The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce is coming out in support of establishing a Cuban consulate in Tampa once the United States and Cuba reestablish diplomatic relations, perhaps as early as next month.
A resolution passed unanimously by the chamber's board said it would support the location of a consulate in Tampa or Hillsborough County, and that business leaders would like to see "Tampa return to its rightful and historical place as an economic engine" for facilitating trade with Cuba.
Chamber officials said there was a Cuban consulate in Ybor City before relations broke off between the two countries in 1961.
"We expect it would be similar to what it was previously," said chamber president Bob Rohrlack. “There was a gentleman here who was just helping to communicate issues that were going on. A lot of what's going on now is that families are gathering goods and services that are desperately needed in Cuba and taking them down to family member there. They would organize those kinds of things.”
While Miami's mayor has said he doesn't want the consulate in South Florida, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he's open to the possibility.
"Tampa is known as the cradle of Cuban independence," said Buckhorn.
The primary focus of the office would be to promote trade and diplomatic relations.
Chamber officials said it makes good business sense, particularly with Tampa's port and its close proximity to Havana.
"We are working now for our port to be the gateway for businesses to take goods and supplies to Cuba when relations change," said Rohrlack.
Rohrlack said the chamber does respect Cuban exiles and their families who may feel differently about a consulate being located here. But he said 50 years of isolation hasn't worked.
"We all agree that we may not agree 100% on politics and governance, but we respect the culture of the people and the diversity," he said.
No decision has been made about where a possible consulate will go. That decision would actually rest with the U.S. Government and Cuba.
Chamber officials are planning a trip to Cuba in May.
The delegation will be visiting the renovated Port of Mariel and learning about new business opportunities.