MIAMI BEACH (CBSMiami) – Locals had the opportunity to voice their opinion on whether Miami Beach should be the new home to a Cuban consulate, and emotions definitely ran hot Monday night.
The meeting, which started at 6:30 p.m. at city hall, was in response to Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine's idea of at least talking about the consulate being welcomed in his city.
The idea came about after Levine attended a private meeting with officials at Cuba's Foreign Relations Ministry last month while visiting Havana.
Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola was on the trip to Havana. He said he was open to discussion and that there wasn't hard sell by the mayor.
"No one invited them to Miami Beach. I did not. Mayor Levine did not. What we invited was the essence of the American way of talking and engaging. Just simply to talk," Arriola said.
A good sized crowd, mostly Cuban exiles, showed up for the meeting held by the Miami Beach Hispanic Affairs Committee.
One thing the city commission heard was that Cuban embassies and consulates are centers of espionage activities.
"This disruptive activity by the Castro regime will pose a threat to the overall stability of this world renowned destination," attendee Orlando Gutierrez told the commission.
The committee did hear that a consulate would be a service to locals, travelers and the Cuban community.
"You should reflect on what a consulate does, customer service," said Christian Ulvert.
That was something Arriola had mentioned a week ago.
"There is a need to service our constituents who are clearly going to be traveling to Cuba to visit loved ones and that necessitates a consulate somewhere," Arriola said.
But the main the message from the crowd was a consulate would be an insensitive slap in the face.
"To open up a consulate at our back door, right here next door to your residents, is a disgrace," said Miriam De La Pena.
Even before the meeting, the controversial topic had stirred up South Florida politics and the community.
Last week, protesters took to the streets to voice their opinion on the matter.
"No Castro in South Beach! No Castro in South Beach!" a small group of protesters chanted.
The noontime protest brought out staunch anti-Castro Cuban Americans who said an arm of the Cuban government has no place here.
Vigilia Mambisa is opposed to a Cuban consulate in Miami Beach.
"The consulate in Miami Beach means disrespect to the Cuban martyrs, to the Cuban community and to the Jewish community which is part of this community," said Olga Gomez.
"No Castro, no problem. We cannot be friendly with Cuba, a communist place that has murdered a lot of people," said another Vigilia Mambisa member, Romy Jimetas.
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, whose father was once a political prisoner in Cuba, opposed a consulate in the city and has threatened to sue in federal court.
And while Miami refuses to have a Cuban consulate, the other option, Tampa, is considered to be too far.
However, former Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bowers believes Tampa still has a shot.
"If you want something bad enough, you do what you have to do to get there," Bowers said.
As for Miami-Dade County, commissioners passed a resolution in January for the U.S. to keep a consulate away from the county.
Even if Miami Beach does lobby for consideration, it would have to go to a full commission for a vote.
But whether the consulate comes to South Florida is not up to the local governments. It's the feds that make the decision, and it's why Bowers said the issue is better left alone.
"Why divide the community in this manner. Why say anything?" Bowers said.
In the meantime, Cuba already has an embassy in Washington that opened last July.
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