A Cuban consulate for Tampa: ¡Cómo no!

 

Joe O'Neill, The Tampa Tribune

 

Before long, Cuba will open a consulate in this country to complement its Washington embassy. That consulate should be in Tampa.

 

If history matters — and the pre-Castro roots of Ybor City, the soul of Tampa, surely should — there is no place better suited than this city. The link is as literal as Cuban immigrant cigar makers and lectores — and the tobacco, itself, which came from Cuba.

 

José Martí, Cuba’s ultimate revolutionary hero, visited Tampa no less than 20 times in the late 1800s to champion the cause of Cuban freedom. Locals were ardent supporters of Cuba’s anti-colonial fight against Spain. He famously spoke from the iconic iron stairs of the Ybor-Manrara cigar factory.

 

In Martí’s memory, there are more than a dozen landmarks memorializing his presence in our familial midst. He mattered — and matters — that much.

 

There’s even a small plot of land nearby — in Friends of José Martí Park on Eighth Avenue in Ybor — that is literally sovereign Cuban real estate. It’s hardly happenstance that when renowned Cuban historian/architect Eusebio Leal visited Tampa last month, he made a pilgrimage to the park where he placed a flower — emblematic of the special Cuba-Ybor nexus — in front of a statue of José Martí.

 

The history of Tampa and Cuba is not rooted in exile flight and a Cold War-fed family feud. It’s rooted in an ancestral past as well as trade and travel and harkens to a time and places we can relate to — and build on. Tampa was once the American hub for Cuban artists. Back in the day, there was ferry service between Tampa and Havana.

 

Moreover, it’s not only that it makes eminent historical sense for there to be a Cuban consulate in Tampa, it also makes pragmatic common sense. In short, it’s in the enlightened, 2015 self-interest of Tampa to be all in on this one.

 

To that end, it’s encouraging that the Tampa City Council, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce and the Hillsborough County Commission are on board. That sort of unanimity, although notably shy of support from City Hall, is rare and speaks volumes about the potential benefits of a consulate.

 

The advantages include a designated expediter of business- and visitor-related matters, not just a high-profile upgrade in our international bona fides. This matters most when other puzzle pieces are already present.

 

• Tampa is the closest U.S. full-service, deep-water port to Havana. A de facto role as America’s Havana gateway could beckon as U.S. businesses and industries look for post-embargo shipping opportunities. In short, Tampa could max out on its port wherewithal and location.

 

• Consulate clout and prestige would be well noted throughout Latin America. Gateway traction at the expense of Miami is a likely scenario.

 

• As City Council member Yoli Capín has noted: “The world is paying attention to the improving relationship of the United States and Cuba. Tampa could become a focal point of it.”

 

• As a gateway, Tampa would be the most likely conduit for a Cuba needing to scramble to accommodate a surge in outside-world traffic and investment. Tampa would be in prime position to respond to across-the-board needs for goods and services.

 

Tampa — in addition to geography, history, transportation/trade infrastructure and 90,000 Cuban-Americans nearby — has one other relevant attribute. We would be a civic symbol for what the U.S. and Cuba have in common — not in conflict.

 

Isn’t that what this is about?

 

Cubanálisis - El Think-Tank

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