Kathy Castor says economic sanctions on Cuba no longer make sense

The Congresswoman added that Obama seemed "quite interested," but made no promises about any immediate change in Cuban policy. She told the 100 or so people who jammed into the back room at Mise en Place, "We've got to continue to apply additional political pressure — pressure from the business community — to explain why this is so important in this day and age."

The Tampa Democrat has yet to travel to Cuba, though she said over a year-and-a-half ago that she intends to. Last month, eight Democrats, including Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, took a fact-finding trip to the island.

Castor said she recently spoke with Secretary of State John Kerry about improving the relationship with the two countries. She said he thinks the "political realities" with high ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is something that can't be discounted when weighing how the relationship might advance.

The committee members include Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), now the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; South Florida GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, former chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; and Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who are absolute hawks when it comes to anything to do with the Castro-led government.

Castor said emphatically that there's no proof at all that Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism, and in fact "economic interests in other countries from across the globe are investing in the island."

Castor also acknowledged that there are still significant issues between the two countries. For the U.S, that includes the imprisonment of American Alan Gross in Havana, where he was arrested in December of 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in prison for installing Internet networks under a secretive U.S. program the Cuban government considers subversive. (The U.S. has insisted that Gross was helping the indigenous area simply get connected on the Internet.)

The Cuban government, however, has linked Gross' fate to that of five Cuban agents imprisoned in the late 1990s for infiltrating Miami exile organizations and U.S. military bases — they are known as the Cuban Five.

But Castor said these issues can be dealt with diplomatically.

"I am confident that change is on the horizon ... we've seen improvements in the economic situation in Cuba. We can improve our own situation in Tampa. Think about what can happen at the Port of Tampa, ports all around the Southeast. All across America. These are our values that we share as Americans. Trade travel and the ability to have a productive dialogue. There's no reason any longer that it should not move forward," she said.

  • Kathy Castor

This weekend, some of the leading U.S. advocates who support an end to the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba were in Tampa for a conference on brokering better relations with with Castro-led government. Many in attendance said they were blown away by Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor's speech on Friday night, when she said it's time for the economic sanctions that the U.S. has placed on Cuba, for more than 51 years, to fade away.

"I don't meet anyone anymore here or wherever I go, who doesn't believe that the restriction on trade and travel makes sense any longer," Castor said to a cheering crowd at Tampa's Mise en Place, where she was supposed to be the warm-up act for Miami Congressman Joe Garcia.

Garcia was scheduled as the main attraction on the first night of the "Rapprochement With Cuba: Good for Tampa, Good for Florida, Good for America" conference, which was part of an event presented by Tampa activist Al Fox with the The Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation. (You can read our report about the event here).

But the Miami Democrat never showed (reportedly he appeared at about 8:40 p.m., 40 minutes after the event was scheduled to end), so it was Castor who gave a speech that thrilled anti-embargo advocates like Fox and former U.S. diplomat Wayne Smith.

Castor said she thanked President Obama — when he made a late October campaign appearance in Ybor City's Centennial Park — for approving charter flights from U.S. airports (like Tampa's) to Cuba. But she stressed to Obama, "This is a community that supports him, but we are a community that wants change."

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.