Retired Cuba mission chief: Florida cities should “prepare themselves for the changes coming”

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In the wake of President Barack Obama‘s historic visit to Cuba, the retired Floridian who once represented the U.S. in Havana says it’s time for Florida cities to wade into the travel and business opportunities now on the horizon.

While some Florida cities have rushed to do business in Cuba, others, particularly conservative Jacksonville, have hung back.

“It is curious to see this, but I understand both the political and emotional issues involved,” said John Caulfield, retired diplomat and former chief of the U.S. interests section in Havana. That office resumed its former role as a U.S. Embassy following the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries last year.

“What I would say is that the status quo is not going to remain in Cuba, and so the question is, do you prepare yourself for the changes coming? I think Jacksonville has a lot to gain as Cuba’s economy opens and changes. In Cuba it’s important that they open their economy for small business and especially, to allow overseas investment.”

Caulfield told WJCT that the president’s unprecedented questioning of Raul Castro broadcast on television and his address to the Cuban people will have extraordinary impact among the island’s population, and serve to counteract a steady diet of anti-American and Communist propaganda.

“In the eyes of Cubans, the regime’s justifications for having a messed-up economy and repressive measures are dramatically undercut when President Raul Castro welcomes Barack Obama to Cuba. And President Obama is very popular with the Cuban people.”

While respecting the vocal South Florida Cuban opposition to the normalization of relations and presidential visit, Caulfield says he agrees with Obama’s view that greater engagement with the US will improve the lives of Cubans because “we know the leadership there will be changing.”

“The real authority lies there in a small group who fought in Castro’s revolution. There are only about five ‘commandantes’ left in the government, and they’re all over 80. The next tier of leadership is thirty years younger. And they look at the world differently.”


Melissa Ross

In addition to her work writing for Florida Politics, Melissa Ross also hosts and produces WJCT’s First Coast Connect, the Jacksonville NPR/PBS station’s flagship local call-in public affairs radio program. The show has won four national awards from Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). First Coast Connect was also recognized in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014 as Best Local Radio Show by Folio Weekly’s “Best Of Jax” Readers Poll and Melissa has also been recognized as Folio Weekly’s Best Local Radio Personality. As executive producer of The 904: Shadow on the Sunshine State, Melissa and WJCT received an Emmy in the “Documentary” category at the 2011 Suncoast Emmy Awards. The 904 examined Jacksonville’s status as Florida’s murder capital. During her years in broadcast television, Melissa picked up three additional Emmys for news and feature reporting. Melissa came to WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. Married with two children, Melissa is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism/Communications. She can be reached at [email protected]


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