Tampa City Council member Mike Suarez is enabling area residents to hear a twisted debate on Cuba without having to travel all the way to Miami.
Suarez objected twice in recent weeks when his colleague, vice chairwoman Mary Mulhern, asked the council to send a letter to the Cuban government welcoming the resumption of cultural ties. President Barack Obama cleared the way this year for Tampa to resume direct flights to Havana after a 50-year hiatus. Mulhern, who made the trip last week, saw the letter as a form of protocol that would build trade relations down the road.
But Suarez jumped the shark, protesting that the letter would constitute a political overture to the Communist government. "Our role as city council is not to make international policy," he thundered. But it is Suarez, not Mulhern, playing politics here. Mulhern's letter was boilerplate courtesy, calling attention to the historic ties between Tampa and Cuba. It was an introduction of sorts that merely underscored the messages that political and business leaders in Tampa have already sent to the Cuban people. Making it out as some unholy alliance with the Castro brothers is like saying that Tampa's sister-city relationship with Oviedo is a validation of Spain's Socialist-led government.
The last thing Tampa needs is to reprise the Cold War dramas over Cuba that too often drag down the political discourse in Miami. When the council takes up the matter again on Thursday, it should focus on the progress this nation and this community are finally making on reuniting two nations with a shared heritage.