Tampa panelists question Cuba's terror designation

04/24/13 Janelle Irwin
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In a decisive move this month, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) announced she want the U.S. to normalize relations with Cuba. During a discussion in Tampa Wednesday, five out of six panelists agreed.

Attorney John Grandoff said the island nation should be removed from the state sponsors of terrorism list.

Grandoff said Cuba wasn’t added to the state sponsor of terrorism list until 1982.

If the U.S. removes Cuba from that list, it opens the door to lift the 50-year long trade embargo. U.S. Representative Kathy Castor announced her support of moving toward normalization after a trip to Cuba. About 300 people signed an ad that appeared in the tri-lingual Ybor City newspaper La Gaceta. But Ralph Fernandez, a prominent Castro regime critic and the sole opponent to normalization on the panel, downplayed the significance of that support.

But even Fernandez has softened his stance on Cuban policy. Though still leery, Fernandez said he’s coming around to the idea of allowing people to travel freely to the country.

Tampa International Airport began offering flights to and from Cuba in late 2011. That gave people the opportunity to visit family and go on educational trips – like Castor’s “fact finding” tour. But for some, the travel regulations are still too much. Former state representative Anni Betancourt said Florida laws prevent colleges from offering programs for students to travel to Cuba.

Bill Hauf is the president of Island Travel and Tours which is one of the few companies in the Tampa Bay area that facilitates travel to the island nation. He slammed the U.S. for its outdated trade and travel bans on Cuba. He listed and rebutted several arguments he’s heard about why the 50-year trade embargo hasn’t been lifted.

Hauf got a booming round of applause after he rifled through a list of cases where the U.S. has ignored information from Cubans and instead arrested those individuals for being in the country illegally. Religious leaders also spoke in favor of normalization citing improvements in Cuba’s human rights conditions.

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