Key West Practices Island Diplomacy

Jan 27, 2016

  While the Miami-Dade County Commission recently asked the federal government not to place a Cuban consulate in that county, Key West officials are looking to strengthen ties across the Florida Straits.

Former Key West City Commissioner Tony Yaniz, second from left, was born in Cuba. He was named as the island's ambassador to Cuba by current commissioners, from left, Sam Kaufman, Billy Wardlow and Clayton Lopez.
Credit City of Key West

  The island city now has two "ambassadors" to Cuba. One is former City Commissioner Tony Yaniz, who was awarded the title by two city commissioners. The other is Key West Yacht Club Commodore Robert Harvey — named by Mayor Craig Cates, who has frequently clashed with Yaniz  politically.

Key West also has an ambassador to the Bahamas who is working to get some of the city's used firefighting equipment donated to a volunteer fire department in the Out Islands.

All of this is getting to be too much for at least one city official, who plans to ask for some clarification and protocols on these designees, as informal as they may be.

"I don't want anybody — and I'm not accusing anyone — of using this little piece of paper to get away with things or to receive favors when they go anywhere," said City Commissioner Margaret Romero, serving her first term on the board. "I don't care if it's the ambassador to Miami Beach."

Mayor Craig Cates, left, named his own ambassador to Cuba — Key West Yacht Club Commodore Robert Harvey.
Credit City of Key West

  After word got out about the dueling Cuba ambassadorial appointments, Romero said she was besieged with requests.

"I'd say I have at least a dozen people that want to be named as ambassador to Cuba," she said. "I don't want it done unless we know exactly what are the roles, the responsibilities. Are there liabilities to the city? Do they get some kind of identification card? If they say something when they're out partying is the city going to be held liable for it?"