Cuban-Americans' image took a big hit, but don't look for a softer stance on Cuba.
By David Villano
A year ago, Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas was hailed as one of the National Democratic Party's rising stars. Pundits placed him on Al Gore's short list of possible running mates. But after publicly haranguing federal officials last April, refusing to assist with the return of Elian Gonzalez to his father, Penelas finds himself firmly on the party's list of untouchables. Rather than being in a position to run for vice president, Penelas is campaigning fiercely to retain the mayor's seat.
To be sure, Penelas is not the only one paying the price for playing exile politics. In the aftermath of the Elian Gonzalez saga, Miami-Dade finds yet another irksome label pinned to its back. In addition to being perceived as the capital of drugs, crime and corruption, Miami-Dade is now seen by many as the capital of ungrateful, flag-burning immigrants who thumb their noses at the rule of law. For months national opinion polls have revealed that few outsiders sympathize with the majority Cuban-American view on the Elian case. Within south Florida, deep divisions along ethnic lines continue to polarize the community.
"There have been some very painful lessons," says Damian Fernandez, a scholar of Cuban politics at Florida International University in Miami. "The rest of America does not hold a very positive view of Cuban-Americans right now." That negative perception, adds Fernandez, could diminish the region's clout in Tallahassee and Washington. As an example, Fernandez points to the growing momentum for curtailing -- even ending -- the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
Indeed, such talk -- once unthinkable in Miami-Dade -- could be heard in cafes and on talk shows during a brief time of introspection that immediately followed the crisis. But the voices of moderation within the Cuban-American community that called for a re-examination of U.S.-Cuba policy are fading. Earlier this summer the powerful Cuban American National Foundation named former Florida Public Service Chairman Joe Garcia its new executive director.
At 36, Garcia is the first U.S.-born chairman, and some observers saw the move as a symbolic transfer of exile leadership from the old guard to the new. But while admitting a need to better articulate the exile message, Garcia shows no willingness to promote a softer stance on Cuba. He vows to fight efforts to end the embargo.
So far, Miami-Dade's leadership appears unwilling to change. In Miami-Dade County, support remains strong for a controversial ordinance that requires bidders for public grants and contracts to sign an affidavit affirming that they have never done business with Cuba. The ordinance, much of which has been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, has cost the county millions in lost revenues.
But in Miami-Dade, ideology has no price tag. To understand the Cuban-American experience is to understand that exiles see themselves as soldiers in a war who are willing to endure the consequences. Says Garcia: "In the rest of the world, the Cold War is over, but it's not over down here."
In the News
Boca Raton-- Supplier PartsBase.com is moving its headquarters to a site on NW 53 Street and creating 200 jobs. The company sells aviation parts online and provides e-commerce services to the aviation industry.
Fort Lauderdale-- AutoNation has spun off its auto rental unit, creating ANC Rental Corp. (Nasdaq-ANCX), which will be based in Fort Lauderdale. ANC owns CarTemps USA, National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car.
Miami-Dade-- PAL Laboratories, which makes nutritional supplements and prescription drugs, will expand its workforce over the next 18 months from 120 to more than 800. To accommodate the extra workers, the company will add 55,000 square feet to its facility at the airport west section of the county.
There's no sign of a letup in the west Miami-Dade hotel boom.
Boca Raton-based Aura Group has announced plans for a 100-room Microtel Suites Hotel at 122 Avenue and 122 Street, near Florida's Turnpike. Construction on the $5-million project will start late this year, with a planned 2001 opening.
Downtown Miami's beleaguered Omni International Mall has a new lease on life as a high-tech center for the city's growing telecommunications and e-commerce industry. New York real estate company Argent Ventures paid a reported $30 million for the property, which has lost retail tenants steadily since the departure of its last anchor, Burdines, in the early 1990s.
Four Florida companies, all based in Miami, placed within the top 10 of Hispanic Business magazine's annual ranking of the 500 largest Hispanic-owned companies in the U.S. Topping the list is telecommunications contractor MasTec, followed by Pan American Hospital (6th), Sedano's Supermarkets (8th) and real estate developer The Related Group (9th). The rankings are based on 1999 revenues.
Nearly 30 years after forming as a small cadre of Miami power brokers meeting in secret, the so-called Non-Group is restructuring itself by incorporating as the Miami Business Forum. Once almost exclusively Anglo and male, the group expanded and diversified its membership in recent years after word of its existence leaked to the media. Royal Caribbean Cruises Chief Executive Richard Fein will be the forum's first chairman. Membership fees are $10,000.
Tamarac-- Holiday Inn plans to build a $4.2-million, 80-room Holiday Inn Express Hotel, the third new hotel under way in the city. Opening this fall, a few blocks from the Holiday Inn's Commercial Boulevard location, will be a $4-million, 121-room Intown Suites. A $5-million, 80-room Hampton Inn, just east of Florida's Turnpike, will open later this year.
West Palm Beach-- FlightSafety International, the authorized training provider for Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., has broken ground on a 34,000-sq.-ft. expansion at its Southern Boulevard flight simulator facility. The expansion will add 10 jobs.
Citrix Systems founder and Chairman Edward E. Iacobucci has left the Fort Lauderdale company in a management shakeup. Michael W. Brown, a director of the company on and off since 1991, also has resigned from the board. The software maker -- up until a few months ago, a Wall Street darling -- has disappointed investors lately, and its shares have plummeted dramatically as a result, dropping from a 52-week high of $122 to $19 by early July. Analyst Michael Cristinziano of Gerard Klauer Mattison & Co says board members believed Citrix lacked "executional ability" under Iacobucci. It is unclear whether the decision to resign was his own or the board's. The company also faces a class-action suit by shareholders claiming Citrix officers were not fully forthcoming about the company's financial outlook. The suit alleges that while revenue growth and gross margins were starting to deteriorate, Citrix executives sold more than $40 million of stock at or near its high point. Roger W. Roberts, the company's CEO from 1990-1998, will take over as chairman.