Tampa, Florida — The sights and sounds of Cuba are alive and well in Tampa's Ybor City. It's because of people like Odelma Matos and her son. They've handrolled cigars for three years in Ybor, in the Cuban tradition.
"Everybody likes the Cigar de Cuba, right?" Matos said after lighting one of her handrolled stogies.
Tomorrow, Odelma is heading back to Cuba to tour a cigar factory as she waits. Matos says she's looking forward to when the embargo is fully lifted, and she's making contacts to help her Ybor business when it does.
The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce is banking on Tampa's centuries-long Cuban tradition.
Chamber Chair Ron Christaldi says his team is doing much the same thing as Matos, just on a larger scale. Members are taking a trip to Cuba Tuesday to try and position Tampa as its best trade partner in the U.S.
"So when the switch gets flipped, we're ready to go," Christaldi said.
He says Tampa has a huge advantage. Its area ports are closer to Cuba than those near Miami
"There's been no strife between Tampa and Cuba ever," he said.
Construction, health care, technology, exports, the chamber is working to forge connections in Havana that were lost in 1959.
"Any business here that has the ability to export goods with a market of 17 million people that's untapped that's that close, I think the possibilities are really somewhat boundless," Christaldi said.
That could mean hundreds of millions of dollars for the Bay area economy, and for people excited about hopping on the next ferry to Cuba, whenever it might start.
"Everyone else in the world has already been going there," one man said while walking down Ybor's 7th Street. "It's just nice to see wounds getting healed."
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