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Key West Looks To The South, Welcomes Cuban Ambassador

Nancy Klingener
Cuban Ambassador to the U.S. José Ramón Cabañas, far right, visits the Southernmost Point in Key West Tuesday.";s

The Cuban ambassador to the United States is visiting Key West and he's doing a lot of the things that tourists do: lunch at a waterfront seafood restaurant, a trolley ride, waiting in line to have his photo taken at the Southernmost Point.

But José Ramón Cabañas is also scheduled to meet with city commissioners at several events on the island.

"There's a large Cuban-American population in Key West. We know we have many friends. And that we will have the opportunity to meet local officials, business people and our Cuban community here," Cabañas said Tuesday afternoon.

Key West's ties to Cuba go back to the 1800s, when it was a center of exile and rebellion from Spanish rule. And after Cuba won independence from Spain, the two islands became close with daily ferry and airplane service.

"As neighbors, they feel very, very close. We welcome a lot of visitors from this part of Florida as well as the western part of Florida, Tampa, Ybor City, St. Petersburg, considering the cultural links and the historical links we have," Cabañas said.

After President Obama resumed diplomatic relations with Cuba, Key Westers started looking to renew those ties. The city started a plan to remodel its ferry terminal for international travel.

With the current administration taking a more hostile approach, most of those plans are on hold. But as Cabañas' visit and local reception shows, Key West is still determined to take a friendlier approach to Cuba than those who oppose any engagement with the current Cuban regime.