Where Does Florida's Cuban Consulate Belong? (Hint: Not Miami. Not Tampa.)
As the U.S. and Cuba re-establish diplomatic relations today – and open embassies in their respective capitals – all eyes are on Washington D.C. and Havana.
Except perhaps in South Florida. Here, all Cuban politics is local. So we care less about the hot air rising today in the Beltway (where U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez will meet) and in La Habana later this summer (when Kerry plans to visit and inaugurate a U.S. embassy there) and more about what this means for Miami-Dade, the Keys, Broward and Palm Beach.
And that brings us to the "c" word: Consulate.
The U.S. and Cuba severed diplomatic ties 54 years ago. So re-opening the Cuban embassy in Washington is certainly historic. But Washington is far from the 800,000 Cubans who live in South Florida. As the U.S. and Cuba normalize relations, Cubans and others here will likely want a Cuban consulate for services like visas and business permits.
Cuban-American political leaders don’t want a consulate in Miami. They fear it would offend the large Cuban exile population. So Tampa, on Florida's central Gulf coast, says it will take a Cuban consulate.
Tampa does have a sizeable Cuban community; in fact, before the 1959 Cuban Revolution, one of Cuba's Florida consulates was located in Tampa's Ybor City district. What's more, Cubans there aren't as historically opposed to engaging communist Cuba as Miami's Cubans are.
Still, Tampa is a four- or five-hour drive from South Florida.
In an interview with Univision last week, José RamónCabañas – who heads the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, which will now be a full-fledged Cuban embassy – suggested South Florida is still the more practical consulate site.
"It's hard to ignore the lion's share of the [U.S.] Cuban population still resides in South Florida," Cabañas said in an interview last week with Univision.
Which means the best compromise, both logistically and politically, is probably... Fort Lauderdale.
It's close enough to Miami – less than an hour's drive – to be convenient enough to conduct consular affairs. And far enough from Miami – more than a half-hour drive – to make it harder for Radio Mambi to galvanize throngs of indignant exiles up I-95 every weekend.
At the same time, Cabañas pointed out there are other Cuban population centers in the U.S. besides South Florida, from New Jersey to New Orleans, that will also want consulates. Before the U.S. and Cuba broke off relations in 1961, Cuba had 20 consulates in the U.S.
Tim Padgett is WLRN's Americas editor. You can read more of his coverage here.