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The right approach to Cuba

Published July 19, 2003

A delegation from Tampa's Port Authority plans to leave Sunday for Cuba, and it's good not only the group is going, but going in the right frame of mind.

The officials will meet with Cuba's port managers to discuss legally permissible trade opportunities between Tampa-area companies and the communist island. Congress allows sales of some food and agricultural products to Cuba on a cash-only basis. The level of trade - roughly $165-million annually - was never enough to capture the port's attention. But officials at least want the port in a position to capitalize later if the U.S. trade embargo is further loosened or lifted.

This is a pragmatic approach that avoids politics to the extent that anything involving Cuba can. "It's my responsibility to the businesses that use the port to go down there," said Joe Diaz, the port chairman. "My concern is, is there anything there for us down the road? Not going down there would be a dereliction of duty." County Commissioner Pat Frank, who sits on the port board, said her aim is to foster "a working relationship with the port people."

The port's willingness to publicly discuss its trip and defend its legitimate mission stands in sharp contrast to the approach taken by former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, whose delegation sneaked off to Cuba without public notice and then gave conflicting reasons for going. Greco's penchant for secrecy undid much of the good of his trip, and we are glad the port did not bring on itself the same cloud of suspicion. No reasonable person could support the record of dictator Fidel Castro, but Americans have a new appreciation for the nuance of reaching out to Cuban society - thanks, in part, to trips like this.

[Last modified July 19, 2003, 02:03:19]


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