban President Raul Castro waking up tomorrow and saying to himself: "Boy, I'd really like to send our folks to Tampa — I just love the boliche at the Columbia Restaurant — but that darn Bob Buckhorn sure drives a hard bargain."

You can continue to wage the Cuban Missile Crisis, or you can face pragmatic reality.

And thus St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has emerged as the Talleyrand of Tampa Bay.

Over the past year, St. Petersburg has sent two delegations to Havana, including Kriseman, who pro-actively has forged personal relationships with Cuban foreign ministry officials.

Perhaps Buckhorn fears he would have to surrender his PT-109 decoder ring if he exhibited any Cold War retrenchment on making nice-nice with the Cubans.

The reality is the re-establishment of diplomatic ties with Cuba is ongoing and will continue to grow irrespective of Buckhorn's channeling of President John F. Kennedy's "Cuber" embargo, which essentially turned out to be one of this nation's more inane foreign policy decisions over the past 55 years.

St. Petersburg is not Tampa. But it is close enough. That's why God created the Howard Frankland Bridge.

Bill Carlson, president of Tucker Hall, a public relations firm that has pushed for improved relations with Cuba for many years, told the Tampa Bay Times' Paul Guzzo that Kriseman's engagement to lobby for a Cuban consulate in St. Petersburg marked hizzoner's emergence as the "mayor of the Tampa Bay region."

That had to smart over at Tampa City Hall, where the politically ambitious Buckhorn has seen himself as a sort of High Lord Chamberlain of Tampa Bay.

With or without Buckhorn, in all probability the Cubans are coming, the Cubans are coming.

The only question that remains is whether they will be greeted with some Cafe con Leche in Ybor City, or the trendy, chi-chi deviled eggs from St. Petersburg's Z Grille, which are to die for, by the way.

Or think of this as the battle of the Bay of Bigwigs.

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