Cuba signs trade deal with Alabama in Tampa

- Tampa had a front row seat Thursday to a new trade agreement between Cuba and Mobile, Alabama.

The two parties signed the agreement in downtown Tampa, just a few days after Florida's governor warned the state's ports not to do business with the island nation.

"This had been planned for a year in advance, the Port of Tampa hosted this convention here for ports from all over," said Victor DiMaio, a member of the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy.

Instead, the American Association of Port Authorities came to Tampa's Marriott Waterside, and then watched Mobile, Alabama, and not Tampa, agree to explore new trade possibilities.

Irony aside, Alabama officials called the time and place a simple matter of convenience.

"We don't really compete with any of the Florida ports," said Jimmy Lyons of the Alabama State Port Authority.

DiMaio says trade could one day create 20,000 local jobs. He argues last week's tweet from Gov. Rick Scott gave the Port of Tampa cold feet.

RELATED: Gov. Scott, Mayor Buckhorn call for change before trade with Cuba

On Twitter, the governor said he would "restrict state funds for ports that work with Cuba," and that "we can't condone Raul Castro's oppressive behavior because of serious human rights concerns."

On Wednesday during a visit to Tampa, he said, "There's no democracy, there's no personal freedom, and I don't believe it's appropriate for our ports to be doing business with them."

DiMaio says Tampa and Florida missed out on history. 

The agreement with Mobile is the first ever between Cuba and a US port. Although an embargo is still in effect, DiMaio says opening Tampa to trade could have been a big first step.

"If you draw a line from Havana straight north, the closest largest port in the entire world, not just in Florida, not just the US, is the port of Tampa," he said. "As a Cuban American whose grandparents were born and raised in Cuba, whose family came here to make cigars and who has been fighting tooth and nail with a lot of people to open trade, this was sadly disappointing because it should have been the Port of Tampa."

This is the first time Cuba has entered into an agreement with a US trade port.

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