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Tampa City Council should reach out to Cuba

The Tampa City Council has been debating the merits of sending an official letter to the government of Cuba according to the St. Petersburg Times, offering greetings to an island nation that has been under a U.S. trade embargo for the past five decades.

Opening communication with the Havanese and national governments comes during a time of softening policies toward Communist Cuba – the Obama administration designated Tampa International Airport as eligible for direct flights to Havana and is relaxing restrictions on remittances, according to ABC News. The Tampa City Council should try to reach out to Havana and the Cuban government to strengthen formal and informal relations between our peoples.

The nation of Cuba was a steady trading partner with the U.S. prior to the trade embargo that was erected in 1960. Since then, the threat of Cuba has vanished over the decades. Opening up trade will give Cubans a renewed taste for capitalism, and Cuba’s close proximity makes it an ideal trading partner of the U.S.. When Cuban-Americans returned home on the inaugural flight from Tampa to Havana, their bags were stuffed with U.S. goods like cookies, clothes, medicine and even cowboy hats, according to the Times.

The economic benefits of ending the embargo are apparent to both sides, but powerful people object to its termination. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) spoke out against the Obama administration’s plans to open travel for Cuban-Americans, claiming it “is unthinkable that the administration would enable the enrichment of a Cuban regime that routinely violates the basic human rights and dignity of its people,” according to ABC News.

While a democratic and free Cuba is better than the current one, which is classified as a state sponsor of terrorism by the Department of State, continuing to push the island nation away is not promoting the common Cuban’s welfare. If the goal of the embargo was to encourage the Cuban people to overthrow their government and punish their rulers, the embargo has been a failure. U.S. cities and states must start diplomacy on the local level to thaw the icy relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

The Tampa City Council was divided on whether Tampa has the legal right to communicate with the Havanese and Cuban governments. Councilman Mike Suarez objected, claiming “our role as City Council is not to make international policy,” according to the Times.

U.S. cities already communicate with foreign cities at the sub-national level, through Sister Cities International and similar organizations. There are 19 official sister cities that partner with American and Cuban urban centers in existence already, according to the U.S.-Cuba Sister Cities Association.

The city of Tampa does not have the power to negotiate treaties with foreign powers under the Constitution, but this does not forbid discussion and communication. Tampa should make contact and work to be the next sister city in preparation for the eventual end of the embargo.