The United States and Cuba will officially reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen embassies on July 20. In doing so, we have turned the page on 50 years of acrimony between our two countries. The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce has been an important part of making progress. Thank you. The Obama Administration’s change in policy is intended to empower the Cuban people and support the emergence of a democratic, prosperous and stable Cuba. An embassy in Havana will enable America to effectively promote our interests, protect and assist American citizens traveling to Cuba, and increase engagement with the Cuban people. An embassy is not a gift to a foreign country, but represents a sign that two countries are committed to deepening bilateral relations.
Formal diplomatic ties are especially important to families in Tampa Bay and throughout Florida. Our state policymakers should follow suit to boost student, cultural, religious and business exchanges. I have discussed opening a consulate in Tampa with U.S. State Department and Cuban officials. I am hopeful such discussions will bear fruit, especially with the support of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and so many leaders in our community who understand the historic ties between Tampa and Havana and the economic opportunities that come with becoming a Gateway to Cuba.
A couple of months ago, I was reminded of our deep, historic roots with Cuba when I met with the former Tampa Cuban Consul, Raul Villamia, 90, to review the history of the Tampa-based consulate, coincidentally at the exact same time that Cuba was officially removed from the U.S. State Sponsor of Terrorism list, which has been cited as a stumbling block for more meaningful engagement between the United States and Cuba. I pledged to him that Tampa Bay would work to return the consulate to Tampa. With the Chamber’s help, we can make it a reality.
Thank you Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce for seizing the opportunity to lead on engagement and encourage human rights and economic reforms in Cuba.
Tampa Chamber Delegation Returns from Historic Trip to Cuba
Trip reconnects historic US gateway to Cuba
Tampa, Fla. – A delegation of members of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce took a historic experiential learning trip to Cuba from May 29 – June 2. The delegation returned with a renewed perspective on living and economic conditions in Cuba with their sights on continuing the discussion on how best to pursue the goal of re-instituting economic ties with the nation.
“Tampa is the historic US gateway to Cuba and we have over 90,000 Cuban Americans living in our region. This trip was a first step in rebuilding those ties. It’s the culmination of a decision the Chamber made 18 months ago to visit the nation. It also ties directly to years of hard work with Congresswoman Kathy Castor’s office and Tampa International Airport to reestablish flights to Cuba,” said Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber delegation of 38 civic and business leaders travelled to Cuba on a People-to-People license which is issued for the goal of enhancing cross-cultural relations between Americans and Cubans. The group visited Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Cuban Institute of Music, Santo Angel Neighborhood, the Cuban Chamber of Commerce and U.S Interest Section, among other cultural and historic sites. The group also had the opportunity to interact with many locals that shared fond stories of relatives travelling to/from Tampa prior to the embargo as well as their general knowledge about Tampa and its historical significance to Cuba.
Tampa’s relationship with Cuba dates back to 1539 when Hernando de Soto sailed from Cuba to Tampa Bay. As early as the 17th century, Cuban fisherman would frequent the Tampa Bay area on a seasonal basis, and, over time, the maritime connection became well established. In the 1850s Captain James McKay established regular commercial shipping service from Florida to Cuba through Tampa. In the 1880s Cuban immigrants established Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood as the cigar capital of the United States. On November 26, 1891 Jose Marti delivered his famous “Con Todos y Para el Bien de Todos” speech in Tampa.
The Chamber is planning to debrief with members of the delegation to discuss actions as it relates to future trips and the Chamber’s overall strategy as it relates to Cuba. The Chamber will continue to support the Airport’s efforts to make Tampa the U.S. hub for travel to Cuba and encourages those with questions about visiting Cuba to visit their recently-launched website, www.gotocuba.org. For continued updates about the Chamber and its position on Cuba, please visit www.tampachamber.com/cuba.