Agreement imminent for commercial U.S.-Cuba flights

- For more than 50 years, traveling to Cuba has been a no-go for most Americans. Tampa International Airport currently operates seven charter flights a week to the tiny island nation, but travelers may soon be able to fly commercial airlines daily from TPA to Havana.

On Tuesday, Transportation and State Department officials will meet in Havana to sign a formal agreement on airline flights between the U.S. and Cuba. Once it's signed, airlines can apply for the right to fly between the two countries. 

The announcement is being celebrated by lawmakers like U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D, FL), who began working towards a thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations since taking office in 2007. Castor says a trip to Cuba in 2013 inspired her new bill, which calls for an end to the U.S. embargo on Cuba.  

"When you land in Cuba, it's like going back to 1955," said Castor. "It's been isolated and this policy of isolation has not served Cuba well and it's not served our country well. Just talk to the folks who live here in west Tampa and the families who've had to struggle with all kinds of bureaucratic red tape just to visit their family members."

Today, Castor was joined by six other state representatives from both sides of the political aisle on a special delegation trip to Cuba. Castor says she hopes to convince fellow members of Congress that an end to the U.S. embargo is a must.

"The embargo has not done much to hurt the Cuban government but has hurt everyday Cubans," Castor said.

Not everyone, however agrees that an end to the embargo will bring about the changes they say Cuba desperately needs.

"I share their optimism but sadly, as everyone knows, there's been little progress on the principal issue, which is the issue of human rights," said Tampa-based attorney Ralph Fernandez. "Everybody likes to talk about what would be great to happen and then we pander to these regimes and just hope, like in North Korea, that things change."

Castor says she thinks the end to the embargo will only be a matter of time. She hopes to bring her trade bill, co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer (R, MN), to the floor for a vote this year.

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