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Debate on normalizing relations with Cuba slated in Tampa tonight

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

While the breakthrough in U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba has been met with restraint in Miami, most lawmakers and business leaders in Tampa have embraced the new rules relaxing restrictions on trade and travel with the Communist island that began at the beginning of this year.

And while overall more Cuban Americans in the Tampa Bay area appear eager for the 54-year-old economic sanctions to end soon, it’s hardly a universal sentiment.

Being billed somewhat hyperbolically as “10 years in the making,” The Tampa Tiger Bay Club will be hosting a debate on the merits of normalizing relations with Cuba, with activist Al Fox matching up wits against local attorney Ralph Fernandez, a longtime foe of the Castro government.

Since the late 1990s, Fox has been the head of the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation, a nonprofit he established to advocate for the restoration of trade and diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. In that period, he has made more than 100 legal visits to Cuba, often hosting U.S. lawmakers and business officials.

Fernandez is a Tampa criminal defense and litigation attorney who for over three decades has been perhaps the most prominent hardliner on the Cuban regime in Tampa, and a tireless legal defender of men accused of trying to bring down the Castro regime (some by violent means).

Fox and Fernandez are not friends. They’ve often spoken on the record about the other in the most disparaging terms, so the 90-minute forum could provoke fireworks.

On Monday evening, the Tiger Bay Forum takes place at Centro Asturiano de Tampa (1913 N. Nebraska Ave.) in Ybor City. The doors will open for cocktails and d hors d’oeuvres at 5:30 p.m., with the event taking place from 6:30-8:00 p.m.

WFLA-TV’s Jeff Patterson moderates, and La Gaceta’s Patrick Mantiega, The Tampa Tribune’s Paul Guzzo, and SPG’s/Florida Politics Mitch Perry (that’s me!) will be the panelists.

For more information, go to tigerbayclub.org.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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