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Debate on Cuba Pits Two Longtime Rivals

Steve Newborn
Ralph Fernandez, left, with Al Fox, right.

The U.S. recently opened its shuttered embassy in Havana, but relations between the U.S. and Cuba are still far from normal. And emotions on both sides of the debate about normalization are still running high. That was evident Monday night during a debate at the Centro Asturiano club in Ybor City, hosted by the Tampa Tiger Bay Club.

On one side of the aisle: Tampa attorney Ralph Fernandez. He fled Cuba with his family as an eight-year-old when Fidel Castro took power. He says he can never forget what happened there.

"Because I remember the faces," he said. "I remember the faces of the nearly 30,000 people that were executed by the regime, separated from their families. I remember the pain of nearly 300,000 political prisoners. "

On the other side: Al Fox. The Tampa native established the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation to re-establish trade and diplomatic ties between the two nations. He says bringing the countries closer together is the only way to avoid reliving the mistakes of the past.

"So the mistake that we made in 1960-61, by forcing the Cuban government into the arms of the Soviet Union, we're doing it all over again. And I just think that's wrong."

Even though there's no love lost between the two men, the did agree on several issues, perhaps reflecting the recent thaw in relations between the two countries.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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