Cuban consulate likely to open in Tampa, residents say

Some in Tampa think Hillsborough should be home to Cuban consulate

TAMPA, Fla. – While some Cuban-Americans in Miami would prefer not to have a neighboring Cuban consulate, some in Tampa said they were embracing the idea.  

Having the consulate in Miami would cause problems, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado has said. 

"We're going to have daily protests in front of the consulate and that's not going to be good for the image of Miami," said Regalado, who was born in Cuba. 

President Barack Obama's attendance to a baseball game next week between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National team is meant to be a symbolic gesture of what is to come if his policy remains in place. To some it is a highlight of the many links that Tampa has to Cuba. 

Some Tampa residents are prepared to receive the Cuban diplomats. Al Fox, a Tampa activist, said the city's historic Ybor City neighborhood has an established Cuban history. Cuban and Spanish cigar-factory workers who moved from Key West industrialized the area at the turn of the 20th century.

Lonnie Herman, a tour guide with Ybor City Historic Walking Tours, said the "peak" of Ybor City was in 1927 when there were 230 cigar factories and some 12,000 workers producing about 700 million cigars annually. 

Herman always shows tourists the a statue of Vicente Martinez Ybor, a Spanish cigar manufacturer who grew up in Cuba, and is credited with founding the neighborhood. His business also attracted immigrants from Italy and Germany, Herman said.

Ybor contributed to the expansion of the Port of Tampa. And when he died in 1896, much of the city's stores closed in his honor. 

Before Ybor's arrival, Tampa was a little sleepy fishing village," said Don Barco, owner of King Corona Cigars in Ybor City. Barco, who is married to a Cuban-American with historic roots in Tampa, said "Ybor City was known as being Cuba."

Herman also takes tourists to see a statue of José Martí, who delivered a speech near a former brick factory building in Ybor City. Herman said the park where the statue remains was a home where the Cuban national hero would stay during his recruiting trips during Cuba's fight for freedom from Spain.

Hillsborough County records reflect that the Cuban government owns the park, Herman said. It's likely the only land owned by the Cuban government in the entire United States. 

Follow Local 10 News reporter Hatzel Vela on Twitter during his trip to Cuba for Obama's visit. 

Explore "Historic Access: Cuba Coast to Coast" to experience Local 10 News exclusive reporting. 

About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.