The Greater Fort Lauderdale Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce is forging ahead with plans to tour Cuba next week despite objections from some members of the South Florida LGBT community.

"There's a lot of things Cuba needs to do before I go," said Herb Sosa, President of Unity Coalition, a non-profit organization serving South Florida's LGBT Hispanic population.

Sosa, whose father was born in Cuba, contends the communist island nation is not the ideal place for vacationing Americans.

"There are still so many people there who do not have any rights...any liberties and cannot vote," Sosa said. "I could not go in good conscience and have a good time."

Keith Blackburn, President and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, defended the organization's four day excursion as a people-to-people exchange that will improve relations between Cuba and the United States.

"Isolation hasn't worked," Blackburn said.

Negotiations between the two governments are on-going, embassies and consulates are opening and the diplomatic process is just beginning, Blackburn said.

"Nothing changes at the snap of a finger," Blackburn added.

Sosa, who proudly displays vintage 1950s photographs of Havana's skyline inside his Miami Beach apartment, said he cannot overlook the current state of affairs in Cuba.

"It is just not appropriate to casually go on a vacation there," Sosa said.

Blackburn said he "respectfully disagrees" with Sosa.

Between 10-25 people are expected to participate on the excursion, Blackburn said, with air service provided by Miami based Choice Air. Sandy Lay, a spokesman for the private charter aviation company, told SFGN now is a great time to visit the island before the wave of American commercialism sets in. The U.S. and Cuba normalized relations in September, ending a half-century of embargo.

"The embargo proved nothing," said Babs Daitch, a Las Vegas based travel agent who has led group tours to Cuba before. "The young people were being punished and it is high time the embargo was lifted. There is so much growth going on in the country. I really love the people there. They love Americans."

This will be Blackburn's first visit to Cuba and he said he is looking forward to learning more about Florida's neighbors 90 miles to the south.

"This is not an endorsement of what their government is doing," Blackburn said.

The trip is scheduled for Oct. 15-18 with an all-inclusive cost for GFLGLCC members of $2,300/person, based on double occupancy. Nonmembers, $2,495/person, based on double occupancy.

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