TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — As President Donald Trump’s term ends, he leaves at least one roadblock for the incoming administration. President Trump added Cuba back to the state sponsors of terrorism list, rescinding the Obama Administration’s 2015 lift of that designation.
It’s expected to complicate the Biden administrations’ pledge to restore relations between the United States and the island country.
This is creating a further political divide among Cuban-Americans, especially in Florida and Tampa Bay which is the closest port to Havana.
“The last time I went to Cuba I saw the hopes and dreams in the eyes of the people because they felt President Obama was finally giving them a ray of hope they never had,” Victor DiMaio told 8 On Your Side.
DiMaio is president of the Hillsborough County Democratic Hispanic Caucus with deep roots in Tampa. His grandparents settled in Ybor City from Cuba over a century ago.
He was on the first flight from Tampa to Havana and even caught a Rays game in Cuba when President Barack Obama started restoring U.S. – Cuba relations.
“Tampa benefitted greatly, we had several flights a day from several airlines going directly,” said DiMaio. “Cruise ships, right here in the port just a few blocks from here, were traveling. Hundreds of American tours, Tampa Tours, traveling to Cuba.”
The Trump administration slowed trade, travel, and the growing relationship Tampa was fostering with the island. In what were President Trump’s final days, Cuba was put back on the state sponsors of terrorism list citing aid to Venezuela’s authoritarian leader Nicolas Maduro and the country’s role in harboring American fugitives.
“The only way you’re going to solve the problem with Cuba is through engagement,” expressed DiMaio.
Republican Cuban-Americans disagree.
Days after entering Congress, Republican Representative Maria Elvira Salazar of Miami-Dade filed the FORCE ACT – Fighting Oppression Until the Reign of Castro Ends – to back President Trump’s sanction.
“As the daughter of Cuban refugees who fled the brutal dictatorship that continues to jail, starve, murder and systematically oppress the people of Cuba, I am very proud to introduce the FORCE Act,” she said in a statement to 8 On Your Side.
The congresswoman added that “this critical piece of legislation that will not allow any administration, whether Republican or Democrat, to remove the brutal Castro dictatorship from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List until they comply with the LIBERTAD Act: Release all political prisoners, guarantee freedom speech and the right to assemble, legalize all political parties, and commit to holding free & fair elections.”
Cuba joins North Korea, Iraq, and Syria on the terrorism list.