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Senate committee opposes the opening of a Cuban consulate in the Sunshine State

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Although many people in Tampa are hoping that a Cuban consulate is built in Tampa, a committee in the state Senate today officially disapproved of any such diplomatic outpost coming to Florida.

The Senate Rules Committee today approved SM 866, a largely symbolic bill that puts the committee on the record as expressing “profound disagreement” with President Obama’s decision to open diplomatic relations with the communist island.

“Stand with us on behalf of freedom,” said Miami Republican Anitere Flores, speaking on behalf of her co-sponsors, fellow Miami Republicans Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Rene Garcia. “On behalf of those who don’t have a voice. Much like we do for our constituents. Those Cubans on the island have no one to speak for them.”

Diaz de la Portilla, the son of Cuban exiles, blasted President Obama for calling the rapprochement a “new day.”

“It’s not a new day in Cuba because Raul Castro said they weren’t going to change a thing,” he said. “That they were going to stand firm by their ideals. And what are the Cuban government’s ideals? Repression. No freedom of speech. No freedom of assembly. No elections in 56 years. So the cash-starved government of the two dictator brothers will get some influx of American dollars. But nothing will change for the people on the island of Cuba.”

Only a couple of Democrats on the committee opposed the measure. One was Tampa Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, who read a short statement praising what she called President Obama’s “humanitarian policy,” a policy she said had been embraced by Pope Francis and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Although Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has been characterized as being neutral on the prospect of a Cuban consulate in Tampa, he sounded downright negative about it during an appearance on a Miami radio show on Wednesday.

“I think it would be challenging for many members of our community who would look upon the establishment of a consulate here in Tampa as an insult to them and to their families,” Buckhorn told the hosts of “The Gray Zone,” on 880 AM on Wednesday.”Having had a lot of conversations with folks who left Castro’s regime and left their country with nothing but the shirts on their backs, that it would be an emotional hurdle for them to overcome.”

When asked about the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce’s recent endorsement of the consulate coming to Tampa, the mayor brushed that off.

“Recognize that the Chamber doesn’t necessarily speak for the entire community,” he said, later adding that while he’s not encouraging the consulate to be built in Tampa, “but if it does occur, then we will make sure that the Cuban personnel are treated respectfully and that our citizens behave lawfully. There will be no violence here. But I will tell you that it is as raw an emotional issue for some of our citizens as it is for some of your friends and folks in South Florida.”

The full measure approved today calls for “expressing profound disagreement with the decision of the President to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, opposing the opening of a consulate or any diplomatic office in this state, and urging the upholding of the embargo, etc.”

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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