Travels in India conjure memories of priceless Everglades

February 18, 2015

(Published at ContextFlorida) Although I am at the end of my third visit to India, this is still a nation that feels more remote from my experiences than any other. In the far south, it took nine hours to drive the hill country from Tamil Nadu on the east coast of India to the edge of Kerala on the west. The roads wind through villages, tea and rubber plantations, groves of spices – pepper, cardamon, cinnamon and nutmeg – once worth their weight in gold in European capitals.

The wealth that slipped through India was once so vast that only 100 years ago young princes and princesses played in chests loaded with sapphires, rubies, emeralds and precious metals. Today, the suffering of the disadvantaged is dire. The dirt and pollution are ubiquitous. None of the deficits can obscure the fact that the nation is moving, propelled by two cylinder engines, nuclear power plants and the global economy.

But with so many unique languages and 29 strong and independent states ruled by their own congresses, to an outsider India can seem more a state of mind than a sovereign state. When President Barack Obama on his visit to New Delhi stated that there is no fixing climate change without success in India, I wondered: “How? Who? Where?” Read the rest of this entry »


Adam Putnam and the Great Destroyers: Deleting history (and Land) in South Florida

February 6, 2015

(Published by ContextFlorida and reprinted by Counterpunch) Fox News Florida branch, Sunshine State News, printed recently, “Putnam on Water Policy: Get Priorities Right From First, Then Spend Accordingly” (January 23, 2015). Some interpretation is needed for readers inclined to take the faux news source literally.

Adam Putnam is the telegenic, multimillionaire farmer and two-term Secretary of Agriculture for Florida. We last observed Secretary Putnam paving the way for the Cabinet to green light Florida Power & Light’s two new nuclear plants at Turkey Point.

So, it bears paying attention when Sunshine/ Fox surrogate reports what Putnam said to the Florida Legislature about water policy.

“Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Thursday urged members of the House State Affairs Committee – the lawmakers charged with increasing spending on water sources and sensitive lands – to first create ‘an overarching, already prioritized (water) policy’ that will keep the state on the right course for land purchase in good times and bad.”

The background for the story is the jockeying by politicians to grab the $20-plus billion in funding through Amendment 1, which 78 percent of Florida voters approved in November.

But wait: the basis of the story is that Florida has no “overarching, already prioritized water policy” for land purchases. Who says?

For decades, priorities for water policy and land purchases have been right at the tip of environmentalists’ tongues and clearly stated in state policies through Forever Florida – gutted by the GOP Legislature during Scott’s first term – and missions of FDEP and the state water management districts.

At the top of the environmentalists’ list has always been: Buy Big Sugar Lands For Restoration Into Everglades Wetlands. So why is Putnam deleting history?

The issue is – and has always been – that large property owners who control Florida elections have zero interest in setting their land prices so long as they perceive endlessly increasing values.

There are some well-publicized cases of state land purchases by willing sellers who recognized the importance of protecting Florida’s natural heritage. These are not, however, the extraordinarily wealthy farmers – supported by billion-dollar subsidies – who control state elections.

Those farmers – Big Sugar billionaires – take elected officials like Putnam on all-expense paid trips by private jet to the King Ranch in Texas where they discuss strategy, how to expertly game the system through delay, litigation and more delay.

The second paragraph of the Fox News affiliate’s story: “Putnam recommended a long-term plan that focuses on the state’s three areas of current emphasis: springs restoration, the northern Everglades and the Central Florida Water Initiative.” What, no land purchases in the Everglades Agricultural Area?

What about state purchases of significant acreage now in Florida sugarcane, beginning with the tendered US Sugar properties, the absence of which is bottling up Everglades restoration as completely as a waste water pipe stopped with feminine hygiene products? Nada. Not a word.

Sunshine State News added, “Nobody on the committee, chaired by Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, had a question or comment for the commissioner during or after his presentation. Putnam later said he wasn’t surprised – “this is a lot to dump on somebody at one meeting.” Wait!

Now the bullshit meter is racing.

Putnam’s omission of buying Big Sugar lands with Amendment 1 funds is exactly what the sugar industry wants. No one had a question on Caldwell’s committee because the script did not call for questions. Just blank-faced nodding.

And what about the great unwashed public? Here is what Big Sugar tells you and me, through a press release reported by the Palm Beach Post a few weeks ago during the annual meeting of the Everglades Coalition:

“Surely the preference for Amendment One Funding will be the significant number of shovel-ready projects that will benefit the Everglades, estuaries, lakes, springs and beaches and other environmental priorities all over the state. While the SFWMD holds a legal option on U.S. Sugar land, Everglades restoration plans have taken a much different direction over the last several years… (W)e have not seen any serious interest in purchasing a large amount of land for which there is no plan or project.”

“No serious interest” is a lie, pure and simple, and that lie is at the heart of Putnam’s comments and its purpose is to do what Big Sugar has always wanted: push off the date to the infinite future when Everglades restoration might be finally addressed.

Environmentalists, and especially the Save the Indian River Coalition and its allies, have been clamoring for years about the need to purchase sugar lands to restore a semblance of natural fresh water flow to the dying River of Grass. Store more water and cleanse it, on Big Sugar lands, and less pollution will rip through the estuaries, the Indian River and Caloosahatchee River.

By the way, when then-Gov. Charlie Crist initiated negotiations to purchase US Sugar lands south of Lake Okeechobee, the largest sugar producer in the state – the Fanjuls of Coral Gables and Palm Beach – immediately jumped behind Marco Rubio’s campaign for US Senate against Crist.

You see: Big Sugar wants to complain that no one is demanding purchase of its lands, while making sure its proxies in the Legislature and the Ag Secretary-who-would-be-Governor keep any mention of buying Big Sugar lands out of sight, and any mention of eminent domain as far from the public forum as Pluto from Florida Bay.

The Fox Sunshine State concludes, “Several groups applauded Putnam’s address to the committee, including the H20 Coalition, an offshoot of one of the state’s largest business organizations, Associated Industries of Florida. AIF had recommended against Amendment 1 before the Nov. 4 election.” No kidding. Now they are at work to direct traffic on how funds are used for Amendment 1.

In other words, the Great Destroyers got Florida Wildlife Federation and Audubon of Florida to do the heavy lifting to pass Amendment 1, and now the black hats have moved in with legislative wire cutters and are in the process of hijacking the largest pot of money ever made available in Florida – some $20 billion – to protect the environment.

It’s a real life “Ocean’s Eleven” except instead of a casino that is getting robbed with hi-tech wizardry, it’s the do-gooders opening the vault doors for the black hats to come in, at the last minute. As they leave, they’ll hand out a few hundred thousand dollars to any of the groups who will put them on their board of directors or maybe give them an award at their annual meeting.

The do-gooders will get their own plaques featuring wading birds that went extinct despite their earnest efforts and a thank you note.

“Commissioner Putnam’’s recommendations provide an excellent framework to increase Florida’’s water supply and enact common-sense, science-based water quality reforms,” AIF President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Feeney said in a written statement. Wait, Tom Feeney?

Oh that Mr. Feeney, as the Tampa Bay Times reports, is a former state House speaker who, after election to the U.S. House, repeatedly was named one of the “Most Corrupt Members of Congress” by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Need to read more?

At the Davos World Economic Summit, former Vice President Al Gore said that along with putting a price on carbon emissions, “we need to put a price on denial in politics. People need to stop financing denial.” Snap.

People need to stop voting for denial, but Al Gore, when he had the chance as presidential contender in 2000 to put pressure on Florida’s Great Destroyers, couldn’t find his way to the microphone. He was advised by the same Florida Democrats who direct party traffic flow today. Yeats said it best in his 1919 poem, The Second Coming: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Alan Farago writes the daily blog, Eye On Miami, under the pen name, Gimleteye. He is president of Friends of the Everglades, a grass roots conservation organization based in Miami, FL. A long-time writer and advocate for Florida’s environment, his work is archived at alanfarago.wordpress.com

Column courtesy of Context Florida.


GOP forcing Floridians to use Amendment 1 to conserve vital lands

October 6, 2014

(Published in Context Florida) The Tampa Bay Times is recommending a “no” vote for a constitutional amendment before voters in November.

The proposal put forward by conservationists would allocate one-third of the documentary stamp tax required of real estate transactions to be applied to acquisition of conservation lands. In 2016, the newspaper notes, more than $600 million could be allocated to this important purpose.

The Times makes two principal arguments: first, that a referendum should not be used to determine the state budget and second, what politics giveth (the documentary stamp tax), politics can taketh away.

I agree with the Times that the Legislature is responsible for the budget. Did Gov. Rick Scott and the majority of the Legislature reflect the will of the people when they radically cut Forever Florida, the state’s land acquisition program and a model for the nation? No.

What they did was to solidify the hammerlock of big campaign contributors, like Big Sugar, to thwart and delay and increase the price of the only reasonable chance for restoring the Everglades: land acquisition.

Example 1: in 2008, then Gov. Charlie Crist announced a bold plan to acquire the sugar lands owned by U.S. Sugar Corporation. His opponents killed the plan for two main reasons. Some said it was too expensive and others said it was not expensive enough!

Gov. Rick Scott, who knew zilch about land conservation or the history of bipartisan struggle to secure land protection through Forever Florida, killed the Crist plan in short order.

Instead of buying the U.S. Sugar land, Floridians are now watching the company roll out its demand for state approval for new development rights involving 18,000 acres it owns in Hendry County. The company’s efforts have been lubricated by outings to the King Ranch in Texas that the corporation provided to top GOP legislators and Scott. There, if gullible Florida voters are to believe it, they only discussed hunting not bid’ness.

Floridians are turning to referendums because the power of special interest money has deformed our democracy. The Tampa Bay Times does not like using the ballot box to legislate. And, yes, what politics giveth, politics may taketh away.

That’s what happened when Scott and the Legislature scuttled growth management and the Florida Department of Community Affairs, after environmentalists tried to use a referendum — Florida Hometown Democracy — to put the power of community growth in the hands of voters instead of land speculators and developers.

It is also what happened with Fair Districts, a referendum that passed with more than 60 percent of voters’ approval, and then devolved into years of intransigence by Scott and the GOP.

Remember: it takes a village to raise a child. It takes an army of voters to protect the village. The majority of Floridians have no other way to demonstrate their displeasure with an extremist Legislature other than at the ballot box. Vote “for” Amendment One.
Let Floridians act to save what the extreme right won’t.

Alan Farago writes the daily blog, Eye On Miami, under the pen name, Gimleteye. He is president of Friends of the Everglades, a grass roots conservation organization based in Miami, FL. A long-time writer and advocate for Florida’s environment, his work is archived at alanfarago.wordpress.com Column courtesy of Context Florida.


Sweet Poison: The Lethal Costs of Big Sugar

August 22, 2014

“Drastic Measures”, in the Financial Times (April 25, 2014) details a dramatic shift in health care priorities and the effect of putting the first significant, coordinated pressure on sugar consumption: “… governments are waking up to the rising costs of illnesses such as diabetes and cancer that have increased alongside obesity. ‘The discussion of sugar linked to dietary concerns has been has been gathering momentum,’ says Stefano Natella of Credit Suisse. “The related global healthcare costs are at an all-time high–the bill is $500 billion or over 10 percent of global healthcare spending — as are obesity and diabetes levels.”

The way that smoking leads to tobacco farmers, the path to the current health care crisis begins with sugar producers. In the United States, the obesity and diabetes epidemic point to Florida where sugar billionaires tied massive subsidies in the Farm Bill to subsidies for corn fructose. When earlier this year the World Health Organization reduced the recommended daily sugar intake by half, to the equivalent of six teaspoons of sugar a day, billionaire sugar barons in West Palm Beach and Coral Gables paid closest attention. Florida sugar producers have a global reach — with operations proliferating in low-cost labor nations like the Dominican Republic, but their intense focus is the Florida proving ground where a sophisticated mobilization of economic, social, and political resources maintains the aura of Big Sugar as good corporate citizen.

Big Sugar is quick to repel environmental and community indignation in Florida — as well as decades of lawsuits over its pollution of the Everglades — , but it hasn’t decided what direction to take with respect to emerging science on the crisis triggered by its products. While Republican members of Congress rant and rave about the costs of the Affordable Health Care Act, none complain about the toll on consumers’ health through excess consumption of sugar. Thirty years ago, 1 in 20 kids were obese. Today, it’s 1 in 5.

The Institute for Responsible Nutrition notes that 77% of grocery store items contain added sugar; “Food companies know that the more sugar they add, the more people buy.” In Great Britain, policy makers are considering a sugar tax. In Florida during the first Clinton term, when Big Sugar faced a tax that would have forced the industry to pay for polluting the Everglades, it enlisted among its chief supporters the churches and leaders in the African American communities of Florida, appealing to minorities disproportionately bearing its high costs.

A recent investigative series by the Tampa Bay Times disclosed that Florida’s top GOP politicians, including Gov. Rick Scott and senior Republican legislators, were flown to all-expenses paid hunting trips to the King Ranch in Texas by U.S. Sugar. Read the rest of this entry »


Drowning in Information: On Memory, the Internet, and Reading Comprehension

July 24, 2014

(Counterpunch) Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about memory. I’m sensitized by family members in their 90s. Each are in flagging health and suffering memory deficits; from dementia, Alzheimers, to simple cognitive decline.

It’s sad and I do worry about the road ahead, but I’m also troubled by the road I’m on.

On the way to writing this post, I went online for a New York Times OPED that had interested me; how reliance on the internet has diminished the ability of consumers to fully process what we are reading. I’ve noticed that when I read a newspaper online, my retention of information is qualitatively different from when I read a printed newspaper in my hands. It’s an unscientific result reached after many years of reading and writing to earn readers’ attention.

Before I could find what I was looking for in the Times, my attention was diverted by an interesting story on a public hearing about fish eggs and nuclear permitting on the Hudson River. When I couldn’t find on my laptop the OPED I meant to bring to your attention, I reached into my backpack for my iPad and logged on to see if the OPED was in the history bar.

There, open in my browser I had a yoga schedule, a Sun Sentinel article on Jeb Bush’s legacy (taking a huge hit!), a weather site (to rain or not to rain), a Miami Herald report (even now can’t remember what it was about), an article from the UK Guardian on climate change in Miami (drowning!), a coffee vendor website (have to order now), a friend’s blog (have to read now), another NY Times OPED (not the one I was looking for), an article on restaurants in Paris, 40 Genius Travel Tips That Will Change Your Life Forever, and Trouble Shooting Your Cable TV Connection.

I never did find what I was looking for — my memory was hazy, which doesn’t help when using search words — , but when I find it I will share the news: comprehension skills have declined with our reliance on the internet.

That we are drowning in information is hardly news. We are all in a turbulent current where brains don’t multi-task so much as substitute breadth of capacity for depth of understanding. Then, too, some evolutionary part of us believes that attention to lots of different pieces of information, as many as we can hold, will make life safer; the digital equivalent of sniffing the wind for signs of danger.

Take the daily blog I write (eyeonmiami.blogspot.com) and reader comments, for example. We get the most comments from short posts. We know (as paid newspaper editors do, too) that readers’ attention spans are foreshortened by so much freely available information. Blogs that cost nothing but a glance. It doesn’t mean our readers aren’t interested or don’t fully appreciate our longer reports, or for that matter longer investigative pieces in newspapers or magazines.

Who can absorb it all? And if we are not using the information we receive from the internet to become more educated, better humans, improving our condition, our health and welfare, and that of our family, friends, and communities; what in the world are we doing?


The Re-Making of a Conservative: The Jeb Bush Mirage

May 29, 2014

(Counterpunch) Anyone familiar with the record of Jeb Bush’s two terms as Florida governor will be rubbing their eyes at the recent NY Times profile depicting Bush as “an intellectual in search of new ideas, a serial consulter of outsiders who relishes animated debate and a probing manager who eagerly burrows into the bureaucratic details.” (Jeb Bush Gives Party Something to Think About, New York Times, May 24, 2014)

Jeb was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007. In 1994 he narrowly lost his first political race to the late Lawton Chiles. To the right-wing of the GOP, it was a glitch. As a result of that loss, George W. and not Jeb was in line to be the Republican contender for president in 2000. Twenty years later, in 2014, Jeb Bush, longtime advisors, and the deepest fundraising network in Republican politics is pushing a version of Jeb Bush into the media headlights. That version, detailed in the New York Times puffery, bears scant resemblance to the Jeb Bush who was governor.

Jeb could be a micromanager. But “an intellectual in search of new ideas”? Hardly. Jeb made his mark as a micromanager by requiring adherence to preconceived ideas, like those developed by his conservative think tank, The Foundation For Florida’s Future. “A serial consulter of outsider who relishes animated debate”? Debate requires two sides of an argument, and Bush rarely paid attention — more frequently was dismissive than not — of those who dared rebut what he had already decided.

The depiction by the New York Times may be the portrait Bush advisors want to paint for the public, but it doesn’t resemble the Jeb Bush who used Florida as a model for radical conservative experiments.

“Those who have hashed over policy and politics with Mr. Bush describe him as a conservative animated less by rigid ideology than a technocrat’s quest to identify which solutions work best.” Well no, New York Times. That is just wrong.

Instead of consulting with those who tried to change Jeb’s mind or offer different points of view, the Times relied on an author and a conservative think tank executive (from the American Enterprise Institute, no less) to polish Jeb’s intellectual credentials. It’s nonsense.

“The approach, aides said, suffused his government, which became a hothouse for ambitious, mostly conservative policy programs. They included assigning A through F grades to public schools, offering performance bonuses to government workers, privatizing many public services and, through billions of dollars in land purchases, locking in the conservation of the Everglades.”

if Jeb’s administration was “a hothouse for ambitious, mostly conservative policy programs” it took place behind a wall of secrecy that few outsiders ever penetrated. That Jeb determined to use the power of his first elected office to advance a highly conservative agenda was never in doubt, but he was also closed-minded. Inclusive? Relishing debate?

In 2000, it took a phone call from his father to bring an end to a protest by African American state legislators. Kendrick Meek and Tony Hill lead a 25 hour sit-in, in the governor’s waiting room, because Jeb refused to even hear them out on important policy issues.

Jeb’s policy programs were not “mostly” conservative, they were universally conservative and applied across a range of policy issues with a broad brush, helping pave the way for powerful campaign contributors who profited mightily from the housing boom — kindled by Jeb’s donor base in Miami — and then the subsequent crash from which Florida has yet to emerge.

The alliances Jeb forged between big business insiders, like the Council of 100 in Florida run — in those early 2000′s — by Al Hoffman, chairman of both Bush brothers’ campaign finance committees, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce has rushed to the rescue of the flagging campaign of the current governor, embattled Rick Scott. Bush, with Hoffman’s help and encouragement, laid the groundwork for a pro-business, anti-environmental agenda that boosted suburban sprawl at the expense of wetlands and water quality. Eventually in 2008, Hoffman’s company, WCI Communities, Inc., declared bankruptcy. Jeb’s first consultant job after leaving the Governor’s Mansion in 2008 was for the state’s biggest bond brokers, Lehman Brothers. At virtually the same time Jeb was set in motion by Lehman Brothers to solicit an equity investment by Carlos Slim, the Mexican multi-billionaire, WCI Communities declared bankruptcy with over $1.8 billion in debt. The value of the company’s stock was halved overnight. The Lehman Brother’s collapse cost the state of Florida well over $1 billion. (Florida stands to lost $1 billion because of Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy, Tampa Bay Times, June 4, 2009)

How conservative ideologies embraced by Jeb Bush, without room for dissent or debate, masked profit schemes built on fraudulent financial footings that caused housing to boom, then collapse, dragging the nation’s economy into a prolonged spiral downward: this perspective is nowhere to be found in the New York Times sunny portrait of another Bush.

As to assigning A to F grades to public schools, that’s a red herring for the Bush initiative assigning stifling curriculum standards across the state in a “one size fits all approach” that Republicans otherwise abhor. “Offering performance bonuses to government workers”? Compare that to the Bush inaugural speech in 2003 where he exulted in his promise to empty government buildings of workers. “Locking in the conservation of the Everglades”?

On that one, it is hard to know where to begin.

But let’s try with one example: the land purchase of Palm Beach Aggregates in West Palm Beach — Jeb’s first as governor– that eventually landed three county commissioners in federal prison and even then was such an exorbitant expense (benefiting insiders) that it set a gross example of land pricing the state would have to bear for buying out other insiders in subsequent transactions. Or how about the failed plan to locale in Florida a new Scripps Institute on a massive farm in former Everglades wetlands that Jeb attempted to shoe-horn, also in Western Palm Beach County, around state environmental rules and regulations? Then, Ave Maria University — founded by ultra-conservative, Republican Tom Monahan of Domino’s Pizza — on the other side of the Everglades in remnant wetlands, creating a massive urban footprint in Florida panther habitat. The list goes on.

The fact is that Jeb’s concern for the Everglades was about water supply for the cities, and the outsourcing of water management district functions — including the appointment of a key campaign supporter and state GOP chair, Al Cardenas, to run the counsel operations of the South Florida Water Management District — assured massive politicization of water related issues on behalf of Jeb’s pre-conceived notions.

If you really want to dive into one of those pre-conceived notions, turn to his Foundation for Florida’s Future monograph from 1996, “The Next Step in Environmental Protection: A Move Toward Free-Market Environmentalism”. There Denver Stutler touts the premise of wetlands mitigation banking. Instead of government regulation, private industry would “cooperate” to protect wetlands, and in doing so would provide a more effective public benefit than regulation.

A private firm called ECOBANK is singled out for being an innovative, conservative response to a new business ethic driven by reasonable, conservative values. Stutler, an ECOBANK principal who would later become a trusted Bush aide in the Governor’s Mansion and Florida Secretary of Transportation, wrote, “ECOBANK is an example of a coming trend in environmental protection that uses a new vision to evaluate and establish a logical approach in private mitigation banking (of wetlands)… The strategy for effective private mitigation banking, like ECOBANK’s, is to establish “megabucks” to support complete ecosystem restoration and maintenance, while allowing credits to be produced quickly and economically. These megabucks will be able to serve the needs of all customers for many years. Moreover, this market based approach using private investment will substantially increase both the pace of restoration of sensitive lands and the amount of land acquired for public benefit.” He concluded: “Everyone from concerned citizens to active players, and most importantly our natural environment, will benefit from the new balanced mitigation approach.”

By 2006, the Tampa Bay Times published its groundbreaking series by Craig Pittman, Vanishing Wetlands. The series included: “The ‘Bad Apple’ of wetlands banking: Held up to Congress as a shining example of the promise of wetland mitigation banking, their business went belly up.” (December 18, 2006) The company that went bankrupt? ECOBANK.

“Jeb Bush Gives Party Something to Think About” gives discerning readers plenty to think about: namely, what is going on at The New York Times.


The Scramble for Cuba: Here comes Miami!

February 4, 2014

(Counterpunch) Consider it done: in the United States, the figurative hurricane barriers against access to Cuba are opening. Given they have been clamped shut for half a century, there is a lag time between turning the screws and actuating the gates. Put it this way: the lubrication is done.

On Monday, the conservative Capitol Hill Cubans blog hoisted a warning as the Washington Post published, “Sugar Tycoon Eyes Sweet-Deal With Castro”. Pay attention wherever Big Sugar surfaces. Cafecito is not the currency of the realm in Florida: sugar is. And not just Florida. Half of American health care costs are tied to the ill effects of sucrose in its various forms.

In June 2012 the blog, Eye On Miami, noted the first visit of Alfie Fanjul in Havana. Alfie is one half of the Florida Crystals family, the billion dollar brand that dominates anything related to land use, water management, agricultural subsidies and pollution control in the Florida legislature, Congress, and the White House.

It was more than a curiosity to learn that by 2012 wealthy Cuban Americans had publicly crossed the Florida Straits, risking the antagonism of the right wing message machine in Miami.

That message machine — embodied by vitriolic anti-Castro, Spanish language AM radio – routinely enforced political orthodoxy in Florida’s most politically influential county, Miami-Dade. Instructions came from the top down, and at the top: money from Big Sugar. The booming shrink wrapped luggage and long lines of passengers en route from Miami to Havana defied the stigma of the embargo. In other words, a brisk business between Miami Cubans and families on the island had already started beneath the AM language rants. Notwithstanding old hard liners banging war drums, by 2012 the gold rush was gearing up and by the presence of at least one Fanjul brother — Alfie — in Havana, political cards were being played.

Political observers who dismiss the importance of recent Fanjul statements to the Washington Post are missing the point. The Post offers Alfie Fanjul’s version of himself: teary-eyed, standing before the family mansion in Havana. Maybe there was a tear or two.

Capitol Hill Cubans allude to the fact that the Fanjuls’ wealth grew from the largesse of American taxpayers and through the sheer political skill involved in maintaining the subsidies that have earned hundreds of millions of dollars. Moreover, I would add, a billionaire fortune built on immigrant farm labor, pollution, and turning the Everglades, the Florida legislature, and Congress into their own VIP rooms. That’s not, however, the direction Capitol Hill Cubans want to explore.

“Monopolists understand each other”, they write. More to the point, conservative Cuban leaders tolerated the Fanjul monopolists extraordinarily well so long as the action was shared. One of the first business lines of Jorge Mas Canosa, founder of the right wing Cuban American National Foundation, was to broker farm equipment to the sugar barons.

The current leader of the foundation, Pepe Hernandez, told the Washington Post, “Having known Alfie for 40 years, I think we can trust him to do the right thing.”

Now, the Capitol Hill Cubans spy the fault line breaking at the possible campaign of Hillary Clinton, where the Democrat side of the Fanjul clan, Alfie’s, resides. But that’s not it at all.

The issue prying the remaining hard liners in Miami from the Fanjuls is that the Fanjuls will not wait while billions in business opportunities are being hammered out between the Cuban government and wealthy South Americans and European competitors. It’s not ideology that kept the Fanjuls from Cuba, it’s the fear of losing money now that there is money to be made.

Leaving the issue of the Castro regime to the side, the question is not when will the regime come to a close, but …when will the money spigot open?

It is open, now. The sign is not yet above the model unit, beckoning buyers, but insiders have already done their walk-thrus before the public is admitted.

For an aging and dying generation of Cuban Americans, the enduring hope was for retribution and a swift execution of justice in Havana. Miami Cuban Americans would lead the charge. Instead of forcing change in Havana, anti-Castro hatreds primarily succeeded in mobilizing voting blocks in South Florida, ensuring a conservative GOP majority in the state legislature and a Congress that marched to the same syncopated downbeat as the upbeat in Havana. Meanwhile, a lot of money was made by Miami Cuban Americans controlling the levers of politics, of growth and development of suburbs and condo canyons, of privatization of government services and charter schools, while the Castros held on in Havana.

Today, the Castro brothers are fading faster than the conservative Cuban American lock on Miami politics. The Fanjuls, on the other hand, with their “30,000 foot view” do understand that history is moving.

So what the Fanjuls do, matters. The Washington Post story is like the wisp of smoke emerging from the Vatican chimney when the cardinals have made their decision on the next Pope.

Put another way: there is money and then there is real money. The very rich, like the sugar barons, are — as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in another context — “not like you and me.” The Fanjuls have excelled at manipulating governments in service of sugar profits in the United States. In the Everglades, they deploy the best black hats that money to delay Everglades restoration while tens of billions of taxpayer dollars are spent in work-arounds of lands in sugar production that need to be returned to fix the Everglades. There are always ways to make money from economic barriers. But when those hurdles are defeating profits — the way opposition to Castro in Miami is, today — the hurdles have to fall. It’s just business.

Here is what Capitol Hill Cubans will not write. For so many of the Miami Cuban American elite, the signal of the Fanjuls turning to Cuba is a shift as great as the state department declaring the cessation of hostilities and the return of the embassy to Havana.

What the Capitol Hill Cubans can’t ask and can’t answer, how big is the piece of the pie going to be for Miami Cuban American businessmen? That’s always been the question they wanted to know. (I learned this in the 1990s, leading the battle against the conversion of a military base in South Florida bordering two national parks into a privatized commercial airport for the benefit of powerful Cuban American businessmen. They said it was for a “reliever airport” to Miami International. No, it was for a private and exclusive cargo airport to control the resupply of Cuba once the regime changed.)

For decades, Miami Cubans claimed to want the whole of Cuba, for “freedom and democracy”, knowing that they probably have to settle for less. But how much less? As the years ground on, with Mas Canosa gone and Fidel enfeebled, business interests from other parts of the world have gained traction. The port work, the infrastructure, the city center: the shovels are turning in Havana.

The Miami vise-grip of Cuban Americans on the “embargo” against Cuba is the theoretical analog of the decrepit, old fleet of 1955 Chevy sedans, held together with the same tenacity in Cuba. That fleet is being replaced on the streets of Havana with Toyotas, KIA, and Fiat, the same way as they have in Rangoon. Or Yangon. Whatever.

The Washington Post story and the instant reaction from the Capitol Hill Cubans couldn’t be more clear. The Fanjuls want their piece of the action. The game in Havana is, on. Let the scrambling of lesser mortals, begin.


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