Fight For Cuba

Jul 8, 2013

Credit potomo via Flickr

Cuba experts say soon, we could be looking at an end to the U.S. embargo. Tampa has already begun a campaign to win the island’s business. But Miami has been far quieter.

Alina Brouwer, she comes from a family of musicians. Her father and uncle are both composers, and well known on the island. Alina fled to Miami in ‘92. Ever since, she’s been waiting for the death of Fidel Castro. She’s been waiting for a free Cuba.

"I dream about going back to Cuba very often", Brouwer said. "I see my family, my kids, especially, being able to walk around Havana"

Alina imagines opening up a recording studio in Cuba. Maybe a music school too. But Alina is like many exiles in Miami. She says she’s waiting for human rights in Cuba. And only then will she do business on the island.

Across the state in Tampa, a band is blaring traditional Cuban songs in the airport’s main terminal. It’s meant to bring attention to the direct flights to Havana.

Politicians and business leaders recently took one of these flights and spent five days in Cuba. City leaders talk openly about how the trip laid groundwork for future trade.

Three members of the Tampa city council went on the trip. For councilwoman Mary Mulhern, it was her third visit.

"We’ve been building our relationship with Cuba the best that we can under the current laws, and yes, you do business with the people you know and trust", said Mulhern.

She wants Cuba to trust Tampa. And she’s not the city’s only politician who wants to do business with Cuba.

There’s also Kathy Castor, Florida’s only member of Congress who’s against the embargo. Truth is, it isn’t hard to find such opinions in Tampa.

Patrick Manteiga is publisher of La Gaceta newspaper -- his grandfather founded it in 1922 for Cuban immigrants in Ybor City. Manteiga speaks out against the U.S. embargo. He has traveled to Cuba. And he’s proud of those photos of Fidel Castro on his office wall.

"By now a lot of the punches aren’t nearly as hard when you say America’s position with Cuba is wrong", Manteiga said. "Fifteen years ago if we would have said this in Miami we would’ve had our building firebombed."

Even today, it’s the kind of display you’d never see in Miami. Nobody there is publicly talking about trade with its communist neighbor.

FIU Cuba expert Jose Gabilondo says in Miami, the Cold War never ended.

"Ironically, Miami may be the only major city in Florida that’s not actively preparing for more engagement with Cuba", said Gabilondo.

Gabilondo says even though most exiles favor lifting the embargo, Miami businesses are too afraid of being blacklisted to openly discuss plans for trade with Cuba.

Miami-Dade Councilman Javier Souto is a veteran of the Bay of Pigs. So, to him, the  idea of investing in Cuba isn’t a business decision. It’s funding terrorism. He says Tampa’s courtship of Cuba is no better than the countries that ignore the embargo.

"They don’t care about human rights, they don’t care about freedom of expression, they don’t care about any of that, these other countries of the world", said Souto. "They only care about their money."

Last month, for the first time, the Cuban government gave citizens limited internet access. It’s one of several recent reforms that could bring an end to the 61-year-old U.S. embargo. 

Tampa is ready for that day. If there’s a plan in Miami, you’d never know.