Florida Keys

Cuban ambassador tours Key West to celebrate common culture

Key West welcomes Cuban ambassador

Key West Mayor Teri Johnston formally proclaimed Key West and Cuba as "sister islands," during a warm reception held at the Southernmost House on May 15, 2019, as the city welcomes Cuba's ambassador José Ramón Cabañas.
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Key West Mayor Teri Johnston formally proclaimed Key West and Cuba as "sister islands," during a warm reception held at the Southernmost House on May 15, 2019, as the city welcomes Cuba's ambassador José Ramón Cabañas.

Key West welcomed a Cuban diplomat this week with an official proclamation that deems Cuba and Key West “sister islands.”

José Ramón Cabañas, Cuba’s ambassador to the United States, toured the Southernmost City and met with locals in what Mayor Teri Johnston called a cultural visit, not a political statement.

“It was a cultural and historical exchange,” Johnston said. “It’s been a wonderful visit. We just exchanged ideas and history. We’ve been sister islands for many, many years.”

He had his picture snapped at the famous tourist spot, the giant Southernmost buoy, and was taken to historic spots including where champion swimmer Diana Nyad came ashore after her swim from Cuba to Key West in 2013. He also visited the memorial for Cuban independence leader José Martí.

He also got tours of a local rum distillery and the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in a city that was once fueled economically by cigar factories.

“We talked about cigars and ‘One Human Family,’” said David Sloan, a writer and Key West historian, referring to Key West’s official motto. “He’s a true Cuban gentleman and he loves the island.”

And on Wednesday evening, locals toasted Cabañas at a cocktail party at the Southernmost House mansion, 1400 Duval St.

Cabañas said he was proud to accept the proclamation on behalf of all Cubans.

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Locals gather at the Southernmost House in Key West on Wednesday, May 15, 2019, to meet the Cuban ambassador. Gwen Filosa FLKeysNews.com

“We have a large Cuban-American community in this city, the Keys in general,” Cabañas said. “Yesterday when we arrived we had the opportunity to talk with a group of people from Key West. When I addressed them, I said, citizens of Key West. Twenty-four hours later, I have to say dear friends. Tomorrow, I will probably say, sisters and brothers.”

Many locals have long considered Cuba a sister island.

“For a century and a half, the citizens of Key West and the citizens of Cuba felt that they were one in the same,” said Tony Yaniz, the former Key West city commissioner who was the chief organizer of the ambassador’s visit.

“If anyone from Key West needed anything they went to Cuba — for medical services, for social recreation, etc.,” Yaniz said.

Yaniz at the cocktail party, where attendees waved small Cuban flags, asked the crowd, “Do you want to get closer to Cuba?”

The crowd yelled, “Yes!”

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Cuban Ambassador José Ramon Cabañas greets Key West locals at a reception held in his honor on Wednesday, May 15, 2019. Gwen Filosa FLKeysNews.com


“Cuba feels very close to Key West. We have many, many commonalities,” Cabañas said of Key West and Cuba. “We have invited officially your authorities to attend the 500th anniversary ceremony in Cuba, the anniversary of the foundation of Havana city.”

Cabañas said the goal is to invite 500 people from Key West to attend the celebrations in the capital city this year.

He said it wasn’t only Key West officials and business owners who welcomed him this week.

“People in the street say hello, we’re glad you’re here,” he said. “It’s wonderful. Hopefully, we can return.”

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