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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Is the New Miami Maturing?

I really believe Miami is the city of the future. Some of the immigration patterns are being mirrored elsewhere. I know that can make some people uneasy when they look at Miami but that is because they don't understand what has happened. Immigrants are struggling to come to terms with America (as in the country, not the region). Latinos love America- even though they/we tend to downplay the fact that Miami was quite a wonderful city when my family came and continued to be so well before the major influx caused by the political upheaval in Cuba and other parts of Latin America.

Much of this is a question of institutions. I believe in earlier posts I mentioned some of the chief employers in our area, most of which are public / government entities. It is interesting that every one of those institutions existed before Hispanics dominated the city. To those already mentioned I can add South Florida Water Management Authority, (which oversaw the largest water management project in the U.S.) and the design of a then innovative regional government that we call Metro-Dade (noted in every public administration textbook). The beach replenishment engineering project of the mid eighties (that laid the ground work for the revitalization of Miami Beach) was part of the Biscayne Bay / Port of Miami revitalization efforts by the Army Corp of Engineers, again the largest urban beach project in history. America has many faults but urban development and infrastructural development is not high on the list.

BTW, how many people that know about old Miami are aware that it had a comprehensive trolley system years ago that was bought out by a consortium of oil and rubber companies to decrease competition with cars? (This happened in cities throughout America.) All of you knew? To hell with you dorks.

It is hard to support institutions you feel you have no stake in and hard to run institutions you do not understand. Where my great grandparents are from (Cuba/Latin America), politics were also economics, power was a zero sum gain, meritocracy and social justice were seen as radical and destabilizing impulses. Part of, but definitely not all of this has been the product of how America pursued and protected its interests in Latin America. As children we (Cuban Americans of my generation) grew up hearing Miami Spanish radio that politics were bare-knuckled, exclusionary and that this was the American way. To the degree that White Flight occurred because of increased poverty, corruption, drug smuggling, ethnic polarization, there is more than ample support of this. Few add that this environment was created as much by U.S. government sponsored foreign policy (which by its nature is morally and legally ambiguous) and domestic policy, which is structured upon certain norms, principles and supporting institutions. No one, Hispanic and non-Hispanic was or is served when these issues are mixed up.

This sort of ethnic jockeying is part of America. Racism, and class division have often forced those on the outside to organize, create their own institutions and force access to opportunity. In Miami however, this has had the effect of actually shrinking rather than expanding opportunity. Miami has not been a story of expansion and inclusion but instead one of decline and exclusion. Because of intervention from Washington, the reactionary, ethnocentric portion of the exile community has degraded life for everyone.

I shared with you my take on the dysfunctional environments of Miami’s two public institutions of higher education. As many Miamians are aware of, there was a lot of pressure, even on the federal level that resulted in George Wolfe and Bob McCabe being replaced by Cuban Americans. Having worked at both of these institutions I can say that none of these appointments caused failure as much as the pervasive ethnocentrism throughout these colleges. I am a partial to FIU Pres Mitch Madique and MDC Pres Padron as people. President Padron cares about individuals and minority education and Pres Maidique has an irreverent and horribly un-P.C. sense of humor. More importantly he would like FIU to become a highly regarded research instituion. If Pesident Maidique was given a free reign we would see more nationally based hiring and the long neglected engineering school would be well supported.

However, Pres Madique has been forced to turn FIU into a construction slush fund for the Latin Builders Association and Pres Padron has done things such as have campus security pick up every newspaper in a six block radius of campus when the paper (The Miami New Times) ran an unflattering article detailing corruption in his administration concerning state funds and the CANF. The lady making the charges, Adis Vila, who is as honest, straight-forward, capable and good hearted as a person can be. This is why she naively pointed out the illegality of the dealings.

From African Americans, Cuban Americans learned that in the US there were legal means as well to gain political power. The late black Republican politician Arthur Teele who served in the Reagan White House as well as in the Miami and Miami Dade government, created a Black and Cuban American coalition that changed Miami-Dade to districts with a weak mayor (a highly divisive move). Cuban Americans used that coalition to force the ethnic based recruitment in the police force. While understandable in itself, it provided for expedited background checks that allowed people with criminal backgrounds to slip through the screening system. In cocaine swamped Miami this had predictable results.

The Herald, which was known for exposing the excesses, is now a virtual slave to the advertising clout of LBA associated real estate. In the past, as many former residents will remember, the paper was subject to harassment from the CANF. Advertising was defaced and feces placed in their newspaper boxes in a CANF campaign called "Yo no Creo en el Herald" or "I don't believe the Herald". Many reporters who were critical of local corruption were either fired or placed in journalistic Siberia in the last three years. Today the paper is virtually bankrupt as it has lost its Anglo audience and never acquired a Hispanic audience, even in its Spanish language, ultra conservative Spanish edition. Recently the Puerto Rican publisher of he Herald (the paper is owned by the Knight -Ridder conglomerate) was forced out after making some seemingly innocuous editorial stating that the local community has to respect freedom of speech just as they demand that Castro does.

Now Miami Latinos have become more aware that corruption and community degradation is a concern for all of us. Unfortunately, there is now an entrenched establishment with friends in high places. Current Miami-Dade Mayor Alvarez won out despite quite a number of skeletons, with the help of the Herald and the Jeb Bush dominated Dade Republican apparatus. Following the election Alvarez promptly went back on his campaign promises and kept the corrupt policies of his predecessors in place regarding the airport and the Performing Arts Center. Jeb Bush (who has long and strong ties with some of the more unscrupulous Miami elite) assisted in getting an extra congressional seat (drawn with the most ridiculous gerrymandering imaginable) and promptly supported the brother of congressional ally Representative Mario Diaz Balart in gaining the new seat. This seat obviously should have gone to either southwest or central Florida, where the state’s population growth occurred.

Since I am on the issue of public institutions, corruption and Jeb Bush, I should mention that the Performing Arts Center, American Airlines Arena, (which replaced a ten year old arena), the Metro Mover, and most of Metro Rail system and the Miami International Airport runways and terminal expansion were all built or are being built by Odebrecht Construction, a Brazilian construction conglomerate. This is literally every major public project in recent years. Odebrecht was one of the largest donators to the RNC, the Florida Republican Committee and George Bush and his two sons’ campaigns. They also supported Miami based Bush allies in congress Ileana Ros Lehtinen, the Diaz Balarts as well as the De la Portillas. The fact that Odebrecht attempted to bribe almost the entire Brazilian legislature was seemingly not an issue. The fact that they went grossly over budget and schedule for each project is also seemingly not an issue. The fact that many domestic construction companies with better track records were angled out of the bidding was also seemingly not an issue. Haskell, the Florida construction giant was going to bring a law suit but was given a subcontract with Odebrecht at the Performing Arts Center. What are locals suppose to think about how the political process works?

As long as Miami-Dade's public institutions are so important it will be politicians that determine the fate of Miami-Dade's future. To the extent that Miami-Dade politics becomes less corrupt and more inclusive and Miami-Dade's influence on the state becomes a positive, Miami-Dade will be able to transition into a mature economy and civic environment .

Two Cuban Americans with ties to Jeb Bush will be leading the Florida House and the Florida Senate in the next term. You can imagine the hostility this engendered in the state Republican Party. There was already a lot of bad feelings when Jeb kept mum about his intentions to run for a Florida seat in the US senate, while quietly lining up funding and support for Mel Martinez (who I happen to support). Many state Repubs felt they had been robbed of a chance to compete. The Party is in the process of a rebellion, nominally on the subject of Jeb's support of less restrictive offshore oil drilling.

All of this would be understandable, though shady, if Cuban Americans were not less than a quarter of the Hispanic population of Florida and Hispanics were not less than 20% of the population of Florida. Until recently most local Cuban American elected officials were Democrats, like the former mayor Alex Penelas. It is also interesting that on the nominal issue of Cuban remittances and travel restrictions, a new group of Cuban American politicians are pushing toward support of Democrats and wider alliances. (I believe they are trying to make political space with the decline of the Cuban vote.) What does Jeb actually gain if not votes? A small political cabal, operating on the fringes of legality and the confines of the system, who can be called on when needed. Miami cannot be mired in the fringes of intrigue and murky dealings at the behest of a political dynasty.

We all know too well of Miami's culture of corruption. In the past Miami government has been a cross between Casablanca and Ripley's side show. I suspect that with Jeb out of office in ’06 (returning to Miami) and his brother's term up in two years we will see a decline of the old guard and Miami will change drastically. This is not a partisan issue, it is one of maturity. The civic spirit of Miami has been awakened. Anglo voters used to waiver between cynicism and anger but have discovered two things. Their vote counts and that Hispanics are just as unhappy as they are. Hispanic grassroot politicians are reclaiming power from elite powerbrokers because they see how badly served their community is. Black voters are also fed up with their self serving politicians who are propped up by LBA money and crony relationships with the powers-that-be. The school district building department is no longer open for theft. Miami Dade County government cannot fund the LBA from new tax increases after repeated hikes (for the airport, then transportation, then parks...) The Public Health Trust has fallen under scrutiny and the director was removed. The real estate speculative boom is imploding. There is an incredible vacuum.

As for the real estate piece, there is something that many of you will find interesting. There is now a COMODITIES market for real estate. The market is called "Hedgelets" and it is pegged on the Realtors Association database. It works by buying and selling purchasing options. In six cities (Chicago Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Diego, San Francisco) that are thought to be set for some huge movement of price and capital (Las Vegas is slated to be added) you can short sell like you would if you thought pork bellies or gold was going down. Previously the only option to make money was if housing was going up, using instruments like a REIT (real estate investment trust) based in a regional market or good old fashion home purchasing. Guess where the short money is lining up? Yep, Miami. There has also been an investment group formed in Broward to by condos in Dade following a drastic reduction of values.

See you all in a new and affordable Miami with clean government!

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