In a historic visit, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine plans to travel to Cuba in his official capacity next week, becoming the first head of a Miami-Dade County city to go to the island since the 1959 revolution.
Levine will fly to Cuba to help lead a graduate seminar for Tufts University, which he said asked him to join about a dozen students of international affairs. The dates, set some time ago, happened to coincide with President Barack Obama’s trip to the island, the first time a U.S. president will step on Cuban soil in nearly 90 years.
“I think I’m the first mayor from Miami-Dade County to go,” Levine told the Miami Herald on Tuesday, in a boast that might have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago. “I believe in the Cuban people in Cuba as well as the Cuban people in Miami. And I believe that we need to engage people in Cuba, and we need to do it through all types of interaction, and we need to give them hope. We need to give them aspiration.
“Obviously, government-to-government it’s been very challenging over the past 60 years, but I think if you empower the people, the people will be able to bring about the changes that they would like to see, whether it’s human rights and, of course, all types of freedoms.”
Part of what Levine wants to find out is how Havana might shape up as a tourism destination in competition with Miami Beach.
“Being a proactive mayor doesn’t mean putting your head in the sand and thinking, somehow, that this previous tourist destination of Cuba is not going to somehow come alive again,” he said. “It’s incumbent on someone like myself, as a mayor, to go down there to engage, and to understand what we may be in store for in the future as it pertains to our core industry.”