ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman hasn't given up on the idea of one day having the "Sunshine City" house a Cuban consulate, which is why he continues to maintain relations with officials from the Cuban government.
- Mayor Kriseman visited Havana last weekend
- He is critical of President Trump's Cuban policy
- Kriseman hopeful of bringing consulate to St. Petersburg
- More Political headlines
The mayor accepted an invitation by Cuban officials to visit Havana last weekend, where he attended events surrounding the 500th anniversary of Cuba's capital city. It was his fourth trip to the island since 2015.
Kriseman attended a reception for U.S. businesses, government officials and several prominent Cubans while there, according to spokesman Ben Kirby.
Among those he met up with include Ambassador Yuri A. Gala Lopez, the director of the Bilateral Issues Division in the Directorate General for the U.S.; Ambassador Ernesto Soberon Guzman, the General Director for Consular Affairs and Cubans Residing Abroad Division; and Viengsay Valdes, the deputy artistic director for the Ballet Nacional de Cuba.
Kriseman first visited Cuba in 2015, shortly after then President Barack Obama announced a diplomatic breakthrough with the Cuban government. That rapprochement led to the repeal of a host of restrictions that had been imposed since the Cold War, including the reopening of the U.S. embassy in Havana and new flights between a number of U.S. cities (including Tampa) and Cuba.
Although those moves were criticized by many state lawmakers from both political parties who continue to support the longtime economic embargo against the Communist-led government, they were embraced by many public officials in the Tampa Bay area, including Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor. A movement for a Cuban consulate to be built in the Tampa Bay area soon emerged.
But after Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn balked at supporting such an effort, Mayor Kriseman filled the leadership vacuum for the proposal and enthusiastically called for such a consulate to come to St. Petersburg.
Momentum for that proposal was snuffed out after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016. Trump promised in the campaign to roll back some of Obama's executive actions on Cuba, and he's kept his promises. Since taking office, he has repealed most of the changes that the Obama administration put forth in 2015, including restricting all non-family travel and banning all cruise ships from the country. Most recently, the president announced that he has banned all U.S. commercial flights to Cuba, except for Havana.
Kriseman is critical of the president's Cuban policy, saying that "it does nothing but punish the Cuban people."
"They are the ones who suffer, because these restrictions mean American dollars are not being spent in Cuba and not finding their way directly into the hands of the Cuban people," Kriseman told Spectrum Bay News 9 in a statement. "When cruise ships can dock in Havana, thousands of people come off the boats and spend money at places like Almacenes, San Jose (artisan markets) where the artists, not the government, would be receiving their dollars; at privately owned restaurants, where again, the restaurant owner, not the government, would be receiving the dollars. The Trump policy is short sighted and hypocritical."
Tampa City Councilman Bill Carlson was also on the trip.
"It's sad that the new travel restrictions are killing capitalism in Cuba, while also limiting the rights and freedoms of American citizens," he said.
Kirby says that Kriseman believes the best way to keep the possibility alive of bringing a consulate to St. Petersburg "is to keep building a relationship with the Cuban people."