Tampa Courts Cuba For Future Business

Jul 11, 2013
Originally published on July 11, 2013 4:44 pm

Miami may be closer to Cuba and home to more people of Cuban ancestry, but Tampa is ready to capitalize on economic and diplomatic ties to to the island nation once the longstanding trade embargo is lifted.

Tampa business owners are talking about how to expand into Cuba, and politicians are making trips there.

“In Tampa, they supported the revolution that freed Cuba from Spain. They supported the Castro revolution. They consider themselves a lifeline to Cuba,” Eric Barton of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting told Here & Now.


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I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. Jay-Z and Beyonce's trip to Cuba made waves when it happened. Now, it has made its way to Congress. A new bill introduced by Republicans contains a provision that would restrict travel to Cuba for academic purposes only. Meanwhile, in Florida, there are some who would like to go in the other direction and lift the embargo with Cuba. From the Here And Now Contributors Network, Eric Barton from WLRN in Miami joins us with the details. Eric, welcome to HERE AND NOW.

ERIC BARTON, BYLINE: Yeah. Thanks, Jeremy.

HOBSON: Well, so Florida is a very big place. There are very different cities with different populations, different Cuban populations. And so I want to start in Miami which has this famously big Cuban-American population. How do they feel there about the embargo?

BARTON: Yeah. It sort of goes back to the history of Miami. You know, Miami was sort of a sleepy Southern town up until the 1950s. After the Cuban revolution, it was flooded with exiles who came over, and these are people who, you know, lost family members under the Castro government. These are people whose family members were tortured, who lost land. So to them, it's a very personal issue. The idea of lifting the embargo is the idea of dealing with a terrorist government.

HOBSON: And what about in Tampa? This is on the other side of the state, a very different population there. How do the Cubans or the Cuban-Americans feel about the embargo there?

BARTON: In Tampa, the Cubans there were largely immigrants who came over to work in the cigar factories in the 1850s. These are people who don't have necessarily a personal attachment or a personal feeling about the revolution, about the Castro government. And so to them, they see an opportunity. They see lifting the embargo as a way to bring in jobs to Tampa.

HOBSON: And Tampa has a history of trading with Cuba.

BARTON: Yeah. It goes back 150 years, back to the cigar factories, and they also have a history of supporting Cuba. They supported the revolution that freed Cuba from Spain. They supported the Castro revolution. They consider themselves the lifeline to Cuba.

HOBSON: So who would stand to gain from a lifting of the embargo more, Tampa or Cuba?

BARTON: Cuba, obviously, has a lot to gain because their infrastructure hasn't been upgraded in 30 years, you know? Not since the Soviets pulled out have they had really any upgrades to their electrical systems, their water systems, their sewer. So they are in desperate need of just some basic services.

HOBSON: Yeah. And let's listen to somebody you spoke with. This is Patrick Manteiga in the offices of the Cuban-focused newspaper that he owns in Tampa.

PATRICK MANTEIGA: Right now, all the punches aren't nearly as hard when you say America's position with Cuba is wrong. Fifteen years ago, if we'd said this in Miami, we would have our building firebombed.

HOBSON: So there's a real - a groundswell of support for lifting this embargo, it sounds like.

BARTON: Yeah. And, you know, that might sound like hyperbole. He's saying having his office firebombed, but that really does happen. Anybody who wants to do business with Cuba stands that risk.

HOBSON: Is Miami feeling like, oh, well, maybe we should be thinking in a different way about this, we don't want Tampa to come and one-up us if this embargo is lifted?

BARTON: Well, it depends on who you ask because in polls for decades now Americans have favored lifting the embargo. Hispanics have favored lifting the embargo. And just recently, Cubans now favor lifting the embargo. But the difference is that politicians do not. There's a lot of money that get channeled to re-election campaigns, and that has kept politicians on the camp of not wanting to lift the embargo.

HOBSON: So, Eric, is there any chance that this embargo is actually going to be lifted? This is sort of a pipedream right now.

BARTON: Well, you know, every few years, you get these ideas that it could be lifted. And right now is another period of time, but there could be signs that things are coming. They are allowing their people to travel more freely now. And for the first time ever, citizens there have access to the Internet, although it's incredibly expensive. But the idea of having information readily available for the first time could be a step in the right direction for them.

HOBSON: Eric Barton from WLRN in Miami, that's a HERE AND NOW Contributors Network station and he's also with the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. Eric, thank you so much.

BARTON: Yeah. Thank you, Jeremy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.