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Tampa City Council poised to vote on requesting city hosts U.S.-Cuba signing ceremony

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

It was eight years ago today, April 15, 2007, when Barack Obama made his first appearance ever in Tampa.

Obama appeared at the Cuban Club in Ybor City on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, giving a speech from the outdoor plaza after the famed Florida A&M marching band opened the program.

But according to Tampa City Council woman Yolie Capin, the long-planned fundraising event (which only cost supporters $25) was almost canceled at the last moment, after officials back at the Democratic candidate’s national headquarters in Chicago learned that black Cubans at one time were prohibited from attending the club due to segregational mores of the times. But a call from her late husband Juan averted the crisis.

“It was a real panic point,” she reminisced on Wednesday.

The event at the Cuban Club was organized by Juan Capin, who along with Yolie were early supporters of the nascent Obama campaign.

Earlier that day at a more expensive fundraiser at the home of South Tampa Democrat Norma Jean Lykes, Capin said to Obama that if there was ever an opportunity for the leaders of Cuba and Tampa to reestablish relations, such a meeting should occur in Tampa, based on its historical legacy with the island nation.

That’s some of the background leading up to a resolution that will come before the City Council on Thursday from City Council Attorney Martin Shelby pertaining to bringing “The Tampa Accord” to the Cigar City.

“What we’re saying in the resolution…is that we think that based on the history, any accord, should there be one, should be held here,” Capin says. “It could be deciding that if here is going to be a U.S. embassy in Cuba and one in D.C., we’re saying ‘come to Tampa and sign it here.'”

And they’re calling it “The Tampa Accord.”

“I think it’s essential for Tampa to regain its position as the center of U.S.-Cuban trade,” says Bill Carlson with the Tampa communications firm Tucker/Hall. “We need this as the base to build our presence in Latin America.”

And Carlson, a longtime supporter of Tampa setting the pace to be in position to capitalize on improved relations between the two nations, says that a major piece of President Obama’s new policy changes is one that promotes trade between Cuban and U.S. entrepreneurs.

“There are more than 400,000 Cuban cuentapropistas and we as American entreprenours and capitalists need to support them so they can support their own economic destiny,” Carlson adds. “To be against the president’s policy, is to be against entrepreneurship and capitalism and ultimately the freedom for self determination.”

The Tampa City Council is already on record as calling for a Cuban consulate to be built in Tampa. Councilwoman Capin says she’ll ask her colleagues on council to put the two resolutions together with a cover letter and send it to the state’s congressional delegation, as well as to U.S. Sen.s Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, and Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama.

Undoubtedly the reaction from those legislators may be varied about the city’s enthusiasm for bringing Cuban officials to Tampa, based on some remarks from some South Florida Republican members of Congress as well as Sen. Rubio.

Carlson says it’s worth it. “It’s time we stop allowing a couple of billionaires in Miami set the policy for Tampa and the U.S.”

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 [email protected]

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