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Is welcoming Afghan refugees to Tampa meddling in foreign policy?

For the second time in a month, City Council members Luis Viera and Bill Carlson clash over the city’s role in world events.
Tampa City Council member Luis Viera at a 2020 council meeting at the Tampa Convention Center.
Tampa City Council member Luis Viera at a 2020 council meeting at the Tampa Convention Center. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Aug. 26

TAMPA —The city of Tampa may not be able to do much about the collapsing situation in Afghanistan, but a spat over a resolution welcoming Afghan refugees marked another battle between council members Luis Viera and Bill Carlson.

Viera’s resolution, welcoming refugees from a country in which the United States fought a two-decade war was “really long” and was being criticized by “neighborhood leaders” as a waste of time for a government whose jurisdiction ends at the city limits, said Bill Carlson at Thursday’s meeting.

Several speakers from Afghani, Muslim and veterans communities spoke in favor of Viera’s proposal during public comment.

Carlson said council members needed to decide how much time to spend on “foreign policy.”

Viera countered that his resolution was about helping Afghan refugees find a safe new home in Tampa and urging appropriate social service agencies and governments to engage in that effort.

“For me, this is 110 percent local,” Viera said.

Last month, Viera and Carlson tussled over Viera’s resolution in support of protests in Cuba.

Carlson voted against that measure, calling it a “publicity stunt.” Viera, the son of Cuban refugees who fled Fidel Castro’s government in 1960, shot back that Carlson was off base.

On Thursday, Carlson said he supported the intent of Viera’s Afghanistan resolution but said it was too long and Muslim groups had complained about some of its language including that refugees were fleeing “terror.”

Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson, at a 2020 council meeting at the Tampa Convention Center.
Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson, at a 2020 council meeting at the Tampa Convention Center. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

That line of attack angered Charlie Miranda, who said he was sick and tired of the arguments over resolutions, which carry no weight of law and are symbolic.

“If someone thinks there is no terror in Afghanistan then I have long hair,” said Miranda, who is bald.

Council member John Dingfelder, who voted against Viera’s Cuban resolution because he thought City Council should stick to city business, supported Viera on Afghanistan, with a caveat.

“I think we should stick to local issues as much as possible,” Dingfelder said.

Viera expressed frustration with Carlson and said his Cuban and Afghanistan resolutions should have been approved with just a few minutes discussion.

And he said it was “ironic” that one of the first resolutions endorsed by council members shortly after Carlson was elected in 2019 was in support of travel to Cuba, a resolution that Carlson handed to the Cuban ambassador during a visit, Viera said.

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Council members ultimately ended up approving Viera’s Afghanistan resolution by a unanimous vote.