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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

"Q and A" with Former Miami Resident and Miamista

Q: I have been away form Miami for some years though I have family there and visit regularly. How is the corruption in Miami? How is the environment? Is there still the same ethnic tension? Is Miami just declining or are things looking up?

A: I will boldly state that Miami -Dade will not continue on as an insular outpost. Americans always find a way of getting along eventually, if only for economic reasons and Miami will not be an exception. Economists say that any large city in America has trillions and trillions of dollars in investment. There are homes, offices, schools, churches, universities, factories, infrastructure, parks, etc. Another benefit is that tens of billions of dollars come into any community through state and federal government entities, no matter how much any local economy is struggling. As long as there are people there will be money coming in. It is telling that in Miami Dade one has to go far down the list of leading employers before on sees a private employer. Miami also brings in billions of dollars from tourists, which generates an economy in itself. There has been too much investment and it is too well located to just let it go. There are good reasons to think that the time is now. Here are some reasons. 1. Jeb is going away, at least for now (more on that later). 2. The real estate market has meant that there will be a lot of cheap real estate. 3. The FTAA has failed 4. There are major investors from outside the region.

Midtown Miami, condos on the Beach and along the Brickell corridor and the eastern portion of downtown, they are all built on a speculative push. The vast majority of people will loose a tremendous amount of money. These are condo projects without any current market. There are already vulture funds waiting for a bust to purchase and manage the properties. It is also interesting that the Midtown developers (as well as a few other out of town investment syndicates) are not planning to sell but to lease space. Miami is the poorest large city in the US and Miami Dade one of the poorest urbanized counties. So where is the market? A tapped out and wary Latin America and Western Europe? The entire Spanish speaking Caribbean, (Venezuela and Colombia included) has an economy that rivals Missouri. Besides, in these days of Mercosur, Latin America is investing its wealth in its domestic economies. The dollar has increased vs. the Euro for the better part of a year. It is obvious that they have other residents in mind. One hundred thousand condos will make room for a significant community.

Even now, in the Wynwood arts district (abutting Midtown) there are largely Anglo artists who have begun the gentrification process. Problem is, they cannot even sell there wares locally as the Herald and the New Times only covers artist who have a certain political bent, especially those who can be termed "exiles".

There has been a big push for the county to have a strong mayorship but the lobbyists shut it down for now. So it is back to the strong county commission who works with the county manager. Present Miami-Dade County Manager Burgess was once a good administrator. He had worked for Merrett Stierheim, the legendary anti corruption administrator. Burgess was threatened with a loss of his job and general gainful employment in Miami so he chooses to go with the flow.

For all of you who don't know about Merett Stierheim, he is a professional administrator that has been called in when, (whew!) the City of Miami, the Miami-Dade County government, the Miami-Dade Tourism and Convention Bureau and the Miami-Dade School Board all suffered near bankruptcy because of corruption and mismanagement. When things get really bad Cuban American politicians see him as the bitter medicine. He calls the locals all sorts of inbred, inept, insular corrupt so and so's but he is reliable. Once he puts things in place, and gets the bond rating up, he always finds a nationally renowned, thoroughly qualified administrator to take his place. The qualified administrators usually don't last because they get in the way of the government grab bag. It is a comical circle of events.

Q: I left because of a significant amount of reverse discrimination. Is that still a problem?

A: As far as discrimination, it does exist. There are no two ways about it. Many Cubans and Latinos in general have taken an attitude that discrimination is okay. There have been numerous law suits where public workers have been told they have to learn to speak Spanish or be fired. There have been lawsuits about reverse discrimination. The problem is that there is usually redress to these problems. Not in Miami in the past decade or so. No matter how high you go it doesn't matter when even the federal appointees in the judiciary all have to be tied up to radical exile leaders, (courtesy of a friendly White House and state house.) For God's sakes, Jeb even made the old Cuban dictator, Colonel Batista's grandson a state Supreme Court justice!
Assuming you are an Anglo you should know that other non-Hispanic groups have it worse than you in Miami so you should not take it hard. As a group Blacks in Miami live in the most depressed state that I have ever seen anywhere in the U.S. it ain't a picnic for the Latino underclass either.

What makes Miami's discrimination more insidious than your run of the mill Americnan discrimination is that Americans usually respect merit. The way people have been tradionally denied opportunity is to be denied the opportunity to gain education and skills on an equal basis. Americans by and large oppose any form of open discrimination but may not address more root causes like school funding, access to capital, lack of exposure, social dysfunction born of poverty, etc. We are likely to try to alleviate these things by creating a more integrated society, especially in our public life. Miami has more straight forward discrimination with little intergration.

Q: You must admit it would be very difficult for an Anglo to come to Miami without a job and find employment.

A: I would find it hard to imagine if an Anglo came to Miami looking for a job that he or she would not find an openly discriminatory environment. This is not just from public employers but nationally based employers have determined that this is part of Latin America and hire accordingly. A person cannot apply for a job at a bank, a mortgage brokerage, or even a chain store, etc. without speaking Spanish and usually being Latin. This goes for upper management positions. Many of the local business leaders have little education, no experience outside the immediate area, and speak painful English but they are from well connected Latin, especially Cuban-American, families. Big business tends to look for trends, and often go on anecdotal information to find these trends. They hear that Latinos are growing and that South Florida, largely Cuban, is the capital of this new Latino explosion. The fact is, Miami was one of the slowest growing Latino populations from the last Census. White Flight skewed percentages. The Cuban population in Miami has actually been declining, and many of the Latinos are actually from other parts of the US and are chiefly Puerto Rican, Colombian and Dominican. The Haitian population has been expanding rapidly also. In Broward, the largest group of immigrants is actually Jamaicans and other (English speaking) West Indians, not any Latino group. Broward also had the highest in migration of African Americans than any other county in the US, which was largely West Indians relocating from the Northeast. Broward is still a White majority county with relatively few Latinos but major businesses often hire Hispanic executives because it is "South Florida" (and thus supposedly Latino). The Beacon Council and the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce hammers this home every chance they get because it increases opportunities for other Hispanics. Interestingly many of these Hispanics are from the immediate area and lack the qualifications one would expect of executives in their positions.

Q: Where does the LBA’s influence come from? Tallahassee cannot be happy with the influence on state funded institutions such as FIU.

A: Where does the power of the LBA come from? Largely Jeb Bush. Tallahassee is too close to a certain element in Miami-Dade now. Jeb made himself a multi millionaire on a shady deal with Armando Codina (that stole money from HUD). He has not missed a chance to sure up his base with the exile community. He promoted FTAA so that there would be a Miami secretariat even when unions and American industry was protesting it. Some more history is in order here.
Jeb Bush was the chairman of the Dade County Republican party and Padreda its finance chairman. Padreda had earlier been indicted on a $500,000 embezzlement charge along with a fellow exile, Hernandez Cartaya, but the charges were dropped, reportedly after the CIA stated that Cartaya had worked for them when George Bush was Director of CIA.

Miguel Recarey, who ran International Medical Centers (IMC), employed Jeb Bush as a real estate consultant and paid him a $75,000 fee for finding the company a new location, although the move never took place, which raised questions at the time. Jeb Bush did, however, lobby the Reagan/Bush administration vigorously and successfully on behalf of Recarey and IMC. "I want to be very wealthy," Jeb Bush told the Miami News when questioned during that period.

Recarey was given a special provision to exceed Medicaid/ Medicare spending limits and review, allegedly because his IMC assisted in providing medical treatment for the Contras. In a few years Recarey was charged with the biggest medicare/medicaid fraud in history but shuttled out to Costa Rica with his millions even though he has entered the US on several occassions.

Jose Dionisio Suarez and Virgilio Paz Romero, who carried out the 1980 assassination of the Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier in Washington, and threatened FBI officers with death, were released by the former Bush administration. So was Orlando Bosch, the terrorist that has blown up Europeans, Cubans, Central Americans, and even domestic opponents in Miami (as well as some associates of business relationships gone bad.) Bosch was stopped carrying explosives and guns in his trunk down Biscayne and also fired a Bazooka from a Miami bridge at European ships in the Port of Miami because their countries traded with Cuba. Just now Jeb Bush has put pressure to have his brother release Posada Carriles, who blew up an airplane with Cubans, Barbadians, Guyanese, etc. The plane was carrying a number of children from the Cuban junior Olympic team which seems to have made it fair game. In all of these cases it seems that these characters moonlighted as major drug traffickers. These are terrorists and drug traffickers that are walking the streets! The majority of Cubans are more recent arrivals and those anxious to Americanize. Even most of the older exile population and their children do not support this radical but influential element. They hate these fanatics. They see these guys as terrorists too.

None of this has to do with the Republican or Democratic Parties or elections in general. There is barely over a quarter of a million Cuban American voters. A third of them vote Democratic nationally and the majority vote Democratic locally. The majority of Cubans are working class or poor. This has to do with relationships with the wrong people. Until Jeb and his brother are gone Miami is going to be led by these thugs. Fortunately because of term limits that time is coming soon.

Q: What about local politics? Why is their under representation in the African American, Anglo, non-Cuban Hispanic, and the progressive Cuban American communities you allude to?

A: As it is now the county commission is created along definite racial lines - the Jewish seat, the Anglo seat, the four Black seats, the six Hispanic seats and an Anglo/Latino seat. Latino voters are actually over represented, as most Latinos cannot vote. (It should not be surprising that Jeb took part in the districting wars.) With domestic in-migration of any size one, maybe two districts have to flip flop. Thus more cooperation will be necessary.

I still submit that the Anglo population took part in creating the ethnocentric environment. They did not create the political ties they needed to with the African American or progressive Hispanic population. They immediately dropped political support for fair minded, longer established Hispanic politicians including Puerto Rican, Maurice Ferre (who was elected largely with support of the Anglo population.) No real candidates step to the fore, not even today. Jay Love, the bar owner who narrowly lost his bid to become mayor did well despite the fact that he has no political experience and some deep personal financial problems. Despite having practically no money or support his grassroots message of “end the corruption and ethnic cronyism” resonated. His relative success was partially attributable to his English surname. As the only English name on the ballot, he got the Black and Anglo vote. He also gained a portion of the Hispanic vote because so many people of all backgrounds are tired of corruption.

Q: This lack of coopperation among different ethnic groups; is this a problem of our immigration laws needing to be overhauled?

A: I hear immigration bashing daily. I never hear anyone advocating stronger English language facility and cultural immersion classes as a requirement to qualify for citizenship. I never hear of more stringent educational requirements so that there is an incentive to gain a solid education and English facility before immigrating or directly afterwards. I also never hear anyone speak about how immigrants left out of the political debate because they will never be able to vote leads to a lack of civic responsibilty. People forget that many immigrants pay taxes and are giving tremendous value to our economy. Instead it all devolves into race baiting where people say stop immigration, which is not going to happen. Ironically I also never hear the Cuban Adjustment Act mentioned.

Miami and South Florida would benefit from the civic involvement from the Anglo community. It gets disgust and apathy. Anglos in Broward and Collier fret over a rising Latino population and Dade political (read LBA/Cuban) interference while avoiding Miami-Dade affairs like the plague. Johnny Winton, the totally ridiculous representative of the “Anglo seat” on the Miami City Commission, funded by the LBA, is on his way out because he has managed to make Latino and Anglo residents alike HATE him. (He supported building a Home Depot in the middle of a residential area of Coconut Grove is part of it, as is his support for LBA built McMansions with no yards, trees, in this formerly bucolic neighborhood.) The “Black seat” is currently being contested between an LBA backed candidate and an under funded reverend.

In Miami it is a question not of immigration but of the loss of the American ethic by every group. Value of merit, innovation, inclusiveness, civic responsibilityand national consciousness are all suffering. Institutions operate in a localized, largely ethnic based bubbles. Insularity and ethnocentrism are squeezing the life out of the Miami economy. The same people who create technology and bring it to market are the same people that will create jobs for everyone. It would be virtually impossible to list the number of wildly successful start ups in the past decade from Northern California or Boston based techies even after the “tech boom”. It is not by chance that these areas also host large, well regarded research universities that churn out the best and brightest in human capital. Charlotte has grown from the synergy of Duke and UNC into both a budding research capital and the rival to New York in the financial sector. The same could be said of the Austin area technology related growth and University of Texas or Los Angeles and UCLA and USC. Miami has the attractive environment that would draw this sort of human capital without the same investment that these places have in their educational infrastructure. Instead even the majority of non-Hispanic University of Miami grads are forced to leave the area because they are not welcome.

Q: So non-Hispanics from the outside will not be returning to Miami?

A: There is normally a boomerang effect that happens with White Flight. It becomes apparent to people who exited that it is nearly impossible to rebuild the infrastructure and amenities that exists in the urban areas that they left. They must return for their own benefit. Either way, urban pioneers will come in, bringing capital and expertise. They rebuild an economy based on their ties to extra regional economies. Arts, technology and entertainment communities build up. I say it is now prime time to return to Miami. The housing stock is there. The infrastructure is there.

So we will see. No change just happens. People participate. They organize. They cooperate. And we get a better community.

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