For the first time since severing ties in 1961, the U.S. and Cuba reopened embassies in each other’s capitals today. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla traveled to the Cuban Embassy in Washington to raise his country’s flag, an event that was broadcast live on the island’s state-run TV.
Tampa Bay area Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor has been a passionate advocate for liberalizing relations with the Communist island since she traveled there in 2013. She attended today’s flag-raising ceremony at the Cuban embassy, and in a statement, said she looked forward to her colleagues in Congress taking the next step and end the 54-year trade embargo on country.
But Cuba has done little in terms of cleaning up their abysmal record on human rights in the seven months since President Obama announced the diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba back last December. Congresswoman Castor says that serious change there probably won’t happen until fresh blood takes over the Cuban government. “All you have to do is look at the age of the current leadership and understand there is going to be a generational shift,”she says about the Raul Castro-led regime. President Castro turned 84 earlier this month.
“Younger generations there are very hopeful for change, whether that means their political system, I don’t know”” she admitted this afternoon. “They will have to address human rights. We will be in a better position for engagement to encourage that.”
Castor said she spoke today at the new embassy with Google officials who say they now are building relationships with the Cuban government. She says it would be a “breath of fresh air” to get the island connected with broadband. Though people do use cell phones in Cuba, WiFi is practically non-existent. “If we’re going to help lift the economics for Cuban people they’re going to have to be wired,” she says.
Regarding congressional approval of repealing the U.S. sanctions, Castor says that’s not going to happen soon, because her colleagues in Washington are way behind the curve. “I think it will happen too slowly, but it needs to, and if people will visit Cuba and understand what the embargo and the repressive Cuban regime for decades has done, we’ve gotta do better to help the country.”
Undoubtedly Cuba will be an issue in next year’s Senate race in Florida.
This afternoon, GOP Senate hopeful Carlos Lopez-Cantera issued a press release condemning today’s diplomatic recognition of Cuba. He said that if elected next year, he would demand three things before he would vote for any change in American policy: The unconditional release of all Cuban political prisoners: The Cuban people should regain their right to assembly, association and a free press; and there should be multi-party elections with international supervision.
And the newest entrant to the race, Pinellas County’s David Jolly, said the president’s diplomatic opening with Cuba has been too aggressive been done too quickly.