Two major events sent ripples through the Bay area's large Cuban population Tuesday, beginning with a historic handshake between President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in South Africa.
That handshake drew criticism from people in Tampa who escaped Cuba to the U.S. decades ago, running from the Castro regime.
"It's horrible to have the president of the United States, which means freedom and Constitution, to go ahead and shake hands with the kind of person that Raul Castro is," said Dr. Jesus Martinez, who moved to Tampa more than 40 years ago after fleeing Cuba a decade before that.
A local attorney and advocate for the Cuban community, Ralph Fernandez, has been an outspoken critic of the Castro regime. In this case, however, Fernandez said the criticism President Obama is facing might be an overreaction.
"I was concerned when I saw it, but I think it was diplomacy. I think it was courtesy," Fernandez said, adding despite his deep distrust of the Castro family, he's hopeful this could be the beginning of change in Cuba. "You have to have hope, and you can't abandon that – however old we are."
Hours after that handshake made headlines, Tampa International CEO Joe Lopano and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor joined together to announce expanded service to Cuba at TIA. A new direct flight to Havana will leave weekly and is the 11th flight of its kind from TIA.
"I try to go [to Cuba] at least three or four times a year," said Nelson Martinez, who now lives in Tampa. "I would hope one day that they can do something about lifting the embargo or they can work it out to where people can go to Cuba whenever they want to go."
During her remarks, Castor focused briefly on the decades-long tension between the two countries.
"We've got to take another step in modernizing the relationship between the United States and Cuba," she said.
Since direct flights from Tampa to Cuba began in 2011, nearly 92,000 travelers have made the trip. Only Miami has seen more people fly to Cuba.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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