Republican official calls for expanded ties between Florida and Cuba

Feb 19, 2008

Tallahassee Democrat--Feb. 19, 2008

By Jim Ash and Julian Pecquet
Democrat staff writers

Jim Greer, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, said today that the Sunshine State should take the lead in creating new exchanges with Cuba. But he stopped short of calling for an end to the embargo with the communist island.

"Because of its large Cuban population…Florida is certainly going to be a leader in opening up dialogue and opening up trade eventually, and I think you’re going to see Florida very active in exposing the citizens of Cuba to the good things that America has to offer. I think that can start right away," he said. "I think that you can do that by not lifting the embargo but by engaging in a very aggressive dialogue and debate."

"What you’ll see is an aggressive approach to opening up trade that may not have immediate results but will certainly have results in the near future," Greer said. "I personally think it’s going to take about two years. I don’t think you’re going to see the wall come down, because … it’s not that they don’t want change, but they might not want radical change."

Greer said Castro was dying and that his brother Raul was "a little bit more liberal in his approach to governing."

"It certainly has demonstrated that no matter how long it takes, there is going to be a change in a government that is oppressive to the people. Slowly but surely, the citizens in Cuba will start to want to change their form of government, especially from an economic standpoint."
Crist responds to Castro’s resignation; officials monitoring Cuba developments

Florida officials are watching and waiting developments 90 miles south in Cuba, but the surprise resignation of an ailing President Fidel Castro had not prompted an alert by mid-morning.

The state and federal government have elaborate plans to respond to a repeat of the Mariel-style mass exodus that swamped South Florida with up to 125,000 Cuban refugees from April 15 to Oct. 31, 1980. Responding to a sharp economic downtown, Castro allowed anyone who wanted to leave the island nation to flee, causing an administrative nightmare in South Florida.

But emergency management officials have not moved to put the plan in place, at least not yet.

"Like everyone else, we’re just maintaining awareness," said Technical Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa, a spokesman for the Florida National Guard from its headquarters in St. Augustine.

Gov. Charlie Crist issued the following announcement:

“Today I join Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits in recognizing the official resignation of Fidel Castro as President of Cuba.

"Americans – and Floridians especially – continue to stand in solidarity with the Cuban people as they remain under the oppression of the Castro regime.

"Regrettably, this dictatorship continues through the succession of power to Raul Castro, and as Floridians, we must continue to call for free and democratic elections in Cuba, freedom for all political prisoners and respect for all human rights as detailed in the Geneva Conventions.”
Coming on

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