President Barack Obama‘s diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba in December has been met mostly with approval in the Tampa Bay area from political and business leaders.
A Pinellas County delegation visited the communist island for the first time in January, while the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce is planning another visit in May. Tampa area U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor will soon hold a summit on Cuba in Tampa.
That excitement isn’t shared across the state, certainly not by Miami-area Republicans in the Legislature.
Tuesday morning the Florida Senate voted almost unanimously in a voice vote to denounce the president’s decision to resume relations with Cuba. The measure is mostly symbolic in scope, though it does call for the federal government to not place a Cuban consulate in Florida, something that Castor and other officials are pushing to happen in Tampa.
The measure was proposed by Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, who spoke for nearly 12 minutes on the Senate floor Tuesday morning in a multimedia presentation. She showed still photographs of the Ladies in White, the wives and family members of Cuban dissidents who often hold protests in Cuba. She also showed a video clip of the Brothers to the Rescue airplane being shot down by the Cuban air force in 1996.
She talked about Cuba having installed an apartheid-type government, where tourists can have it all, but residents’ actions are controlled by the government.
“This is a place where foreigners, where the government elite can go to the best hospitals, can have an amazing health care system, but where residents are told they have to bring their own sheets, they have to bring their own light bulbs, and if they can get to see a doctor, they’ll wait for several months,” Flores said.
“Those of us who have been elected to speak for those who can’t speak themselves. If we don’t stand for freedom. Then who will?”
After Flores’ speech came a momentary pause, and Senate President Andy Gardiner prepared to call for a voice vote. However, that’s when Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner became the only one on the Senate floor to speak out against the resolution.
“I feel your pain and your passion,” the Tampa Democrat said to Flores. “But the Obama administration took historic steps to chart a new course in the United States relations with Cuba.” She said that in her heart she was convinced that Obama meant “no malice” in promulgating the diplomatic breakthrough.
Joyner’s response seemed to move two other Miami-Dade County senators to rise and express their disdain toward the Castro brothers and the administration’s outreach to them.
Hialeah Sen. Rene Garcia said if he thought Obama’s actions could change things for the people in Cuba he’d be supportive: “But those Cubans on that island woke up the same way they woke up yesterday. And they will wake up the same way tomorrow. Nothing will change as a result of this policy shift for the island of Cuba.”
Another Miami Republican legislator, Sen. Miguel Diaz de La Portilla, said his Cuban-born parents had to leave the island when they were 21 after Fidel Castro took power. He said, “Their youth had been stolen by the two octogenarian dictators 90 miles away from Florida’s coasts.”
The proposal was then passed on a voice vote, with just one member dissenting.
After a Senate committee voted on the resolution earlier this month, Castor told Florida Politics that it was “very disappointing.”
“I’m not sure that the Florida Legislature has the legal ability to tamper with federal diplomatic relations,” she said. “They can try, but they ought to listen to this community, to the businesses and families that want to see improved relations.”
A similar resolution is moving through the Florida House, sponsored by South Florida Reps. Manny Diaz Jr. and Jeanette Nunez.