Miami Cuban exiles in a well organized show of concern came across the causeway to weigh in on whether Miami Beach should be the proposed home to a Cuban consulate. They flooded the meeting of the City’s Hispanic Advisory Committee with speakers that far outnumbered Beach residents who were divided on the idea.
The session was called in response to Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine’s idea of at least talking about the consulate being welcomed in his city. The City of Miami and Miami-Dade governments are on record opposing the location of the potential consulate in their jurisdictions. Civic boosters from Tampa are lobbying for the consulate which logically should be located in the area that would serve Florida’s large Cuban-American populations. The U.S. State Department has the final word on where a consulate is located.
The idea came about after Levine attended a private meeting with officials at Cuba’s Foreign Relations Ministry last month while visiting Havana.
Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola made the trip to Havana along with Mayor Levine. He told the crowd he was open to discussion and that there was not a hard sell by the mayor.
“No one invited them to Miami Beach. I did not. Mayor Levine did not. What we invited was the essence of the American way of talking and engaging. Just simply to talk,” Arriola said.
Cuban embassies and consulates are centers of espionage activities was a consistent theme pounded home by the exiles. They stressed that locating the Cuban Government staffed facility in Miami Beach would be a slap in the face of Cuban Exiles who lost property and loved ones to the Castro Government. “It would be a disgrace,” said Mariam de la Pena, who’s son Mario was shot down by a Cuban fighter jet while he was searching for Cuban rafters during an operation by Brothers to the Rescue.
“This disruptive activity by the Castro regime will pose a threat to the overall stability of this world renowned destination,” attendee Orlando Gutierrez told the commission. Gutierrez said that Cuban consulate officials in other countries have physically attacked peaceful protesters outside their facilities.
The committee did hear that a consulate would be a service to locals, travelers and the Cuban community.
“You should reflect on what a consulate does, customer service,” said Christian Ulvert who is an advisor to Mayor Levine and echoed by Commissioner Arriola. “There is a need to service our constituents who are clearly going to be traveling to Cuba to visit loved ones and that necessitates a consulate somewhere,” said the first term commissioner.
The committee voted unanimously to recommend that the City Commission and the Mayor not pursue a campaign to encourage the State Department to locate a Cuban Consulate in South Beach.
The full Miami Beach Commission, after an emotion laced and often intense meeting, followed the lead of the Hispanic Committee’s recommendation and on a close 4-3 vote nixed the idea of pursuit of the consulate