Tampa debate on Cuban issues to be a lively affair

TAMPA, FL (WFLA) – Change is happening between the United States and Cuba. Major shift in the relationship began in January with a joint announcement on easing of travel restrictions made by President Obama and Raul Castro.

Historic change happened with the United States officially opened an embassy in Havana for the first time in decades. Some people are opposed to this change, while others are calling for a complete lift of the trade embargo.

Monday night WFLA TV and others will be at the debate put on by the Tiger Bay Club to discuss the status of US and Cuban relations. The debate will feature Tampa lawyer Ralph Fernandez who has long opposed lifting restrictions and the embargo as long as the Castros are still in power in Cuba. On the other side is former senior Congressional Aide Albert Fox Jr. who also established the non-profit Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation.

Fox has taken a number of government delegations to Cuba and he believes trade and travel restrictions should be lifted.

“This town has always been somewhat divided on this issue,” said Patrick Manteiga who is the editor and publisher of La Gaceta newspaper.

Manteiga will be one of the panelists at the debate asking tough questions of Fox and Fernandez.

“I think that you’ve got some people who’ve been warriors on both sides of this for many, many, many years,” Manteiga said.

His newspaper and his family have been following the debate over Cuba for years and he believes change is happening.

“For those of us have been fighting to lift the embargo, we seem to have a lot more friends now than we did a few years ago,” Manteiga said.

He’s also seeing a lot more interest from Americans who want to travel to Cuba.

“There is such pent up desire to travel to Cuba, to get to know Cuba,” Manteiga said. “We were their main tourist partner. Going to Cuba was like going to Miami. It was not a big deal and so people want to restore that kind of relationship.”

Victor DiMaio with the Tiger Bay Club has been in charge of organizing the event.

“Albert A Fox Jr. and Ralph Fernandez are kind of the epitome of what’s still in place with the Cuba issue,” DiMaio said. “You have two guys that don’t exactly exchange Christmas Cards with each other and they are diametrically opposed on the Cuba issue.”

The debate begins at 6:30 p.m. on Monday night at the historic Centro Asturiano. The event is open to the public. Tickets will be $20 at the door. For ticket information click here or call (8138)507-9236.

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