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Castor: Washington policy key to benefits for Cuba, U.S.

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Published:   |   Updated: April 9, 2013 at 07:58 AM
TAMPA -

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor’s three-day visit to Cuba last week reinforced her belief that overarching U.S. policy change is required to achieve benefits for U.S. and Cuban interests alike.

“If America continues to isolate Cuba, we are not going to hasten change,” the Tampa Democrat said. “It’s bad for the island of Cuba and it’s not good for us.”

The Tampa Democrat said Monday she would urge Secretary of State John Kerry recommend President Barack Obama end Cuba’s listing on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism as a major step in that direction. That decision is expected within weeks.

“Cuba is changing its economic system,” Castor said. “It was an amazing experiment in communism that did not work.”

But even as Cuba’s government provides Cubans new rights to own property, buy and sell cars, and establish co-operatives, the country cannot continue to be repressive, Castor said, pointing to human rights violations that provide political fodder for critics of normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations.

Castor deliberately planned the trip as a low profile, fact-finding visit, avoiding fanfare on her departure late Wednesday afternoon.

She said Cuban officials were welcoming during discussions. In some cases, such as when questioning Cuba safety practices in drilling for offshore oil, the Cubans surprised Castor with their candor about details of their operations.

“But they still tend to blame the U.S. embargo for much of their ills,” Castor said.

Castor’s point of view is not universal. Tampa attorney Ralph Fernandez, a longtime activist who has represented Cuban exiles, called Castor’s perspective on ending the embargo very troubling.

“I am a Democrat and fierce supporter of President Obama and Kathy Castor’s mother (Betty, former state legislator and president of the University of South Florida), but I’m deeply disappointed, though not surprised, with Kathy Castor.

“It’s very troubling to me she makes comments from the perspective of a Congresswoman about a terrorist state and does not know enough about it.”

Fernandez differs with Castor over the congresswoman’s assessment on the issue of terrorism. Castor noted that Cuba is hosting peace negotiations between Colombian rebels and the Colombian government in Havana.

Castor returned from Cuba
to Tampa with fresh ideas on how to bolster travel and trade that could benefit the local community.

Castor suggested Tampa Bay & Company’s new President and Chief Executive Officer Santiago Corrada might combine marketing efforts for the visitors industry he directs with small businesses in Ybor City and West Tampa to enhance opportunities to attract Cuban visitors and trade.

She noticed Cuba’s beautiful, historic architecture in Cuba, but the crumbling infrastructure also was obvious. Cuba is short of building materials and equipment, a business niche the Port of Tampa could handle.

“It’s a very poor country,” she said. “They want to diversify.”

She said others traveling on the same scheduled charter flights noticed how easily Tampa International Airport handled the passengers and expects once schools recess for summer, business on the Tampa flights will pick up.

“Cuba and Florida are so close,” Castor said. “You no sooner take off from Havana than you see the Florida Keys.”


tjackovics@tampatrib.com

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