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Following our Florida Matters reporters roundtable for April, host Robin Sussingham picks up the conversation with a discussion on changes in Cuba; the new museum of western and wildlife art in St. Pete; a ban on greyhound racing; and how to juice a marijuana plant. She's joined by longtime political writer William March, Justine Griffin of the Tampa Bay Times, and Florida Matters Producer Stephanie Colombini.

Roberto Roldan / WUSF Public Media

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.

The Bay of Pigs is one of the darkest episodes of Cuban-American history. But that failed 1961 attempt by Cuban exiles to overthrow Fidel Castro had another dark result. Some of its resentful veterans came back to the U.S. to form a violent Cuban-American mafia called The Corporation.

USF Sarasota-Manatee

Relations between the U.S. and Cuba are currently strained following a mysterious incident that injured two dozen American diplomatic personnel on the island. In addition, President Donald Trump reversed policies created by the Obama administration to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba.

The oldest son of late Cuban leader Fidel Castro killed himself on Thursday after months of treatment for depression, state media reported. He was 68.

The U.S. State Department has changed its travel alert system and now recommends American citizens “reconsider” visiting Cuba. It had previously issued a warning advising Americans not to travel to the island.

“As we were putting all this together, we did a very careful assessment. We talked to all of our experts, and this is where we came out on Cuba,” Michelle Bernier-Toth, acting deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizen Services, said in a teleconference on Wednesday.

Doctors treating the U.S. Embassy victims of mysterious, invisible attacks in Cuba have discovered brain abnormalities as they search for clues to explain the hearing, vision, balance and memory damage, The Associated Press has learned.

It's the most specific finding to date about physical damage, showing that whatever it was that harmed the Americans, it led to perceptible changes in their brains. The finding is also one of several factors fueling growing skepticism that some kind of sonic weapon was involved.

We still don’t know what or who caused the alleged sonic attacks that injured U.S. diplomats in Havana. Which is why Cuba put its own scientists online this week to debunk the claims.

Some two dozen personnel at the U.S. embassy in Havana say they were victims of acoustic attacks. The high-pitched sonic blasts started last year and caused hearing loss and other illnesses.

ANALYSIS

Ever since former President Barack Obama normalized relations with Cuba three years ago – heralding the possibility of a new era after half a century of hostility – cold warriors on both sides of the Florida Straits have gnashed their teeth at the rapprochement.

But in the coming days and weeks, sources say the Trump Administration may well shelve a good chunk of the new normal in favor of the old normal the hawks prefer – in effect, the re-freezing of U.S.-Cuban relations.

Port Tampa Bay

Port Tampa Bay announced five new cruises to Cuba, starting in 2018.

President Trump will be in Miami Friday to unveil his new Cuba policy, which will reverse some of his predecessor’s normalization measures. The main targets are Cuba’s military – and wannabe American tourists.

It looks as though President Trump is coming to Miami next Friday to announce his new Cuba policy. But White House officials appear to be in disagreement over whether June 16 will be the day - and sources say Miami's Cuban-American congressional delegation is split over whether the President should even travel here next week since he's unlikely to unveil any significant changes to his predecessor's normalization of relations with the communist island.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas ship will leave on its maiden voyage to Cuba from the Port of Tampa to Havana.

Sonia Labrador-Rodriguez

This Saturday, New College is wrapping up a yearlong series of events around the relationship between Cuba and the U.S. 

New College professor Sonia Labrador-Rodriguez organized the Cubano-American Community Project, which looks at the deep roots Cuban-Americans have in this part of Florida.

Last summer the first U.S. commercial flights to Cuba in more than half a century took off to jubilant fanfare - and landed to cheers and water cannon salutes. U.S. airlines were giddy about resuming commercial flights to the communist island.

Maybe too giddy.

St. Pete Yacht Race Is Back After 58 Years

Mar 1, 2017
Morgan Blauth/WUSF

The clinking of champagne glasses and humming of boat motors on Tuesday morning signaled the relaunch of the once-annual yacht race from St. Petersburg to Havana, Cuba.  

The St. Petersburg-Habana Race was last held in 1959, before it was canceled due to strained relations between the U.S. and Cuba during Fidel Castro’s rise to power.

A statement from the St. Petersburg Yacht Club said the club hosted the race again this year in an effort to continue normalizing relations with the country.

The Kardashians have visited Cuba. So have Chanel models. So it was just a matter of time before animal rights activists showed up wearing bikinis made of lettuce. Right?

They did indeed fly to Cuba on Tuesday – but something might be wrong with this picture.

Most people want Cuba to be democratic. They want it to be Internet accessible. Now the Virginia-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, wants the island to get vegan.

Scott Warns Ports About Trading With Cuba

Jan 26, 2017
kas7848 / Flickr

Gov. Rick Scott is using Twitter to threaten funding cuts for port operators that do business with Cuba, as legal cargo arrived Wednesday at Port Everglades from the island nation.

Among its demands for normalized relations, Cuba wants the U.S. to leave its naval station at Guantánamo Bay on the island’s southeastern tip. But the lease Cuba signed more than a century ago lets the U.S. stay there forever if it wants to.

Travelers to Cuba should bring lots of mosquito repellant -- not just for themselves.

The Zika virus is being spread by mosquitos in Cuba, so travelers are being told to bring bug spray to protect themselves.

Travelers to Cuba get something extra with the cost of their tickets -- health insurance.

Cuba doesn't accept American health insurance, so airlines purchase policies for travelers.

Flights Starting From Tampa To Cuba

Dec 9, 2016
Wikimedia Commons

The formerly closed nation of Cuba will become much closer to Tampa on Monday, Dec. 12. That’s when the city will become one of just 10 U.S. cities with commercial service to the island.

 

The centerpiece of the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity - the Ermita, built with donations from thousands of Cuban exiles in honor of the island's Patroness, the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre or "Cachita"- is a floor-to-ceiling mural depicting centuries of Cuban history.  There are thinkers and freedom fighters, like Félix Varela and José Martí, and Christopher Columbus gazing out over an indigenous community. 

As their constituents took to the streets with pots and pans to celebrate Fidel Castro’s death, South Florida’s Cuban-American congressional delegation blasted the Obama administration for the brief diplomatic opening that preceded the dictator’s death.

“The largest financier of Castro right now, has become the Obama administration,” Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart told reporters at a Miami press conference. 

Fidel Castro, the controversial ruler who took power during the Cuban revolution in 1959 and led his country for nearly half a century, died in Havana, Cuba, at age 90.

Castro lived through 10 U.S. presidents who were determined to overthrow him, as NPR's Tom Gjelten reported, in addition to surviving the collapse of the communist alliance that bolstered his success.

I always had a wonderful time in Fidel Castro's Cuba, and usually wound up feeling bad about it.

The island is beautiful, the people even sunnier: warm and friendly, especially to Americans. The responsables — government minders — assigned to each reporting crew would tease me about being from Chicago.

"Your mobsters used to run this place," they'd say. "Sam Giancana, The Godfather. You made our men bellboys and our women prostitutes." And then they'd treat you to mojitos and fabulous music.

AP Photo

Under President Barack Obama, U.S. relations with Cuba saw a considerable warm-up, including new airline flights between Tampa and Havana. But now, with the election of Donald Trump as President, some wonder how the relationship between the two countries might change.

USF Sarasota-Manatee recently marked International Education Week with a panel discussion on Cuba, its future, and how the two sides might get along moving forward.

The first commercial flights from Tampa to Havana in more than 50 years will begin in late October at the earliest, but they're already muscling out at least one local charter company.

tampaairport.com

Five U.S. cities now have approval to host flights to Cuba and Tampa is not one of them.

The U.S. Department of Transportation approved six domestic airlines to begin flights to Cuba from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Philadelphia and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

St. Pete Museum of History Wants Residents' Cuba Photos

May 24, 2016
www.spmoh.com

  The St. Petersburg Museum of History wants residents’ personal photos of Cuba for their upcoming exhibit “Experience Cuba.”

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