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.