Cuban Officials Touring St. Petersburg This Weekend as They Eye Consulate Location
By Paul Guzzo, Tampa Bay Times Staff Writer
Tampa has the historic and cultural link to Cuba, but it might be St. Petersburg that lands the first Cuban Consulate in the United States in more than five decades.
Alejandro Padrón, Cuba’s consular general from its embassy in Washington, D.C., and his second in command, Armando Bencomo, were in St. Petersburg on Saturday and took a tour of its real estate assets that was led by Dave Goodwin, the city’s director of planning and economic development.
Such a tour did not take place in Tampa.
“They have some interest in our city and they want to get to know more about it,” said Joni James, CEO of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, which along with the University of South Florida’s Patel College of Global Sustainability sponsored the delegation’s trip.
“We are happy to help them learn what a great place it would be to have a consulate.”
Kanika Tomalin, the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, described the tour as “pretty comprehensive” but did not provide specifics on where they visited.
“They will understand what the city can offer their goals,” she said.
There is competition between Tampa and St. Petersburg to host the Cuban Consulate.
The Tampa City Council, Hills- borough County Commission and Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce have voted in favor of bringing the consulate to their community.
The chamber also sent a delegation to Cuba in May 2015.
Each has heavily promoted that Tampa and Cuba share a connection dating to the founding of Ybor City in the late 1800s by immigrants from the island nation.
Later, Tampa was a staging ground for Cuba’s War of Independence against colonialist Spain. And with Cuban tobacco, Tampa would go on to become Cigar City.
But the St. Petersburg City Council voted for a consulate to open in that city as well.
The St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership also sent two delegations to Cuba in the past year and welcomed one from the island nation to its city in December.
Feature continues here: Will St Pete Become Havana’s Newest Spy Base?
Editor’s Note: When the United States ended diplomatic relations with Cuba in the early 1960s, the Castro regime had been conducting its espionage operations from a network of over two dozen consulates and Prensa Latina (news agency) sites from coast to coast. Since the theft of US economic, political and military secrets provides one of the largest revenue streams flowing the regime, Havana dearly wants its “diplomatic” spy network back to further increase its espionage effectiveness and drive down costs.