When Cuba finally opens an embassy in Washington, D.C., a Cuban consulate in Miami may not be far behind.
Elected leaders were contemplating that possibility Wednesday as they gamed out the consequences of President Barack Obama’s announcement of talks to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba. Already a must for Latin American consular offices, Miami boasts the country’s largest Cuban population. So an outpost in the Magic City would make particular sense for Havana to handle the paperwork needs that come with increased ties to the United States.
“It’s a likely possibility,” said Carlos Curbelo, a Cuban-American and recently elected Republican congressman representing parts of Miami-Dade County and the Keys. “In Miami, it would be a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of victims of the Castro tyranny that live here.”
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said a White House official raised the possibility of Cuban consulates outside of Washington in a private briefing Wednesday before the president’s announcement. In an afternoon interview, Regalado, whose journalist father spent 22 years in a Cuban prison under the Fidel Castro regime, said he opposes putting a Cuban diplomatic facility in Miami.
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“I would think having a consulate in Miami would be a mistake because it would create a safety issue,” said Regalado, a Republican. “Because some people eventually will try to do something to the consulate.”
Regalado said Miami would have no say on where Cuba might want to establish consulates once Washington grants full diplomatic relations. “But we certainly would not support it,” he said.
The mayor’s preemptive stance captures the sweeping reset of all that is possible when it comes to Cuba. Though already a hub for the limited commerce, travel and immigration allowed between the United States and Cuba, Miami also remains the fiercest enclave of hardliners toward the Castro regime. With Obama’s surprise announcement of the United States entering talks to restore diplomatic relations, the Cuban government could eventually be shopping for a permanent home within Miami city limits.
There was no official word Wednesday about Havana’s potential desire for a consulate, and even the timetable for restoring diplomatic relations remained a question mark. And political considerations can trump convenience. Despite Miami’s large Venezuelan population, Venezueal closed its Miami consulate in 2012 in the midst of a diplomatic tiff over an expelled diplomat.
But as the largest Caribbean nation, Cuba would be an exception if it didn’t establish a consulate in Miami. The Miami area is home to 35 Latin American consulates, according to a directory maintained by the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office. With one of three Miami-Dade residents listed as being of Cuban origin, according to 2010 Census data, demographics would seem to make Miami an easy choice for a satellite embassy.
“Of course, with Miami’s population, it makes great sense,” said Kathy Castor, a Democratic congresswoman representing the Tampa Bay area.
Tampa also has a large Cuban population, and Castor said she’d work to persuade Cuba to open a consulate in the Tampa Bay area as soon as possible.
“The No. 1 constituent issue at my office here in Tampa is the unification of Cuban family members,” she said. “I had one where there was a bone-marrow match between a brother here in Tampa and a sister in Cuba.”
Bob Buckhorn, Tampa’s mayor, stopped short of embracing the notion of a Cuban consulate in his city. But the Democrat said a consulate would be safe in Tampa.
“If the Cuba government chooses to do that, and they’re within the boundaries of what is being laid out today, I think they’re free to do it,” Buckhorn said. “I think it will be safe. Tampa residents are law-abiding citizens.”