Cuba relations remain complicated, even locally

- Two years ago, our government reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba. While President Trump ordered new travel restrictions, he kept our embassies open.

With that in mind, the city of St. Petersburg is still interested in getting a Cuban consulate. However, critics claim that could compromise national security.

When we traveled to Havana last year before the election, people flagged us down to talk politics.

Noel Gonzales asked us to send a message back to the United States.

"I looked at Hillary Clinton-President! President in my dreams," he said. "Hillary! hello. You are the next President of the United States."

He was right about the 'in his dreams' part. Many Cubans wanted Hillary Clinton because they like U.S. money pouring in to help them rebuild. They figured Trump would cut some of it off and they were right.

President Trump hopes reeling in travel (and tourism) money will drive the Castro regime to reform. That's why he kept diplomatic relations, which keeps the door open to a Cuban consulate in the Tampa Bay area.

And St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has been working on that for years. He said a consulate would bring more of an international flavor to St. Petersburg and possibly bring more positive change to Cuba.

"I think we are still very much in the running, but what I do think it does is it slows the process down," said Kriseman. "From someone who's been there three times, there was a noticeable difference in what I saw in each visit. There seemed to be more freedoms, there were more privately owned restaurants. There was a noticeable change"

Critics like Retired Colonel E.J. Otero, a former director of Intelligence Operations at CENTCOM, say the mayor's plan could backfire on our military.

Otero agrees with the decisions to keep our embassies open but does not want a Cuban consulate anywhere near MacDill Air Force Base. He says Cuban diplomats could use their position to gain access to the base, then spy on it, perhaps sell secrets to the Russians, and evade prosecution as diplomats.

"The Cuban consulates wherever they are, they are known by all the intelligence agencies in the world as nests of spies," he said. "The protection that diplomacy gives you is that if you're caught spying on MacDill Air Force Base, you will be thrown out of the country maybe, but you definitely will not be arrested."

Mayor Kriseman says he trusts our military to protect national security, so he'll keep working on landing the consulate.

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