Florida Congresswoman Kathy Castor returned from a weekend trip to Cuba convinced the United States should encourage its recent economic reforms and consider normalized relations.
“I’ll be communicating with President Obama and Secretary (of State John) Kerry the desire of Cubans -- official and unofficial -- to have normalized relations,” said Castor, D-Tampa. “And I think it’s in our best interests for the state of Florida, and the Tampa Bay area as well.”
Castor and much of the Tampa area she represents have long tended to support easing the U.S. embargo of Cuba and allowing more Americans to visit the island. She see’s it as a way to promote Tampa Bay as a gateway and develop business ties.
It’s a clear contrast to the prevailing view in South Florida’s Cuban-American community, which has been dominated by exiles who fled the Castro regime.
Her colleagues from South Florida, including fellow Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, contend that loosening the embargo would hand the Castro government an economic lifeline. They insist that Cuba embrace democratic reforms, release political prisoners and allow dissent before the embargo is removed.
“The Cuban government remains repressive,” Castor said. “They have serious human rights issues. But I think the policy of the embargo and isolation over 50 years hasn’t improved that situation. We need to try something new.”
Congress is unlikely to ease the embargo any time soon, largely because of determined opposition from key members, including Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, a Cuban-American Democrat from New Jersey.
Castor suggested removing Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, which would not require an act of Congress.
“There is an over-arching need for a refreshed dialogue between the United States and Cuba, and greater engagement,” she said. “There are many missed opportunities for American businesses, and the Cubans are changing their economy. They are moving from a hard-core closed communist economy to certain market reforms.”