MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine traveled to Cuba this week, where he met with high-ranking Cuban officials to discuss the possibility of opening a Cuban consulate in Miami Beach.
Levine previously told Local 10 News that he never discussed opening a Cuban consulate in the city, but he held a news conference in Havana Thursday, where he said the conversation naturally came up when he met with Cuban officials.
"We would be open to engaging in dialog with the Cuban government about potentially having a Cuban consulate in Miami Beach," Levine said to reporters at the Hotel Saratoga in Havana.
Levine said Cuba's deputy foreign minister first mentioned the idea to him Wednesday, but sources in Cuba told Local 10 News two weeks ago that the Miami Beach mayor told them he was open to the idea of a consulate in the city.
Even before that, the suggestion that a Cuban government office might open in the county with the largest exile population in the U.S. drew pushback.
"If they do it in Miami then we're going to have to deal with the security and the social issues it will cost," Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado said last week.
In January, the Miami-Dade County Commission passed an official resolution against it, even directing the county's federal lobbyists to fight it.
Levin traveled to Cuba Sunday with a delegation of 12 graduate students from Tufts University, along with a professor from the university's Fletcher School of Diplomacy. He will return to South Florida Thursday afternoon.
A news release sent before his trip said Levine planned to take part in meetings to "gain full appreciation on the path forward to empower the Cuban people through the normalization of relations with the United States and Cuba."
Local 10 News was told that the trip was not intended to coincide with President Barack Obama's visit to the island, but had been planned before.
Levine said he has invited Havana's equivalent of a mayor to Miami Beach this summer to attend a Mayor's conference.
Sites for Cuban consulates are ultimately chosen by the federal government in coordination with the Cuban government.
Tampa is also actively pursuing a consulate in its city.