Castor visits Cuba, but US should proceed with caution

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Congresswoman Kathy Castor began her first visit to Cuba Wednesday in hopes of enhancing social and business ties for the Tampa Bay area, a trip motivated by indications of change from within Cuba, and the possibility that Secretary of State John Kerry may soon recommend the removal of Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Various Tampa area groups have already visited Cuba in the effort to generate business contacts and engage in political fact-finding, according to a report by the Tampa Tribune, including educational trips by Eckerd College, religious missions carrying donations for Cuban activities, and visits by medical research device businesses.

Castor led Tampa International Airport’s efforts to gain Obama administration approval to serve Cuban flights, and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce will be following up with a five-day trip in May to promote Tampa-Cuba flights.

“Cuba will be the first destination for what we intend will be a series of flights to various international destinations to highlight the opportunities of Tampa International,” Chamber President and Chief Executive Bob Rohrlack said. “If we can help businesses here think more international, it helps all of us.”

Castor will be meeting with the Cuban Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Energy, the Foreign Ministry, and the US Interests Section office.  She will share findings from this visit with Obama, Kerry and the Tampa Bay community.

Yet not everybody is keyed up about these efforts, and any recommendation to relax trade and travel restrictions — or to remove Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list, which it has been on since 1982 —  will certainly be met with opposition. These issues were among the many contentions Kerry met when assuming his current office.

Many feel that, in the words of Mauricio Claver-Clarone, director of the US-Cuba Democracy PAC, “It would be an insult to the American people if Cuba were to be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism based solely on assurances of change by a dictatorship that brutally represses its population, defies the rule of law, routinely foments anti-Americanism around the world with provocative anti-democratic rhetoric, and is holding in its prisons an American aid worker, Alan P. Gross. Arrested in December 2009, Gross’s ‘crime’ was helping members of Cuba’s Jewish community connect to the Internet.”

Claver-Clarone points to another timely failed example — North Korea — of where the US relied on a dictator’s assurances as justification for removing the country from the terrorism sponsors list.  In 2008, George W. Bush accepted the promises of the Kim family that North Korea would not support or engage terrorism; but any news channel this morning will reveal how well that has gone.

Indeed, in addition to its myriad domestic offenses, Cuba remains closely tied with Venezuela, Iran and Syria, and has a history of sharing information with rogue regimes.  The goals of local economic development should be weighed carefully against the overarching importance of human rights and domestic security.