Congresswoman plans forum to discuss new Cuba relations

Of all the states directly affected by the change in diplomatic policy with Cuba, none are likely affected more than Florida.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, is planning a community forum in early 2015 that she hopes will help community leaders and residents learn more about what those changes mean as President Obama begins to “normalize” relations with Cuba.

“We will engage the entire community, and work toward positive change that America’s policy shift will provide,” Castor said, in a release, “Whether it is travel, trade, or cultural exchange opportunities.”

Castor is working with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and Tampa International Airport to put together there regional forum, although no formal date or time has been set as of yet.

“At the turn of the 20th century, Tampa was central to the Cuban independence movement,” Castor said. “Similarly, Tampa will lead the way in the coming years on the new opening for normalization of relations with Cuba. We have already made much progress, especially with establishing direct flights from Tampa to Cuba, and our numerous arts and cultural exchanges to build business and cooperative ties with Cuba.”

Obama has plans to lift restrictions on travel, commerce and financial activities. Over the next six months, the U.S. State Department will review Cuba’s place on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and conduct discussions with Cuba relating to migration, according to a release.

On top of that, the U.S. Treasury Department will increase the amount of money that can be sent to Cubans each quarter from $500 to $2,000, and loosen bank restrictions as well.

The U.S. Commerce Department also will loosen an array of export limits, including the longstanding ban on popular items like Cuban cigars.

Some Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Miami, have opposed the new plan unveiled by the Obama administration last week. Rubio, whose family roots are in Cuba, claimed it’s not the decades-long embargo that is hurting the Cuban people in general, but a totalitarian regime.

His Kentucky colleague, however, Sen. Rand Paul, said the sanctions have not worked, and it’s time to change the American approach to Cuba. Some leaders in the Republican-controlled congress say they will try to block the administration’s plans for Cuba.

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