As relations between the United States and Cuba continue to thaw, President Obama's announcement that he plans to visit the country is the latest in a string of concrete actions signifying the strengthening ties between the two nations.
The president's trip, set for next month, marks the first time a sitting U.S. president has traveled to the island nation in about eight decades.
Tampa-area Congresswoman Kathy Castor, who recently took a trip their herself, in a written statement called the travel plans "historic" and promising for the economies of both countries as well as quality of life in a country that for decades endured an oppressive regime.
"His visit will encourage further economic and human rights changes on the island," she said. "I know he will be as inspired as I am by the Cuban people and the cuentapropistas who are building a more hopeful future for themselves and their families. We must work together to open up more opportunities for U.S. businesses and travelers to engage with Cuba, and the Cuban government must open up more opportunities for its people to benefit from that engagement."
Castor and many other local officials believe the warming relations could be particularly lucrative for the Tampa Bay area, given their proximity and the unwillingness of many officials in Miami (which is closer) to reach out.
She said her most recent trip has strengthened her resolve to tear down the embargo that blocks trade between the U.S. and Cuba, which she called a "Cold War relic."
On the other side of the aisle, many conservative Republicans are fighting efforts to strengthen ties between the two, namely Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both of whom are presidential frontrunners and both of whom are the sons of Cuban immigrants.
Castor criticized their positions on Cuba.
“Naysayers like Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are wrong," she said. "They are shackled to the status quo and a Cold War policy that has hurt the Cuban people and infringed on the constitutional rights of Americans."
President Obama plans to visit Cuba on March 21st and 22nd, and a trip to Argentina follows.