Publisher’s Note: We received a Letter to the Editor from Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of the Tampa Chamber regarding our cover story in the last issue about Cuba and the normalization of relations. We encourage discourse about important topics that impact our state and nation. We invited Mr. Rohrlack to write this guest blog.
There are many different views on the relationship with Cuba and just as many reasons for supporting the end of the half-century embargo as there are for continuing it. The Chamber is pleased that after more than 50 years, the shift is moving toward establishing ties with our southern neighbor, located only 90 miles off the coast of Florida.
The reopening of the Cuban Embassy in Washington was an important step in re-establishing relations which will ultimately lead to expanded economic opportunities for our region. On our most recent educational trip to Cuba this May, we had the opportunity to visit what will soon be the U.S. Embassy in Cuba and engage in meaningful dialogue. The Chamber has been an advocate of reopening ties for years and we welcome this next step in the process of making that a reality.
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. (With all for the good of all).
In more recent times, Tampa was the first market in Florida after Miami to start flights to Cuba. The impact is over $1 million a year to Tampa International Airport. The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce has led three trips to Cuba including meeting with the head of the U.S. Interest Section (soon to be Ambassador). We have established connections with two medical facilities in Tampa and two in Cuba to establish humanitarian efforts, had a strategy meeting with the Mariel Port and studied how Cuba’s successful tourism industry could partner with ours here in the Bay area.
We have had meetings with the Tampa Bay Congressional Delegation discussing Cuba, as well as meetings with the U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. Department of State. The Chamber has passed a motion unanimously supporting the re-establishment of the Cuban Consulate being located in Tampa as it was before the embargo was put in place. This was followed by the Tampa City Council also passing a motion supporting the Consulate being re-established in Tampa. Tampa has a proud history with Cuba going back over 500 years.
There is opportunity for improved relations with Cuba. Not just economic, but humanitarian. While it was a positive development that FORWARD Florida dedicated a cover story to the island nation, the story could have been more comprehensive about the many activities going on around the state to establish a relationship.
Top Image: Tampa’s Ybor City has been home to the Cuban community since the 1880s.