Even if consulate goes elsewhere, Tampa to be key to U.S.-Cuba thaw
hostility. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan) By Paul Guzzo | Tribune Staff
Published: July 12, 2015
TAMPA — Tampa leaders have offered up the city as host for the first
Cuban consulate in the United States in more than five decades. But even
if it goes elsewhere, people here will keep the Cuban government busy.
Tampa has the third largest Cuban population in the United States, a
growing number of flights to the island nation and people who want to do
What’s more, Tampa’s Florida Aquarium and the National Aquarium in
Havana are expected to announce a partnership soon on coral reef
research, cultural exchanges are becoming routine, and universities are
eager to conduct studies there.
“I think the initial importance of a Cuban consulate is to provide
convenience to Cuban Americans based in Tampa and central Florida,” said
Bill Carlson, president of TuckerHall, a public relations agency in
Tampa that has supported business and humanitarian missions in Cuba
The only question, then, as the two nations work to normalize relations,
is whether people in Tampa will deal with the Cuban government here or
Speculation about where one or more consulates may open in the United
States has escalated with the announcement that each nation will open an
embassy in the other on July 20, marking the return of formal diplomatic
relations that were severed in 1961.
An embassy serves its nation’s political interests, while a consulate
provides assistance to citizens and business interests. Among the duties
of a consulate are issuing visas, doubling as an official voting site
during elections in the home country, helping its citizens with legal
affairs and promoting and assisting with trade and other business ventures.
To see what goes on, look to Greece and Panama which have deemed the
Tampa Bay area so crucial to their interests they have dispatched
consuls general here with direct ties to their leaders back home.
Consuls general are paid career diplomats and citizens of the nation
Greece’s is at 400 N. Tampa St.; Panama’s is at 6107 Memorial Highway.
In addition, the Bay area has six honorary consuls — people living here
who volunteer to serve as liaisons with a consul general in another city
or state. There is also a Tampa Bay Trade & Protocol Council that acts
as liaison for nations not represented here by a consul general or
Winning a consular office would provide people in Tampa faster services
from Havana and establish the city as a gateway to Cuba. It also would
mean a visit whenever a top Cuban diplomat comes to Florida, paving the
way for closer connections with leaders from the island nation.
In the long run, Carlson said, a Cuban consulate would tell the world
that Tampa is a growing commercial hub and likely attract business from
other Latin American destinations.
When an announcement will come from the Cuban government is anybody’s
guess, nor is there an official list of contenders. Still, Tampa often
is mentioned in the same breath as Miami, home of the biggest Cuban
American population, and New York, near the second-largest population in
northern New Jersey.
Among the reasons are Tampa’s current ties to Cuba, the historic ties
that date to the city’s once-thriving industry making cigars from Cuban
tobacco, and enthusiastic invitations from both the Tampa City Council
and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.
“I think Tampa has the best chance of getting it,” said Milton
Vescovacci, a shareholder in the Miami office of the GrayRobinson law
firm, which represents U.S. citizens interested in doing business with
Cuba. “You have the proximity to Cuba and a Cuban American population
that is more receptive to opening ties as opposed to some in Miami who
Vescovacci said the first consulate probably will open in the Southeast,
followed by the West Coast and perhaps the Northeast.
Critics of a consulate in Tampa say it would become a center for
protesters. Strong opposition remains to normalizing relations with Cuba
as long it is ruled by the communist Castro regime.
Vescovacci questions these concerns. Perhaps at first, he said, but in
time people would come to realize a consulate has a practical rather
than political mission.
Criteria in choosing a city to host a consulate include commercial
activity and the number of people with ties to the home country, said
Adamantia Klotsa, consul general of Greece in Tampa, whose office serves
Alabama, Florida and Mississippi.
“Usually, consulates in Florida are based out of Miami because it is
considered the center of commercial and economic business for the
state,” Klotsa said. “And business is a great part of what a consulate
The large Greek population in Tarpon Springs was a significant factor in
opening a consulate in Tampa in 2006, she said.
With around 145,000 Cuban Americans, the Tampa area’s population is just
a fraction of the 1 million in the Miami area.
Still, even though his city is home to more than 30 consulates, Mayor
Tomas Regalado has said he would fight any efforts to put a Cuban
consulate there. Memories linger there of what the Castro revolution
cost in life and property.
Even if a Cuban consulate winds up in Miami — or New Orleans, a city
that also shares historic ties with Cuba and still trades with the
island nation — Tampa could get one of its own.
Panama, for example, home of the expanding Panama Canal, has a consulate
in Miami that serves Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands and another in
Tampa that serves Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.
Tampa shipping agent Arthur Savage, of A.R. Savage & Son, said he is
confident Tampa will land a Cuban consulate. Even if it doesn’t, though,
Savage expects to see an honorary consul named for Tampa.
Savage is honorary consul in central Florida for Norway and Denmark —
nations with an interest here because of business and tourism.
“Typically honorary consuls were once primarily put in port towns
because that was the only way to get to this country,” Savage said.
Other nations with honorary consuls in Tampa are Honduras, Liberia, Peru
and Spain. St. Petersburg has honorary consuls representing Estonia and
Lithuania, and Clearwater has honorary consuls for Russia and France.
Duties of honorary consuls vary. Some can perform all the duties of a
consul general as they report to the official diplomat. Others fulfill
some duties directly while acting as liaison for the consul general on
If no consul is named in Tampa, the Tampa Bay Trade & Protocol Council
would serve as liaison to the consulate office.
The council is made up of representatives from the Tampa chamber, city
of Tampa, Hillsborough County, Visit Tampa Bay tourism agency, Tampa
International Airport, Port Tampa Bay, the University of South Florida
and the University of Tampa.
In the months leading to the International Indian Film Academy Awards,
held in Tampa in 2014, the council worked with the Indian Consulate in
Atlanta on the approval of more than 700 visas for those traveling from
India to Tampa, said council Executive Director Deborah Wilkinson.
“I’m proud that Tampa in my opinion is the only place outside of Miami
so organized in this manner,” Wilkinson said. “We have a strong
international movement here that is well taken care of.”
Still, a full-time Cuban consul general in Tampa would provide the best
representation, said Carlson of TuckerHall.
“Having that presence here will help our community maintain direct ties
to jointly develop trade, travel and investment opportunities,” Carlson
“We have the longest history with Cuba. We were the center of trade
before the embargo. And our business and community leaders have been
leaders in Florida in re-engagement with Cuba. There are many reasons
why we should have the consulate here.”
Source: Even if consulate goes elsewhere, Tampa to be key to U.S.-Cuba
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