Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen calls trip to Cuba "intense"

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"I would describe it as combining Lisbon, Portugal and Beirut," Cohen said, describing the Cuban capital as possessing magnificent architecture and the "remnants" of a beautiful city plagued by a deteriorating infrastructure. "I would say 80 percent of the buildings are literally crumbling." He added that there are parts of the city where those buildings are being repaired.


Cohen said if he had the power to change anything in the short term it would be to expand the travel opportunities to Cuba that don't currently exist, which he said would benefit both countries, as well as Tampa.


"If universities are going to be able to move more students there, if religious groups are going to be able to send more people, if tourists would be able to go there, I would argue that the best place to go out of is Tampa," the councilman said. "It's a quick easy flight. You don't have the emotional feelings like you do in Miami."


The Havana harbor has been a forbidden port for American ships since the United States imposed its economic embargo on Cuba in the early 1960s. Cohen said if that ban could be relaxed, he envisions a robust cruise ship experience that would begin in Tampa, then go to Key West, Havana, possibly Cozumel, and finish in New Orleans.


"That would be a cruise that people would want to take," he said, thinking of future opportunities.


The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce added a page to its website regarding the trip to the island. Chamber head Bob Rohrlack said, "This trip was a first step in rebuilding those ties. It's the culmination of a decision the Chamber made 18 months ago to visit the nation. It also ties directly to years of hard work with Congresswoman Kathy Castor's office and Tampa International Airport to reestablish flights to Cuba."

  • Tampa City Council members Yolie Capin and Harry Cohen in Cuba

Among the group of 38 people who were part of the the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce's first trip to Cuba last week was City Councilman Harry Cohen, who called the journey an intense experience. (Council members Yolie Capin and Mary Mulhern also went.)

The group left last Wednesday afternoon for Havana and returned on Sunday. Cohen said the short distance between the two nations was never more evident than on the return flight when he looked out his window just 20 minutes after taking off and learned the plane was hovering over Fort Myers.

"Normally when you go someplace that is almost like going to another world, you have a period of time on a long flight to sort of adapt ... so that really drove home to me the sort of the drama of the experience," he said.

And what did he think of Havana?

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