Former ambassador Vicki Huddleston criticized the contraction of U.S.-Cuba relations under President Donald Trump and called for more engagement at a talk on Friday.
Huddleston headed the U.S. Interests Section under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The office served as the de facto U.S. Embassy in Havana from 1977 to 2015.
Huddleston shared stories with the civic group Cafe Con Tampa from her new book "Our Woman in Havana" about her time as a diplomat in Cuba. She also told the audience more, not less, people in Tampa Bay should be traveling to Cuba and meeting with Cubans face-to-face.
"If we want to see the Cuban people deciding what their future should look like, we have to keep up this opening, this communication, and this engagement," she said.
Asked about the reported "hollowing out" of the State Department, Huddleston joked that members of the audience should apply for the diplomatic corps "because it's easier now."
Huddleston also encouraged the audience to ask their legislators to support expanded travel and trade with Cuba, which she argued is the policy most likely to improved living conditions for ordinary Cubans and lead to political change.
"If our representatives know that the vast majority of Florida's citizens don't want this policy, then we won't have this policy," she said. "The reason we have this policy is because a powerful minority [of Cuban Americans] in Florida is able to dictate this policy."
Huddleston admitted, however, that with the recent reports of sonic attacks and the appointment of John Bolton as National Security Advisor, it is unlikely we will see expanded travel and trade between Florida and Cuba.