As Cuba Debates Where To Open U.S. Consulate, Miami Says Give It To Tampa

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With diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba now formally re-established and a Cuban embassy up and running in Washington, the next question is where Cuba's first consulate will go. Not that there's much question where it should go, based on logic alone: With 800,000 or so Cuban-Americans in South Florida, Miami would be the most in-demand locale for consular services with Havana.  

But logic isn't the only factor in the debate over where to put a consulate. Miami leaders have lobbied against the idea, Tampa's have embraced it and the state government has already said, thanks but no thanks. Cubans in Miami, meanwhile, were lukewarm to the idea yesterday as the Cuban flag rose again over the embassy in D.C.

"I left a long time ago, and for most of us, Cuba just means nothing to us," says Armando Gutierrez, who left Cuba 56 years ago.

As Cuban and U.S. officials consider the consulate question, they've gotten a seriously mixed message from politicians around the state.

The loudest came from the Florida Senate, which unanimously approved a resolution earlier this year against any Cuban consulate in the Sunshine State. Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado echoed that sentiment in an in an NPR interview,

"It would harm the safety and the peace of the community," Regalado argued. "It would put a burden and unfounded mandate from Washington in the city of Miami, and I don't think that we want TV cameras live every day showing protests and people engaging in discussions and maybe fistfight or something like that."

Tampa has already moved to fill the gap left by Miami's resistance. That city is home to about 145,000 Cuban Americans and has increased flights to and from the island. In a Tampa Bay Times article, U.S. Representative Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, pushed for a consulate on Florida's west coast, though he acknowledged it will not happen overnight.

In Miami at least, passions run cool on the consulate question — even outside of Versaille Restaurant on Calle Ocho, where masses of TV cameras gather around noon to catch a small protest against the Cuban embassy reopening in Washington.

Gutierrez says he believes having a consulate in Miami or in Tampa shouldn't be the focus of the debate. "I'm not planning on going to any consulate, regardless of where it is," he says. "It's a communist country."

However, Ezequiel Guevara, another patron outside Versailles, says putting a consulate in Tampa instead of Miami could help ease the transition to better relations.

"I think we need to try something different," he says. "I don't really see a consulate in Tampa as an inconvenience to Cubans. I don't think it'll really affect anyone."

Florida isn't the only state in contention for a consulate. There are rumored talks about creating a consulate in New York or New Jersey. Before ties with Cuba were severed, there were upwards of 20 consulates scattered across the country. As of now, there's no timeline for when the first Cuban consulate will reopen. 

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