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Saturday, Aug 18, 2018
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Editorial: The Tampa-Cuba promise

Given the city’s historic ties to Cuba, Tampa leaders are right to try to position the community as a focal point for a renewed relationship between the United States and the island nation.

But the enthusiasm for reviving links to Cuba should come with a degree of caution.

Cuba remains an oppressive socialistic nation, with a history of promoting foreign revolution. President Obama’s effort to chart a new course in American relations with Cuba is justified, but so is rigorous monitoring of that country.

Tampa City Council, with the support of business leaders, has already passed a resolution seeking a Cuban consulate here.

Today the council is scheduled to vote on a resolution offering to host any official signing of agreements between Tampa and Cuba. As the Tribune’s Paul Guzzo reports, the resolution would call for the agreement to be called “The Tampa Accords.”

Tampa would be the perfect place for such a momentous event. Cuban immigrants, especially cigar workers, played an essential role in the city’s development.

Tampa has a long history of trade with Cuba and has been heavily involved in Cuban history, including providing sanctuary and support for freedom fighter Jose Marti.

But as intoxicating as it would be to be at the center of such a historic accord, everyone should keep their enthusiasm under control.

Cuba must demonstrate that renewing American relations will advance freedom as well as trade.

Cuba has taken some positive steps since Raul Castro replaced his brother, Fidel, as president in 2008. It now allows some property rights, Internet and cellphone use and private businesses. Cubans’ travel rights have been liberalized.

Cuba is not the threat it was during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union could subsidize its revolutionary adventurism. It still provides refuge to some terrorists and offers aid to tyrants such as Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro.

Still, the Obama administration’s decision to lift Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism simply recognizes reality in a troubled nation that has become more subdued and conciliatory.

The United States’ 50-year isolationist policies have not gotten rid of the Castros or improved life for the people of Cuba. Indeed, it’s given the Castros’ regime a scapegoat for its failed economic policies.

Our goal should be to not only help the Cuban economy but to also plant the seeds of democracy among its populace.

The regime is not going to suddenly abandon its authoritative ways, but opening up the nation to more communication, travel and trade with the United States is almost surely to cause the Cuban people to expect — and eventually demand — policy changes.

The Cuban government, to be sure, has demonstrated time and again it can be deceitful, intransigent and bellicose.

For any agreement to succeed, the United States must be prepared to confront Cuba on any misbehavior and if necessary, pull the plug on relations. But the old strategy is a dismal failure. It would be gratifying if “The Tampa Accords” finally ignited the flames of liberty in Cuba.

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