TAMPA—St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has made no secret of his desire to forge closer ties to Cuba. The second-term mayor has visited the island several times and urged the Communist country to open a consulate in the Sunshine City.
Just last week, Kriseman was on a family cruise to Cuba when more stringent travel restrictions imposed by President Donald Trump forced his ship to divert to the Bahamas.
Kriseman may well sip some cafe con leche with José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez on June 24, but a breakfast meeting hasn’t been formally scheduled yet. Kriseman spokesman Ben Kirby said the mayor will definitely sit down with with the ambassador, but the two sides are still working out the details.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor won’t meet with Cabañas , continuing a tradition of Tampa mayors who have kept representatives of the Cuban government at arm’s length since relations thawed between the countries in recent years, culiminating in the resumption of diplomatic relations in 2015.
Castor had “prior commitments,” texted Ashley Bauman, the mayor’s spokeswoman.
Trump’s more recent harder line on Cuba has likely curdled dreams of a consulate in St. Pete, whose Cuban population is a fraction of the U.S.'s third-largest community of Cubans who call Tampa home.
City Council chairman Luis Viera, whose parents fled Cuba after Fidel Castro took power, also declined to meet with Rodriguez. Viera said he supports engagement and ending the economic embargo imposed on Cuba since the early 1960s.
But meeting Rodriguez “isn’t something I feel inclined to do at this time,” Viera said.
Rodriguez’s visit is to foster grassroots engagement, said Albert Fox Jr., who is helping to organize the visit. Fox through the Alliance for Responsible Cuban Policy Foundation, has worked for years to strengthen ties between Cuba and Tampa Bay.
Many of Rodriguez’s meetings will be private, but he’ll address a lunchtime group at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City on June 25. Media will be invited, Fox said.
Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson hasn’t been invited to meet Cabañas yet, but he made himself available Tuesday afternoon, saying Tampa shouldn’t fumble away its advantage over Miami. He has met Cabañas several times previously.
“The power of trade with Cuba is Tampa’s position to lose and we shouldn’t cede it to Miami so a few rich people can control it,” Carlson said.
Carlson plans to introduce a resolution at Thursday’s council meeting calling on an end to the embargo, saying it violates the rights of American citizens to travel where they want to internationally.