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Henderson: Castor has no illusions about Cuba

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Published:   |   Updated: April 9, 2013 at 09:50 AM

If you expected U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor to return from her trip last week to Cuba with a glowing outlook about the possibility of normalized relations with the United States, well, that didn’t happen.

Actually, there was an eye-opening moment when she stepped out of her hotel in Havana, only to be slowed by a large crowd of locals desperate for a glimpse of Beyonce and Jay-Z. Somehow, that couple’s trip to the isolated island attracted a little more national and international attention than did Castor’s.

“They sure know who Beyonce is, I’ll tell you that,” Castor said. “We walked outside the hotel, huge crowds – Be-yon-ce! Be-yon-ce!”

Hopeful as she may be for better ties between U.S. and Cuba in more significant areas, though, Castor’s eyes are wide open.

“America, and this community, cannot enter into greater engagement with blinders on,” she said Monday during a meeting with The Tampa Tribune editorial board.

“This government continues to be repressive. It does not recognize many of the fundamental human rights that everyone around the globe strives for, and we share as Americans, to self-determine what you do with your life.”

Friendly relations with Cuba could have big implications for Tampa, economically and socially. Getting past long-held hostility toward the Castro regime isn’t easy, though. Congress has to approve any major policy change.

With the world threatening to explode in places like North Korea, the Middle East and other molten hot spots, a policy change toward Cuba isn’t a high priority.

“That’s the difficulty, elevating Cuba on the to-do list,” Castor said.

And this is a political fight.

“If you represent a district in Nebraska or one in Washington state, Cuba is not so much on your radar,” she said.

I talked about this subject the other day, while Castor was in Cuba, with U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross. They are Hillsborough County’s two representatives to Congress; Castor is a Democrat, Ross is a Republican. As you might imagine, they approach this issue from different points of view.

Ross said he’d love to see things improve with Cuba, but it wouldn’t happen until “regime change” that would allow Cubans to freely choose their leaders. I asked Castor about that.

“How do you define regime change?” she said. “We’ve had the embargo and travel restrictions in place for 50 years. Fidel (Castro) was there most of the time; he’s gone now. Raul (Castro) is there (as president). He’s more of a moderate. There has been a little bit of regime change. They’re on a path.

“I don’t think at this point it would be in America’s best interests to invade the country,” she added with a laugh, “to demand (change). The people of Cuba should determine that. What is changing now is their economic system, and I think that will lead to greater engagement that will lead to change in their political system.”

And if things still move too slowly, ask Beyonce to stop by for another visit. From the sound of things, she engaged the people well.


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