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Tampa City Council District 7 candidates talk Cuban consulate and citizens review board

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Bob Buckhorn’s recent trip to China invoked charges of hypocrisy from critics, who compared his very different public stance when it comes to doing business with Cuba, another country known to violate human rights. Now two city council candidates who hope to join the current board next month are expressing similar sentiments.

First some background: When it was announced the mayor would travel to Lanzhou, China last month to establish a sister-city connection initiated by USF Health, there were definitely a few people in Tampa who expressed irritation regarding the apparent contradiction.

China remains an authoritarian state that systematically curtails a wide range of fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion. As Human Rights Watch recently reported, while there were some “modest” positive developments last year, “the trend for human rights under President Xi Jinping continued in a decidedly negative direction.”

Cuba has similar problems when it comes to human rights, and that, along with the fact that there remains a chunk of anti-Castro exiles residing in the Cigar City, is why Buckhorn has remained neutral on the idea of a Cuban consulate being housed in Tampa. While officials from the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and several city council members have visited the communist island in recent years, Buckhorn has remained unmoved by the resurgent interest. And that’s a problem, contend a couple of candidates running for the District 7 seat next month.

“I believe that greater economic contacts will cause a more rapid diffusion of information to the Cuban people and bring about a more rapid change in the politics there,” says Jim Davison, an ER physician who also happens to be a Republican. “It is hypocritical of the mayor to take a stand on the Cuban consulate, yet trade with China. I am sure both are calculated political maneuvers.”

“The mayor’s position on Cuba is well publicized and I certainly disagree with his stance,” says writer/editor Gene Siudut. “Tampa, by its existence and history, is already a sister city to Cuba, but we don’t treat it that way. Relations with Cuba will normalize and an embassy will be created in the Bay area. Unfortunately, my understanding is that the chance for that to be in Tampa may have already passed due to our hard-line stance.”

“Diplomacy is the key to relationships,” adds Siudut. “China has terrible human rights violations and from what I see and hear, they are often far worse than the situation in Cuba. The mayor going to China is an act of diplomacy to an oppressive nation. There is no reason the same could not be done with Cuba considering the proximity, history, and inevitability of normalization.

Other candidates in the District 7 race also support housing a Cuban consulate.

“It’s good that we have a positive relationship with the Chinese government and community here in the city but we have a rich Cuban heritage and there should be a consulate in Tampa,” says Avis Harrison. “Currently, St. Pete is making a strong effort to have it placed in their city and they have less Cuban population than the city of Tampa.”

“For Cuba, I support engagement which, all at once, promotes economic opportunities for Tampa; promotes cultural exchanges between our city and Cuba and promotes our values of democracy and openness as part of this exchange,” says attorney Luis Viera. “Consistent with this, I support a Cuban consulate in Tampa. 

Cyril Spiro calls it a “hot-button issue with Cuban immigrants who see any rapprochement with Cuba as rewarding the Castro regime.”

“Communication is necessary to influence the political environment in Cuba,” he adds. “Tampa has a deep Cuban history that positions us uniquely to make a major difference in the current geopolitical structure.  It’s an opportunity we shouldn’t miss.”

 Former TPD officer Orlando Gudes declined to comment.

SaintPetersBlog also asked all six candidates if they had any issues with the Citizens’ Review Board created last year to monitor the policies and procedures of the Tampa Police Department. Earlier this year, Councilman Frank Reddick joined a group of activists in calling for a charter amendment to give the board more powers, though that bid failed to make the ballot.

Cyril Spiro: “It’s a bad thing for kids to participate in and too many adults imbibe to excess. However, I believe in civil liberties and individuals have to make their own choices about their behavior. That is the best way for us to learn. I don’t think that it makes sense to lock people up in jail for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Instead, they should get treatment. In my opinion, the exact rules around decriminalization could have been better made.”

Ava Harrison: “I support the board because it helps the community understand the actions of the police and allows their input to give answers and solutions. If I’m successful for the district and city council seat and since the board has only been in place a year or less, I would support it as it stands now but I’d be willing to review the makeup and structure to determine if we need to reevaluate and make adjustments in the next year.”

Gene Siudut: “I like the idea of citizens being involved in their government, but I’m not sure the design will accomplish its intended goal. I love oversight and I want our police to remain exemplary, but if people are appointed as status symbols or are friends of political insiders, the board becomes tainted and ineffective. I’m not against a review board in theory, but as this board exists, internal affairs seems to still be the most effective way for policing the police.”

Jim Davison: “I would have preferred that the TPD had assembled the citizens review board on their own instead of politicizing it. I would not back granting subpoena powers to the board. We do need a larger community discussion, but not another inquisition. We already have established avenues for that.”

Luis Viera: “I do support the creation of a police review board and agree with the present makeup of powers for this board. The present board allows for citizens to have a role in government accountability and in the future we should be cognizant should a need for improvements become apparent.”

 Orlando Gudes: “I am in support of the creation of the Citizens Review Board. As a retired Tampa police officer, I feel the board can serve both the officers and community. At this time, I would like to continue to monitor the board’s ‘way of work’ and have an opportunity to hear feedback from the community and officers before suggesting any improvements.”

 

 

 

 

 

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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