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Thursday, Aug 28, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Leadership needed on Cuba issues

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On Dec. 12, 1963, just three weeks after his brother was assassinated, Attorney General Robert Kennedy recommended eliminating travel restrictions to Cuba.

He understood the political mess that might be created, but Kennedy noted in a memo to Secretary of State Dean Rusk, “(Removing restrictions) is more consistent with our views of a free society and would contrast with such things as the Berlin Wall and Communist controls on such travel.”

Leadership and thinking like that would be useful these days.

Thursday will be 50 years since Kennedy sent that letter outlining the pros and cons of this issue, but not much has changed. Although travel between the United States and Cuba seems to be a little easier now, many of the same hurdles from a half-century ago remain.

And it could get worse, as a front-page story by Paul Guzzo in this newspaper Monday showed. The last thing Florida and Tampa need now is to make things more complicated with Cuba.

We’ll get to the details of that in a bit, but first it would help to explore the wacky state of relations between the United States and the isolated island 90 miles off Florida’s southernmost shore.

Trying to explain those relations in any way that makes sense is a difficult assignment.

For every point in the Cuba-America saga, there is a counterpoint with apparently no middle ground. It could get even worse, as Guzzo’s story showed. Basically, M&T Bank, which helps Havana’s diplomatic mission in Washington stay afloat, decided it would stop working with foreign delegations.

Among other things, the mission arranges travel between the U.S. and Cuba and helps money get from people here to their relatives on the island.

It basically boiled down to this: too many regulations, too little return.

The bank did an about-face on Monday, sort of, and agreed to keep things going until March 2014. It could just be a temporary reprieve. What happens after that is anyone’s guess, although there is one thing on which we can almost certainly count. The people who need help the most are likely the ones who will be hurt worst until the U.S. and Cuba stop their international staring contest.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa has been a consistent voice toward normalizing relations with Cuba, but outside of Florida this isn’t a hot enough issue yet to get things moving. Cuba’s leaders have been just as stubborn as the ones here. They say that if the U.S. wants to end the embargo, fine – as long as there are no strings attached. The trust level between these two nations isn’t exactly high.

Still, sane minds have to prevail at some point. Opening the door wider to Cuba would be such a benefit for Tampa, starting with all the nonstop flights that could ferry passengers between here and there. And did anyone mention that letting go of ancient grudges with one of our closest neighbors is the right thing to do?

That concept almost always gets lost when people keep fighting wars that should have ended decades ago.

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