Critics can be expected to politicize the Florida Orchestra's new cultural exchange program with the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba as a propaganda tool for Fidel Castro. But the orchestra is contributing to Tampa Bay's long-term interests by nurturing the deep cultural ties to Cuba and the island's oppressed people.
The musical exchange announced last week is the latest effort to reconnect Tampa Bay with Cuba. Direct charter flights from Tampa International Airport to the island are expected to start this summer. The area's ties to Cuba have roots in the 19th century, when Cuban cigarmakers flocked to Tampa and ultimately drew Jose Marti to raise money for independence from Spain. Even Castro visited as a young man.
Polls show that most Americans — not to mention a majority of Miami's Cuban-American community — support normalizing relations. As the embargo slowly approaches its inevitable end, Tampa Bay should welcome exchange opportunities with Cuba. Critics should step out of the way, lest they jeopardize a rich cultural — and one day economic — partnership that is in the interest of both Tampa Bay and the Cuban people.