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Critic presses issue of Greco trip to Cuba

Ralph Fernandez would ban such trips and inject the issue into the governor's race.

By DAVID KARP, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 24, 2002

Ralph Fernandez would ban such trips and inject the issue into the governor's race.

TAMPA -- In the three months since Mayor Dick Greco and city business leaders visited Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, there have been no protests at City Hall, no widespread rebuke from the public.

But one opponent of the trip has not forgotten.

Ralph Fernandez, a lawyer and ardent Anti-Castro activist, unveiled plans Wednesday to make sure no Tampa mayor ever visits the Communist island again.

Fernandez asked the City Council to draft a resolution and consider a policy preventing city employees from traveling to Cuba. He will ask State Attorney Mark Ober to investigate whether the trip violated state law.

On Monday, Fernandez plans to travel to Miami to try to make the mayor's trip to Cuba an issue in the governor's race.

He plans to tell listeners of Spanish-language radio stations that Gov. Jeb Bush should not have campaigned side by side with Greco last week in Tampa.

"I would not want anything to do with anyone who embraces Fidel Castro," Fernandez said. "Certainly Jeb Bush should not want any less."

Greco was one of several well-known Democrats who endorsed the Republican governor's bid for re-election. The two have appeared together several times since Greco's visit to Cuba.

A Bush campaign spokeswoman said the governor told the mayor that he didn't approve of his trip. "He was displeased that he went to Cuba," spokeswoman Lisa Gates said. "He told him that at the time, and he has continued to say that."

Bush's appearance with Greco doesn't change the governor's opposition to diplomatic ties with Communist Cuba, she said.

Fernandez sent City Council members a 20-page memo Wednesday showing how Castro has supported terrorism.

"If you go to Havana, it's a who's who of terrorists," Fernandez said. "It's the lover's lane of terrorists."

He pointed to a state law that forbids local governments and companies that do business with the state from traveling to Cuba. Anyone who does could lose state funding, the law said.

"I want them to enforce the law," Fernandez said.

Mayor Dick Greco said Fernandez is trying to drum up free press. "Every time he does something like this that is publicity he does not have to pay for," Greco said.

City Council members were not stepping forward to back Fernandez.

"I think Ralph is off base to make such a big deal over this," said council member Mary Alvarez, who represents West Tampa. "This is a free country, and that is why Cubans came over here, to get away from tyranny. If the mayor had gone to Canada, he would not be having to tell us where he went."

City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda said he was sympathetic to Fernandez's cause, but he would not allow him more than three minutes -- what every other person gets -- to address the council. Miranda wouldn't support passing a resolution about the trip.

"Resolutions are meaningless," he said. "It is like saying, 'I promise to take a bath every day.' "

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