- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

TAMPA, Fla., Feb. 25 (UPI) — Rep. Jim Davis, D-Fla., plans to become the first member of the Florida congressional delegation to visit Fidel Castro's Cuba on Friday when he begins a five-day trip.

The Tampa lawmaker will join Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., on a trip organized by the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank.

"In the community I represent, people are taking more and more interest in Cuba and its relationship to Florida and the United States," Davis said. "I decided to spend more time understanding the issue myself."

The two congressmen are not scheduled to meet with President Castro but hope to meet with senior government officials, democracy advocates, religious leaders and ordinary citizens.

"My main interest is meeting with the next generation of leadership in Cuba," Davis said. "I have heard there are some very talented people, forward-looking officials in the mid-level of government there."

He also said he wants to know more about economic conditions in Cuba and ways the United States can help the people.

Several U.S. politicians have made the trip, including numerous other congressmen. Tampa Mayor Dick Greco and local business leaders made a visit last summer without announcing their plans in advance.

Davis is making no secret of his travel plans, but he is getting some opposition anyway.

Tampa attorney Ralph Fernandez, who became a friend of Davis' family after his arrival from Cuba at the age of 9, said he had talked to the congressman, urging him to cancel.

"There is no need to fact-find in Cuba," Fernandez said. He added: "There's no need to legitimize a modern-day dictator and terrorist. Castro has left a trail of death behind him."

But the powerful Cuban-American National Foundation in Miami is taking a more moderate approach.

"We object to people who go to Cuba simply to find excuses to lift the embargo," said executive director Joe Garcia. "But Jim Davis has been a good friend of the Cuba issue for many years, and if he says he is going on a fact-finding trip, we take him at his word."

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