Though diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba are warming, some in Tampa say establishing a Cuban consulate here would be a big mistake. ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO
By Howard Altman | Tampa Tribune Staff
TAMPA — As civic leaders from both sides of Tampa Bay jockey to host a Cuban consulate, a small group of naysayers sees a darker side to the prospect — one rooted in continuing Cold War tensions and the island nation’s reputation for superior espionage operations.
A consulate “will be Cuba’s headquarters for intelligence operations in Tampa and Florida,” says Evelio Otero, a retired Air Force colonel who served at both U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command. “It will be a spy hotbed.”
The focus for Cuban spies would be Centcom and Socom, says Jim Waurishuk, a retired Air Force colonel who served as deputy director of intelligence for Centcom.
Otero and Waurishuk belong to a small group called “No to Cuban Consulate in Tampa,” which, as its name indicates, is opposed to having an outpost of the Castro government in the Tampa area.
Otero, born in Puerto Rico to a Cuban father, was head of Centcom’s coalition intelligence center and chief of intelligence operations forward in Qatar. His father was the first voice in Telemundo and a founder of Radio Martí, broadcasting U.S.-funded information to Cuba.
Waurishuk dealt with Cuba during his military career, including a stint as the senior intelligence officer on the White House National Security Council staff focusing on the island nation. This marks his first foray into the contentious world of Cuban-American politics.
They say their “no consulate” group consists of about a dozen people pushing officials in Tampa and St. Petersburg to reject calls to host the first Cuban consulate in the U.S. since the nation embraced Communism more than five decades ago.
Their effort includes lobbying Hillsborough County commissioners to vote against a resolution supporting a Cuban consulate in Tampa, perhaps Ybor City — a launching point for Cuban revolutions that ousted the Spanish and later brought Fidel Castro to power.
The Hillsborough County resolution has yet to come up for a vote.
But the city councils in both Tampa and St. Petersburg already have adopted resolutions inviting a Cuban consulate to their communities.
Feature continues here: Cuban Spying