TAMPA (FOX 13) - Port Tampa Bay is the closest large port to Havana, Cuba, making it a likely potential gateway for trade with Cuba, but the embargo remains.
Governor Rick Scott is warning Tampa and other Florida ports: Don't deal with Cuba.
"We should not be doing business with a brutal dictator. Raul Castro is a brutal dictator," Scott said, while visiting Tampa Wednesday morning.
Scott is threatening to withhold millions of dollars from ports that deal with Cuba. His new budget gives ports nearly $180 million, but it contains language regarding Cuba.
It says no money can be allocated that results in the "expansion of trade with the Cuban dictatorship."
The governor's policy has already had a chilling effect. Last week, Port Everglades and the Port of Palm Beach put off plans to sign letters of understanding with Cuban port officials. In Tampa, Cuban officials are expected to attend a convention Thursday, but if there were any thoughts of preliminary agreements, the governor likely doused them.
Rushing to trade with Cuba isn't a priority for Tampa's Democratic mayor, either.
"I think it depends on whether or not Cuba is moving in a democratic environment," said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who's also a member of the Port Authority board. Buckhorn says he takes the governor's funding threat seriously.
"Not to decide whether he's right or wrong, but to recognize that going against him in this circumstance means that we would loose tens of millions of dollars in state money that would be invested in the Port of Tampa," Buckhorn said.