Provided by Marcia Mejia, Communications Director, Office of Congresswoman Kathy Castor
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On the eve of the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s historic announcement to re-establish U.S./Cuba diplomatic relations, today U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (FL14-Tampa Bay) announced that she will help breathe life into a bipartisan task force to press for congressional action that will build on the progress.
“Our bipartisan effort will encourage greater U.S. engagement with Cuba and begin work towards lifting the embargo,” U.S. Rep. Castor said. “The Tampa Bay area has been a leader in promoting a pro-engagement policy. I intend to continue to help lead the nation in modernizing our diplomatic policies to create jobs, improve human rights and foster better economic opportunities on the island and in America.”
The bi-partisan Cuba Working Group steering committee members are: Kathy Castor (D-FL), Rosa Delauro (D-CT), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Rick Crawford (R-AR), Tom Emmer (R-MN), Sam Farr (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Ted Poe (R-TX), Reid Ribble (R-WI). A letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was sent by these 10 members announcing the group’s formation. The Cuba Working Group has not been formally active over the past number of years.
“One year ago, the President followed through on so much of what my community had advocated for years: Turning the page on the Cold War policies of the past. However, congressional action is required to remove the further restrictions on commerce and travel that continue to be barriers to progress,” said U.S. Rep. Castor, who along with U.S. Rep. Emmer earlier this year filed the Cuba Trade Act of 2015, which would lift the Cuban embargo and allow for businesses in the private sector to trade freely with Cuba, while prohibiting taxpayer funds to be used on promotion or development of these new markets.
“The establishment of a bipartisan Cuba Working Group in this Congress is a game-changer,” said Marc Hanson, senior associate at the Washington, D.C. Office on Latin America. “The House Cuba Working Group will be instrumental in translating the overwhelming public support for ending the embargo on Cuba into legislative initiatives that can pass in Congress.”
In Tampa Bay, business leaders reiterated that the region is poised to be the gateway to Cuba: “We commend U.S. Rep. Castor for leading the efforts of re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba,” said Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. “The Chamber has been engaged in exploring opportunities in Cuba for years and U.S. Rep. Castor has worked alongside us each step of the way – including co-hosting a forum on Cuba with the Chamber and Tampa International Airport. As we recognize the one-year mark, we know there is more to do and we will continue our efforts on behalf of the business community in support of pursuing increased opportunities with Cuba.”
For years, the Tampa Bay community has pushed for engagement with Cuba by improving diplomatic relations and promoting economic reforms. U.S. Rep. Castor wrote to then President-Elect Obama about travel to Cuba, calling for him to lift the restrictions that limit family travel to the island nation. She also advocated for increasing travel through broadening general licenses and successfully pushed the Administration to designate Tampa International Airport as an entry/exit point for charter flights to the island nation. Multiple weekly charter flights now connect directly to Havana, Cuba, and have been a boost to Tampa Bay’s economy. In 2013, upon her return from Cuba, U.S. Rep. Castor sent a letter to President Obama and Secretary Kerry outlining the changes, challenges, and opportunities she saw for modernizing relations with the island. In 2014, U.S. Rep. Castor brought Cuban Ambassador Jose Cabañas to Tampa to discuss greater engagement and economic reforms. In March, U.S. Rep. Castor hosted a well-attended Tampa/Cuba forum with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and Tampa International Airport to educate the region’s families and businesses on the evolving landscape. In July, she attended the opening of the Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C. and plans to soon visit Cuba again.
On Dec. 17, 2014, President Obama announced that the United States and Cuba would begin normalizing relations.