HAVANA TIMES — An official Cuban delegation attending an event for regional cooperation in the city of St. Petersburg, Florida didn’t want to leave without paying a visit to nearby historic Tampa.
The seven member delegation toured historic sites in Tampa including Ybor City and places related to the presence of Cuban national hero José Martí in that city in the late nineteenth century .
The visit was organized by Al Fox, president of the Alliance for a Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation. Retired judge EJ Salcines, an expert on the relations between Tampa and Cuba, acted as their guide, reported the Tampa Tribune.
The group included Jesus Perez, first secretary of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, and Yuri A. Gala Lopez, former ambassador to Jamaica and currently a Foreign Ministry official.
The delegation attended Expo 2013 last Thursday, an event on environmental issues at the Tampa Convention Center, and on Friday took part in talks on oil spill prevention, along with representatives of the United States, Mexico, the Bahamas and Jamaica.
The meeting was aimed to define the points of agreement on the responsibilities of countries of the Caribbean region regarding future oil spills, while respecting maritime boundaries.
The agreement is called Operation Multilateral Technical Procedure and provides for rapid response of countries in an emergency. The project is three years into discussions between the signatory countries.
The forum was held behind closed doors without any leaked details of what happened. It is expected the plan will be ready to be made public later this year.
The Cubans heard many a stories from Salcines on Cuba-Tampa history. “At no time did we discuss political issues,” said Salcines. “This meeting was about our common appreciation of history. Cuban history cannot be complete without including a chapter in Tampa, and Tampa’s history cannot be written without several chapters on Cuba and the Cuban people, with Marti in the center of everything.”
The tour concentrated in two blocks of Ybor City, the historic district where key events in Marti’s life occurred. Marti considered Ybor City his favorite place outside of Cuba.
“They [the Cubans] were excited about the historical significance of the places we were visiting,” said Salcines.
The brief tour included the old home of the Pedroso family, currently the Jose Marti Park, where the Cuban patriarch stayed when in the city.
The Tampa area has significantly increased its ties with Cuba in recent years, particularly since the arrival of President Barack Obama to the White House.
For the first time in five decades Tampa International Airport opened direct flights to cities of the island, while elected officials and state and federal lawmakers from the area have traveled to Havana in search of better trade relations.