Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Marco Rubio's ill-considered action on Cuba travel

St. Petersburg Times Editorial

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

U.S. Senetar Marco Rubio echoes the outdated thinking of a small and shrinking number of Miami hard-liners opposed to closer relations with Cuba. But he also represents millions of other Floridians in Tampa Bay and elsewhere who would greatly benefit from the Obama administration's plan to make it easier and cheaper for families, academics and church groups to visit the island. Rubio holds statewide office, and he should act like it. He can start on Cuba by making the transition from politicking to governing.

Rubio filed an amendment to a federal aviation funding bill that would prohibit flights to Cuba between any additional gateways beyond the three now allowed — Miami, New York and Los Angeles. The move comes in response to President Barack Obama's announcement last month that any U.S. airport with advanced customs and immigration capabilities could apply to host direct flights to and from Cuba. Tampa International Airport hailed the idea, and two charter air companies are negotiating to offer service.

The flights would serve a humanitarian need for Cuban-American families and make it easier to spread the example of American democracy. Some 60,000 Cuban-Americans live in the Tampa Bay area; those traveling to Cuba now must first pass through Miami, adding time and hundreds of dollars to the trip. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, served the region by working for two years to open up more U.S. gateways. There is no reason to force travelers legally allowed to visit Cuba to pay extra and jump through hoops before they can arrive at the same place.

Rubio claims that expanding travel with Cuba only reinforces the Castro regime, a tired yarn that has been discredited since almost the start of the 50-year-old embargo. The only thing Rubio's proposal underpins is the monopoly Miami's airport and its charter air services have on travel between Florida and the island nation 90 miles away. Rubio should realize that public attitudes in Florida about Cuba have changed and that voters see his legislation as hypocrisy. The public also understands that the people who would be hurt the most are this state's Cuban-Americans. The senator should be acting in the best interests of all Florida, not just protecting the narrow agenda of a portion of his hometown.

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