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Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Stalemate with Cuba has to end

Published:   |   Updated: June 18, 2013 at 06:59 AM

Our nation's policy toward Cuba, and vice versa, is basically institutionalized stubbornness. It is long past the point of making sense.

Did you know, for instance, that someone in the United States can't mail a simple letter directly to Cuba? Since 1963, that prohibition has been part of the U.S. embargo against the island nation. The only way someone from either country could get a letter through to family or friends was to route it through some other land.

That policy made sense 50 years ago when memories of the Cuban Missile Crisis were still fresh. It doesn't make sense today for either nation.

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The issue is especially sensitive here in Tampa, where connections to the isolated island are plentiful and the incentives to normalize relations become more pressing every day.

Expanded service from Tampa International Airport to Havana would be an economic boon here. Local contractors could find opportunities to rebuild Cuba's infrastructure. And in this time of heightened security concerns, improving relations is a good idea, or have those of a certain age forgotten what it was like hiding under our school desks for protection from Cuban nuclear missiles?

So it was at least a little encouraging to see The Associated Press report Monday that talks are expected to resume this week on restarting direct mail service between the two nations. It's a baby step, but a step nonetheless.

It's also a diplomatic quagmire, with the U.S. insisting jailed American subcontractor Alan Gross be released from a Cuban prison, where he is serving 15 years for bringing unauthorized communications equipment to the island. Cuba officials say he is a spy and will serve his time.

Without getting into that particular issue, let's just say it's always something. It seems like the people who shout the loudest on Cuba are the ones who get heard, even if their arguments have little to do with the point.

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It is true that Cuba's human rights record is atrocious. It's also true that we have done business with countries where conditions are at least as bad as Cuba, maybe worse. Those nations are a lot farther away than 90 miles.

The Cuban people seem to want better relations with America, while more and more people here are openly asking if it makes sense to continue sanctions that have been in place for 53 years.

Earlier this month, a group of 37 people went to Cuba on a trip arranged by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. Tampa Tribune editorial chairman Joe Guidry was among that group, and the mission was to see conditions first-hand.

Various local service and church groups have made similar trips. It's not unusual now to see visitors from Cuba here.

It's a start. Maybe soon people from here and there can actually exchange letters. That may not sound like much, but slow progress is better than no progress. The stalemate has to end sometime.

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