Congresswoman Kathy Castor just returned from Cuba after spending four days there, and she says things are changing.
Castor says there are many opportunities in Cuba that the U.S. should consider.
"The United States of America should normalize relations and begin a constructive dialogue with the island nation. Fidel Castro is no longer in power, there is a generational change occurring in the government in Cuba," Castor said.
While in Cuba, Castor toured the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. She also went to a meeting with the Ministry of Energy.
She says she was pleasantly surprised by what she heard.
"They have been in productive multilateral talks with the U.S., the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Mexico to the point where they have adopted many of the safety recommendations in America's oil spill report authored by Senator Bob Graham," she said.
Congresswoman Castor spoke with the Chief of Mission of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. They spoke at length about family reunification and visas for Cubans wishing to visit family in Tampa Bay.
"Cuba is the only country in the world that American citizens are refrained from traveling. Americans are able to North Korea; with warnings, they can travel to Syria and Iran. And yet an hour from TIA, all of our neighbors cannot visit and travel," Castor said.
Castor says the status quo isn't working.
"After 50 years of an embargo and isolation, that has proven it doesn't work in bringing about a lot of change. It's time to try something new, and it's time to refresh our relationship benefits from meetings," she said.
But Castor is getting some backlash for her visit. Ralph Fernandez is a Tampa criminal defense attorney, and is also a staunch opponent of the Castro regime. He says he spoke with Castor before she left.
"I asked her to meet with U.S. intelligence officials. I wanted her to know the dangers of her visit. But I guess she couldn't find time. I think she's made a terrible mistake. It's something that's quite disappointing," Fernandez said.
He says nothing has changed when it comes to Cuba and how the government operates.
"It's worse. Instead of being 50 years behind the times, it's 60 years. It's like traveling to the Old West, expect people really live there. It's really sad, " Fernandez said.
Fernandez said as a Congresswoman, Rep. Castor has a responsibility to listen to others.
"It's a real simple formula. Should we send a lot of money and assets to North Korea without expecting anything in return? If you checked no, then you're with me on the Cuba issue. You need to see some progress and progress is not just talking about things that never come to fruition and materialize," Fernandez said.
Rep. Castor says she plans to talk to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to encourage talks on trade and travel with Cuba.
But Fernandez says the U.S. would lose out if it invested in Cuba.
"Cuba only seeks to be lent money so that they don't pay it They have not paid a single account in their history while a Castro has been there. They have not paid one lender back. Any nation that has lent them, is out of money," Fernandez said.
Fernandez says history doesn't lie.
"Cuba was our enemy 30 years before Iran became our enemy. It doesn't take a Rhodes scholar to figure this out. Those uneducated in history open the door for their own country to suffer the consequences and that's what she has done," Fernandez said.
Castor says she expected the backlash, but stands by her visit.
"It's very easy for those who don't understand they're changing, to say well, it's the same as ever. It's not the same as ever. It is changing and that should be encouraged," Castor said.
But she does know the U.S. can't just rush in.
"This should not be done with blinders on, however. There are still many human rights challenges in Cuba, it's still to many a repressive regime that does not allow citizens to enjoy all of the human rights that we enjoy. "
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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