Friday, May 28, 2010

Restoring the Tampa-Cuba connection

Restoring the Tampa-Cuba connection
Updated: Friday, 28 May 2010, 7:14 AM EDT

TAMPA - There is a new push to make Tampa a gateway to Cuba, including
direct flights from here to Havana, in an effort to connect Tampa's
economical future with its historical past.

The vision is to have at least two non-stop flights each day to Havana,
totaling more than 8,000 passengers a month, and open the Port of Tampa
to shipping trade with Cuba.

"That will create jobs, and it will also help to break down some of
those old barriers that need to be broken down in a peaceful way," said
Stephen Michelini with the World Trade Center.

Backers of Cuba trade asked the Tampa City Council to visit the island
nation on a cultural and trade mission. They found a ally in
councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena.

"It's for our economic future, as well as our cultural, social, and
economic heritage," Saul-Sena said.

A hundred years ago, Florida cattle were driven across the state to
steamships in Tampa, bound for Cuba. Then came the famous Tampa cigar
factories staffed by Cuban immigrants. The rise of Fidel Castro,
however, led to the U.S. embargo that severed much of Tampa's historical
Cuban connection.

The port of Houston recently got authorization to expand its trade with
Cuba, and backers of the Tampa-Cuba connection say now is the time to
reopen trade here.

Some agricultural trade is allowed under the embargo, and backers say
Tampa needs to catch up.

The City Council voted to organize with the County Commission and the
Aviation and Port Authorities to steer Tampa back to its longtime Cuban

There are currently several bills in the United States Congress aimed at
easing the embargo, but many Cuban exiles, especially in South Florida,
are still opposed to lifting it.

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