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Meanwhile, in Cuba: No one seems to care

Just about everyone outside Tampa Bay agrees that Dick Greco's trip wasn't a big deal.

By DAVID ADAMS, Times Latin America Correspondent

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 3, 2002

Just about everyone outside Tampa Bay agrees that Dick Greco's trip wasn't a big deal.

MIAMI -- Tampa Mayor Dick Greco's nearly six-hour meeting with Fidel Castro may be making waves in the bay area, but it has so far failed to get even the briefest mention in Cuba's state-run media. Nor has it caused much stir in Miami.

Officials at the North America department of the Cuban Foreign Ministry said Havana had made no official statement regarding the visit so far. Havana's diplomatic mission in Washington did not return several phone calls.

Those who monitor Cuban state media, including the U.S. State Department, which has an Interests Section in Havana, say that's not altogether unusual. In May, it took two days for the main daily newspaper, Granma, to report on a historic speech by former President Jimmy Carter during his trip to the island.

Cuba analysts were not surprised by Havana's low-key handling of the visit, or the mild reaction from Cuban exiles in Miami. "Nobody is even talking about it down here," said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, referring to a conference on the Cuban economy in Miami attended by top U.S. officials and Cuban analysts.

As trade with Cuba has grown, it's no surprise that local elected representatives should visit the island to scout for business, Kavulich said. He noted that Florida Produce, a Hillsborough County firm, recently brokered a deal with Cuba to supply $25,000 of New Mexico onions.

Leaders at the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), the influential Cuban exile group in Miami, also dismissed the visit.

"These days, every Boy Scout troop that goes to Cuba gets five hours with Castro," said Dennis Hays, who heads the Washington office of CANF. "It's a desperate attempt by Castro to find new friends. Everybody who isn't physically tied down is being invited to Cuba."

Increasing numbers of Cuban exiles, including Bay of Pigs veterans, are visiting Cuba. Some 100 U.S. attorneys, mostly from Florida and including a number of Cuban-Americans, are due to attend a U.S.-Cuba Legal Conference in Havana at the end of August.

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