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Hillsborough county commissioners approve push to bring Cuban consulate to region

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Hillsborough County Commission on Wednesday became the latest local agency to support the push to have a Cuban consulate in Tampa.

“We’ve been told from our sources in Washington, D.C., that, if we truly want to be considered for the consulate, we must speak with one voice,” said Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, who made the request before the board. “If we resume the historical role of having the consulate here, which it was once before, we gain the traction with Latin America that this is the gateway of what we need to do, and it increases our international trade.”

The Chamber resisted the local campaign to have Tampa political and business leaders to establish contact with their Cuban counterparts until the past few years, but since then, they’ve been strong supporters of such an alliance, including leading three trips to the Communist island.

The Chamber and the Tampa City Council earlier this year endorsed pushing for bringing the first Cuban consulate in the U.S. in over 50 years, after the Obama administration announced a diplomatic breakthrough with the Castro-led Cuban government last December.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is neutral on the issue. He supports the attitude of Castro critics in Tampa who don’t want anything to do with a consulate, though he has also said he would not actively oppose it.

Nevertheless, Tampa’s occasional cross-bay rival St. Petersburg put their name into the mix of hosting the consulate in late August, when Mayor Rick Kriseman and City Councilman Charlie Gerdes paid a visit to the island.

But Hillsborough/Tampa officials want the consulate in Tampa, which has historical ties to Cuba that date back over a century.

“We think it’s important that we not rest on what we’re doing, but look at how we can expand,” said Rohrlack. “It’s a shorter trip to Havana, Cuba, than it is to Atlanta, Georgia, from Tampa. We’re missing an opportunity if we don’t jump on it and take advantage.”

Rorhlack said he believed it was between “a couple of million to multiple millions” when asked by Commissioner Kevin Beckner what the economic impact of hosting the consulate in Hillsborough County would amount to, but would not commit to a specific figure.

“I can’t think of a better place if we’re going to have a consulate than Hillsborough County,” said Commissioner Les Miller. “Tampa and Hillsborough County probably has the largest and oldest settlement of Cubans, much older than Miami. Miami’s a “johnny-come-lately’ to Tampa and Hillsborough County.”

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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