The famously failed mission kicked off a decades-long enmity between the Cuban Exile Community and the Democratic Party of the United States. GOP operatives like George H.W. Bush pounced on the opportunity to create a loyal voter base, which was fostered through government handouts and preferential immigrant policies. Over the next several years, they formed a hardline Republican block in South Florida.
Not coincidentally, Cubans would rise to the top of the political pyramid in Miami during the Reagan years, when Bush was Vice President, and play a pivotal role in the hegemonic wars carried out in the name of “anti-communism”. South Florida’s cocaine economy helped funnel cash to fund covert operations around the world, including the Contras in Nicaragua.
Sixty years later, the usefulness of the Cuban exile community to the American political establishment is reaching its natural end. A new generation of exiles is being groomed to replace them as the specter of communism is once again evoked in South America.
Passing of the Torch
This year, the Bay of Pigs commemorative activities were held at the iconic Biltmore Hotel in the swankiest part of Dade-County instead of the usual venue on the equally iconic, but far lower-rent 8th Street, where a permanent flame burns atop the monument dedicated to the fallen members of Brigada 2506.
The colorful street murals and fruit stands of Little Havana didn’t quite suit the expectations of the guest list. Miami’s most privileged minority community came decked out in their best Spring attire to the Coral Gables landmark where a string quartet welcomed them to yet another political event headlined by Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton.
Bolton, who was in Miami just last February, chose the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs to announce a new round of sanctions and banking restrictions on the countries of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. In addition, the Trump administration will activate a dormant law, that greenlights legal action against corporations doing business with Cuba. Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, created in 1996, has been ignored by all previous administrations over clear international opposition.
The European Union has already stated it will challenge any such law with the WTO, while other countries such as Canada, already have legislation in place blocking enforcement of Helms-Burton against companies based in their nations.
Title IV of the act, which calls for the denial of visas to those involved in “trafficking” properties confiscated by the Cuban government, is also set to come into effect, further pushing America back in time to a bygone era of communist paranoia.
Bolton’s job in Miami is to help recruit the new batch of exiles to underpin America’s re-invigorated hegemonic foreign policies in Latin America. But, the freshmen class of Venezuelan exiles isn’t turning out to be as receptive to his overtures as their Cuban counterparts were back in the 60’s.
Maduro has, so far, been able to keep the vast majority of the Venezuelan military on his side and the Guaidó operation seems to have fallen flat, despite the mainstream media’s efforts to maintain the illusion of his “presidency”.
Clearly, a regime-change scenario in Venezuela is a much more complicated proposition than the one half-heartedly attempted in Cuba all those years ago. However, given the political gold mine that South Florida has proven to be for the Republican party, in particular – and precisely as a result of the failure of American policy towards Cuba – one can only question the true motivations behind these largely toothless measures now being enacted against Venezuela and the other two countries which have a large exile community in the region.
Interest or Principle
When a bank issues a loan, the principle is listed as an asset on the bank’s books. If you pay off the principle, that money disappears from the bank’s ledger. If you only pay the interest on the loan, however, the bank not only keeps the asset on its books, but it makes a profit, too.
Similarly, when a government makes a promise it will collect as much interest (votes) as it can before delivering on that promise. Just like a bank, once they deliver on the promise they can’t collect interest anymore.
Venezuelan exiles in Miami should ask themselves what the true motives of the United Sates are when it comes to intervening in their country’s affairs. They should take a long, hard look at the fate of the “martyrs” of Brigada 2506 and the community of Cuban exiles who decade after decade continue to support policies, like the embargo, which have only changed things for the worse.
They should ask themselves if they want to take out this loan. They should remember that it will show up as an asset on the political ledger of the United States, but a liability on their account.
American actor Marlon Brando (1924 - 2004) listens as an unidentified actor speaks close to one ear in a still from the film, 'The Godfather,' directed by Francis Coppola, 1972. (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Courtesy of Getty Images)
Snakes in the Grass
Jeanne Humphreys’ beautiful home at 210 Harbor Drive, Key Biscayne, Florida had a snake problem, but a recent trip to Jamaica had given her some food for thought. She learned that farmers on the island had introduced the mongoose into the local fauna to fight a snake infestation during the 1870’s. Curly Humphreys’ wife found herself thinking about the snake-killing carnivores one night at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach and innocently broached the subject with her husband’s associate and friend, Johnny Rosselli.
“What do you know about the word mongoose?” She asked Rosselli.
Shocked by the question, the gangster balked. “Are you crazy?”, Rosselli inquired before nearly spilling the beans on the CIA’s top-secret plot to kill Fidel Castro, in which he and Jeanne’s husband, were deeply involved.
“This Castro stuff is OK’d by the G [U.S. government]. We’re not supposed to talk about it”, Rosselli protested. “I can’t believe believe Curly would talk about such a thing.”
Jeanne Humphreys had no idea what Johnny was talking about and, wondered aloud what Castro had to do with the snakes in her front yard. Realizing his mistake, Rosselli asked Jeanne to keep it to herself. “Look, I just fucked up.” He said. “Please don’t tell Curly.”
The plot was the brainchild of then Vice President, Richard Nixon, who was angling for the presidency and calculated that a coup in Havana would get him there. After the scheme was hatched at a National Security Council meeting in the Spring of 1960, Nixon encouraged his military aide, General Robert Cushman, to meet with exiled Cuban militants and put a group together for its execution. Originally called Operation Pluto, the plan’s name was later changed to Operation Mongoose and it called for the invasion of Cuba and the assassination of Fidel Castro along with his top retinue of revolutionaries.
“I had been the strongest and most persistent for setting up and supporting such a program”, wrote Nixon, years later. But, the ragtag collection of exiles didn’t inspire the greatest confidence in the planners, and the decision was made to enlist the help of Johnny Rosselli, Curly Humphreys and a handful of other mobsters from the Chicago Outfit.
Murray “Curly” Humphreys was the brains of the Chicago mob, otherwise known as The Outfit. His intellectual abilities would help them outmaneuver many a legal problem. But, one particular maneuver was such a stroke of genius, it would be enshrined in the most celebrated film in American history – The Godfather.
“I refuse to answer on the grounds that it might incriminate me.”, was the phrase crafted by the brilliant, former jewel thief to repel the onslaught of questions by U.S. Senators during the United States Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce, known as the Kefauver Committee. Over and over, Outfit members called to testify simply repeated the mantra, to the immense frustration of the dais.
The Committee called eight hundred witnesses in fifteen cities across the country during an eleven-month-long investigation, that resulted in more than 11,500 pages of testimony and must-watch TV. First broadcast in New Orleans, the hearing’s popularity soon drew in the big markets of New York and Los Angeles, among others. The record ratings attained during the 1950 World Series a year earlier were shattered, attracting between 20 and 30 million viewers. Committee Chairman Estes Kefauver became a household name and, at one point, the front-runner for the 1952 Democratic presidential nomination.
Nevertheless, none of the nineteen legislative recommendations issued by the committee’s report were ever implemented, and Kefauver himself, was found to be an avid gambler who was constantly broke as a result. Jewish mob boss, Meyer Lansky, confronted the hypocritical Senator. “What’s so bad about gambling?, asked the infamous New York Commission boss, “You like it yourself. I know you’ve gambled a lot.” Kefauver admitted as much, but revealed his true bigoted motivations in his repsonse: “That’s right, but I don’t want you people to control it.”
Forty-six “contempt of Congress” citations were issued during the hearings over the mobsters’ repeated use of Humphreys’ legal device. Only three were upheld by the courts. An incredible victory for the man who invented ‘Taking the fifth’, immortalized in Francis Ford Coppola’s seminal film.
The Godfather movie, itself, was a tribute the mob – which controlled most of Hollywood then – made to itself. Paramount producer Bob Evans had the rights to Mario Puzo’s novel and was unceremoniously turned down by MGM president, Jim Aubrey, when he tried to accommodate Coppola’s choice for the role of Michael Corleone – an unknown actor with an “unbreakable” contract with the competing studio, named Al Pacino. Undeterred, Evans sought help from Tinsel Town’s notorious fixer, Sidney Korshak.
“He never heard of the schmuck, either.”, recounted Korshak to Evans about how he dealt with the reluctant Aubrey. “I asked him if he wanted to finish building his hotel.”, said Korshak. The thinly veiled threat was enough for MGM to release Pacino from his contract and allow him to play the part, which would establish him in as one of the biggest names in the business.
A Fucking Hoofer
The Outfit’s incursion into the entertainment industry had begun after the end of Prohibition forced them to find other rackets to grow and launder their fortunes. The movie business, with its massive budgets and licensing opportunities, was the perfect vehicle. But, before film, the mob had taken over the music industry and bankrolled many of its brightest stars. Frank Sinatra was, perhaps, the brightest of them all.
The mob not only made Frank Sinatra, but also saved his career when it was foundering in the early 1950’s. Despite his marriage to Hollywood A-lister, Ava Gardner, Frank’s bid to jump-start his career again by getting a part in Harry Cohn’s upcoming movie, “From Here to Eternity”, was falling flat with the producer, who wanted a real actor for the part. “You’re nothing but a fucking hoofer”, Cohn told the desperate crooner, who immediately appealed to his mob buddies for a helping hand.
In a scenario similar to the one, that would play out years later between Korshak and MGM’s Aubrey, Johnny Rosselli came to Frank’s rescue and made Cohn an offer he couldn’t refuse. The movie won a total of eight Oscars, with Sinatra taking home the award for Best Supporting Actor and a new professional lifeline.
Meanwhile, things were picking up over in Havana, Cuba; the very place where Sinatra’s career had been launched. Santo Trafficante, Jr. was making a killing in the revamped casino business in Havana, in league with dictator Batista, who made Trafficante’s partner, Lansky, “adviser on gambling reform”.
The Commission boss soon opened a casino inside the iconic National Hotel, designed by Igor Plevitski, who also designed The Biltmore in Coral Gables. Six years earlier, a historic meeting between the biggest mafia bosses took place at the legendary hotel. Yet another pivotal moment also dramatized in The Godfather, when the heads of all the families gathered at the National to discuss something that was left out of the classic film – their participation in a highly classified, CIA-sponsored operation. Just before the mob summit, Frank Sinatra landed in Havana with two million dollars in a suitcase for the CIA’s point-man, Lucky Luciano.
Charles “Lucky” Luciano was recruited by CIA-precursor, OSS in 1942 to ostensibly safeguard New York harbor from acts of sabotage by the enemy axis. After being convicted to 30 years in federal prison for running a prostitution ring, Luciano was approached by undercover OSS agents , the precursor organization of the CIA, and offered a deal, that would mark the beginning of a far-reaching partnership between the U.S. government and the Sicilian and Italian-American mafia.
An argument can be made, that the CIA was created for the sole purpose of managing this partnership, which involved the creation of secret militias financed by world-wide heroin trafficking, called Operation Gladio.The meeting at the National Hotel in Havana was made to convince the Gambinos, Genoveses, Accardos and other top mafia families to get into the narcotics game, many of whom considered a dishonorable endeavor, and help Uncle Sam “fight communism”. The money Sinatra delivered to Luciano in Havana was part of a down payment he intended to distribute among the guests.
The Wrong Cuban
Cubans were becoming part of America’s collective consciousness, thanks in large measure to the “I Love Lucy” show, which featured the bongo-playing Ricky Ricardo, Lucile Ball’s real-life husband and the sitcom’s producer, Desi Arnaz.
Arnaz is credited with inventing the multiple-camera sitcom method, which made his production house, Desilu Studios, one of Hollywood’s most successful, at the time. In 1959, Arnaz had another hit on his hands. The Untouchables, a show about fabled law-enforcer, Elliot Ness and his mobster-chasing adventures, ran for four years on ABC and became one of television’s classic shows. But, the Italian-American community did not take well to the portrayal of their culture on the series and it drew special ire from the real crime bosses, who went after the producer.
Desi’s childhood friend had been none other than Sonny Capone, the only son of the legendary mob boss, Al Capone. It was Sonny who first complained to Arnaz about the problem he had stirred up, but Arnaz insisted he was the best person to make such a show because of his own personal connection to the subject matter. From there, the issue only escalated and Sam Giancana, nominal head of the Chicago Outfit, sent Frank Sinatra to talk some sense into the Cuban.
The conversation between Arnaz and Sinatra ended with the singer storming out and pulling all of his productions from of Desilu Studios. Outraged, Giancana dispatched two of his henchmen to remove Desi Arnaz from this earth. Al Capone’s widow, Mae, stepped in to call off the hit and Ricky Ricardo was spared.
As it turns out, the mob had been worried about the wrong Cuban. Fidel Castro was about to turn the mob’s Havana dreams into a nightmare as his revolutionary forces ousted Batista and his entrenched elite. With Eisenhower riding out the last year of his Presidency and more worried about how his legacy would be affected by starting a conflict 90 miles from the U.S. mainland, Castro caught a break.
Nevertheless, the calculation regarding Castro seems to have changed among the real policy-making circles of America, and Castro’s sudden take-over of the island was seen as more of a boon than a detriment to U.S. designs for the rest of Latin America.
Cuba, after all, had no value besides that of a playground for the rich. In terms of natural resources, for instance, it was hardly worth the trouble to invest any kind of man-power to the goal of regime-change, even if such efforts were comprised of disposable mobsters and Cuban exiles. On the other hand, having a communist boogie man they could wave around as a warning to those in the continent who dared to dream of self-determination was much more valuable.
The Snake Pit
After the fiasco in the Caribbean, the upper echelons of the mafia saw the writing on the wall and made the necessary adjustments. Trafficante, Jr. cut a deal with the new island boss and gave Castro a piece of the bolita proceeds, a street-level gambling racket up and down the U.S. east coast. In contrast, Johnny Rosselli would go down with the ship.
Rosselli, like many of his Italian-immigrant brethren, dreamed of becoming full-blooded Americans. For him and his ilk, legitimizing their fortunes and joining the ranks of the “upperworld”, or the realm of sanctioned wealth creation, was also part of that aspiration.
He considered himself a patriot and his sincere commitment to anything the “G-men” would ask of him bore this out more than once. As far as Rosselli was concerned, he had reached the dream. Narrowly escaping fire from Cuban forces and twice having to jump out of speed boats during failed CIA-missions in the Caribbean, Rosselli had the war stories to prove it.
The era of the “Goombahs”, however, was coming to a close. The new RICO laws were successfully used to dissolve the crime family model in the United States. Rudy Giuliani, future Mayor of New York and Italian-American son, was the first and most prolific prosecutor of the mafia under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, passed in 1970.
In 1976, Filippo Sacco’s decomposing body – Johnny Rosselli’s real name – was found in a 55-gallon steel drum floating near Miami, Florida after he had been called to testify before the Church Committee for a second time about who had killed Kennedy. As it turned out, Johnny Rosselli had a snake problem of his own and would have been better served by following his friend Curly’s advice all those years ago and taken “the fifth”.
The real scope and implications of what Rosselli was lending himself to, through his participation in the anti-Castro plot and other deep state operations probably escaped him and other members of the Outfit who were a part of them. Ultimately, they were pawns in a covert war that continues to this day, under different guises and with different players.
If you would have carried out a poll in early November of 1963 about who was most likely to be assassinated that month between the President of the United States and Fidel Castro, the final tally would have likely tilted toward the latter. The fact that the bearded, cigar-smoking revolutionary remained in power for another five decades should tell us something.
The Cuban exile community blames Kennedy for the failure of the Bay of Pigs. But, it is clear that a decision had been made by more powerful, invisible players to keep Castro in power. The same ones who made the decision to remove Kennedy, and his entire mob-connected family, from it.
The scramble for power between the time of JFK’s assassination and Nixon’s resignation almost a decade later, was real. America’s post-war superpower status was seriously threatened by the Arab oil embargo. The Vietnam war and other internal strife had frayed the social fabric of the country.
Concurrently, Operation Gladio was unraveling in Europe and the usefulness of the CIA’s partnership with the mafia was becoming a liability. Luciano’s Sicilian networks and their affiliation with CIA-sponsored right-wing terrorists were being exposed by Italian law enforcement and attracting unwanted international attention. The whole house of cards was starting to come down and it would have, had it not been for the operation’s success in Afghanistan, where the Soviet military was exhausting itself fighting Gladio-financed Mujahidin led by one Osama Bin Laden.
Despite teetering on the brink of collapse, “anti-communism” was still fungible currency in American political theater, which could be traded for lowering protectionist barriers and other obstacles to U.S. interests at home and abroad. Fidel Castro, as a gatekeeper for an economic embargo that destroyed the lives of the Cuban people – not to mention a clear and present “nuclear threat” to the region, represented a valuable hegemonic tool for these same interests.
Sleep with the Fishes
The mob developed Hollywood’s proof of concept and built the industry’s SOPs. Today, the CIA and the Military Industrial Complex exerts direct control and oversees the messaging of almost every theater release; especially in the superhero/comic movie genre, which is little more than war propaganda.
The Cuban Missile Crisis and Ricky Ricardo are two sides of a false dialectic. Nuclear annihilation or Merengue; starvation or dinner with Ethel and Fred. The ‘TV-fication’ of America allowed simple yes/no narratives to be delivered right to the viewers’ prefrontal cortex.
Today, the ‘Internetification’ of America is bypassing even this step in the flow of perception and taking it straight to the limbic system, where discernment is an afterthought and the need for a narrative is eliminated altogether.
PHOTO - A U.S. Marine helps a Cuban child off a refugee boat, Key West, Fla | Courtesy Wall Street Journal
Miami’s image of a multicultural melting pot of Caribbean and Latin American cultures, all co-existing together in an idyllic setting of palm trees and warm beaches hides a deeper history of Black disenfranchisement and state-sponsored population transplantation, unprecedented in American history.
The area’s first black community was settled by Bahamians in the 1880’s, well before the incorporation of the city in 1896. It was called Coconut Grove then, as it is now, and provided many of the black male registered votes used to reach the required quota for the official creation of Miami. Slave-descended Black Americans and other Afro-Caribbean groups were likewise used for the same purpose. All were subsequently stripped of their voting rights, as the region was transformed into an international metropolitan hub and Jim Crow laws spread throughout the South during the early part of the 20th century.
Black labor was the primary source of man power used to build Flagler’s pivotal railroad and to develop the earliest farming settlements, which would make South Florida the breadbasket of America. As the country emerged out of World War II, “benign tools of segregation” began to replace the violent lynch laws, and racist zoning practices started to carve out the real estate along the skin color line. Overtown, a thriving enclave of black culture in the middle of the city known as “The Harlem of the South” and with 45% of Miami’s black population, was bisected by the construction of I-95 – along with many other black and minority neighborhoods across the nation – as part of Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway system.
In order to build the massive vehicular artery, the government invoked eminent domain, seizing the land and property of black businesses and homes, displacing over 40,000 people in the 1960’s. The livelihoods of hundreds of “black doctors, lawyers, shopkeepers, entertainers and hotel owners” were destroyed, as a result.
Simultaneously, the federal government was implementing a population transplant operation from a Caribbean nation just 90 miles away from Miami, which had been snatched away from the entrenched, mob-affiliated political class by a bearded revolutionary, who was just beginning his 5-decade tenure as America’s most iconic nemesis.
Mayflower of the Caribbean
The first wave of Cuban immigrants, that touched South Florida shores are collectively referred to as the “Golden Exiles”. Arriving between 1959 and 1962, 31% of the Cubans who came to the United States during this period were educated professionals with resources. Many already had bank accounts in the U.S. and further benefited from extensive help from the American government, unprecedented in scope and generosity.
The Cuban Refugee Program assisted the exiles with resettlement, job training, housing and education programs to the tune of US$ 1 Billion in those early years. In addition, they benefited from special business loans and accreditation of their foreign-earned degrees. The program continued for decades and US$ 3 Billion more were invested through 1996.
Policies like affirmative action also gave Cuban arrivals a leg up at the expense of Black Americans, reducing the latter community’s already shrinking employment opportunities in Miami.
After the “Golden” wave of immigrants, the second stage consisted of mostly middle-class, mostly white Cubans, who were able to take advantage of the groundwork laid by their immediate predecessors as part of a so-called “ethnic economy”. The transformation of the city’s demographics was well underway. By the 1970’s, the relentless Cuban exodus would overtake the Black population as the second largest in the city, behind White Americans.
The McDuffie Riots was a watershed moment for Miami. Sparked by the acquittal of all 7 police officers indicted in the killing of African-American accountant, Arthur McDuffie, the violence expressed a subconscious recognition of a changing of the guard, literally.
The MPD officers who were involved in the incident with McDuffie on the morning hours of December 17, 1979 were White Americans, except for one. Alex Marrero, the officer who beat Arthur McDuffie to death, was Cuban.
In the most macabre way possible, this signaled the success of the Cuban exiles’ political and economic ascent. Aided by the generous hand of the state, they had firmly established themselves among the higher rungs of the city’s pecking order and were beginning to take hold of several seats in municipal governments.
A new swell of Cuban migrants would soon flood the streets of Miami, but this group occupied a far different social stratum than their state-side cousins and looked more like Arthur McDuffie than Ricky Ricardo. Unlike their predecessors, who had come in through the customs gate at the airport after a short flight on Pan American Airlines, the latest arrivals were processed like cattle by the Coast Guard.
The Mariel Boatlift dropped tens of thousands of Cubans on South Florida shores in 1981. Many were sent to different parts of the country as the sheer number of people became unmanageable for a single city. Carter sent thousands of “Marielitos” to Arkansas, then governed by Bill Clinton, who blamed the loss in his 1982 reelection bid on the influx.
Although the Mariel Cubans also received special assistance by the federal government, it was a fraction – in dollar terms – of what the first two groups enjoyed. It was, nevertheless, a king’s ransom compared to the roughly 80,000 Haitians who had taken refuge in Miami during the same period, who instead of getting help were looked upon as a drain on public resources.
The Politics of Color
A recent study entitled “The Color of Wealth in Miami” takes a deep dive into the economic reality of the various ethnic groups, nationalities and races that comprise the residents of Miami-Dade County, revealing a stark picture of racial marginalization and an economically segregated population.
Ranking 8th among the poorest regions in the nation and 3rd least affordable metropolitan area according to HUD, Miami-Dade County presents one of the country’s biggest disparities of wealth-inequality, which the data shows is heavily skewed by skin color, irrespective of ancestral origin.
Latinos comprise 65% of the population, far and away the largest in the County. Of these, Cubans are the most numerous, representing 18.4%. The rest are broadly spread out among Colombians, Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, as well as many other Latin American nationalities in smaller groups. West Indian and Afro-Caribbean immigrants such as Haitians, Jamaicans and Trinidadians and Tobagonians add up to about 8%. African-Americans (non-Latino Blacks) in Miami-Dade County come out to roughly 7%. Non-Latino Whites in the Miami area comprise only 33%, almost half than their numbers in the state as a whole.
The median wealth gap between Whites and other ethnic groups in Miami is incredibly wide. Calculated at around US$ 107,000 on average for White households, the closest group was the Cubans, who nonetheless hold just US$ 22,000 median household wealth or about 20% of the median household wealth of Whites. Puerto Ricans, for example, report a negative US$ -3,940 median wealth position.
The study analyzes differences and relationships between income, wealth, education and race as they pertain to Miami-Dade County, and finds that people who self-report as White (Latino or otherwise), tend to show better socio-economic indicators than their Black and Latino counterparts. One of the most telling observations is how Cubans, Colombians and Dominicans who self-identified as White “did not report substantially higher rates of college educational attainment than their co-ethnic counterparts who racially identify as Black. But they did report substantially higher incomes.”
Home ownership is, likewise, one of the clearest signs of Miami’s wealth-inequality with nearly 71% of non-Latino Whites owning homes, followed by Cubans, Colombians and Dominicans who self-identify as White with approximately 53%, 49% and 47% home-ownership rates, respectively. Among black Miamians, home-ownership rates are between 40 and 60% lower, regardless of nationality.
A home, of course, is the most basic economic anchor there is. The difference between having a stable place to live and raise a family and not can determine a person’s future economic success. From education to employment opportunities, there are many variables this one factor can influence during the course of our lives. In Miami, non-white home-ownership has been under attack by speculators and irresponsible government. And climate change is about to make it worse.
The Last Wave
The 2008 crash left thousands of Miami’s most vulnerable in a very tenuous position, after foreclosure affected 1 in 14 homes by the end of 2009. Real estate developers, encouraged by local leaders, have since returned with a vengeance and are aggressively targeting low-income, minority communities who happen to live on the higher ground elevations of the County.
Sea-level rise and the constant risk posed by an ever-more active hurricane season, coupled with rampant property speculation and gentrification represents a serious threat to the already frail socio-economic fabric of Miami, which could devolve into widespread violence of the kind the city experienced almost forty years ago.
According to a report issued by The JP Morgan Chase Institute on the “financial implications of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma”, the inflow of checking accounts of both businesses and individuals in the wake of the natural disasters fell 20% below baseline. Of the two cities, Miami showed a slower rate of recovery than Houston.
The precarious financial position of the majority of Miami’s residents, with 51% of households lacking enough cash to survive more than three months in the case of an emergency, along with predatory real estate developers salivating over their land should raise all sorts of red flags.
During preparations for Hurricane Irma, tens of thousands of people from low-income communities were evacuated as part of a county-wide operation unlike any that had ever been attempted. Many weren’t even in an evacuation zone, yet were urged to flee to a number of improvised shelters throughout the county. After the storm, thousands lined up to receive D-SNAP aide, because they had no cash on hand to replenish their refrigerators.
A majority of Miami stands on the brink of financial annihilation as a result of decades of racist policies. The Pew Research Center ranked Miami 10th in the nation among economically segregated cities, close to doubling its “Residential Income Segregation Index Score” of 30 in 1980 to 49 in 2010. Only certain Latino groups have experienced some relative level of economic mobility. It’s no accident, perhaps, that these are also the same groups who play a role in the goals of American foreign policy in Latin America: Cubans, Venezuelans and Colombians.
In recent years, the mayors of four South Florida counties signed an emergency plan that contemplates mass evacuations and other crisis measures in the case of sea-level rise. Given the history, it is not beyond the realm of possibility to assume that our County and city leaders would take advantage of a climate-related crisis like this to dislodge people from their homes, counting on the fact that they couldn’t afford to come back.
It’s smack in the middle of Winter, but yesterday was as hot as a Summer’s day in Miami and the VIP’s slated to sit in the bleachers behind the President had been standing in the scorching weather, dripping sweat under the suits and makeup for hours. The only respite turned out to be a garden hose, fortuitously attached to a spigot on the wall, which a few of the less self-conscious invitees used to splash their faces and take long, refreshing drinks.
“One line!”, was the repetitive refrain shouted by the Miami-Dade Police contingent assigned to door #3 of the Ocean Bank Convention Center in FIU, as they tried to move the Very Important People backwards to facilitate the seemingly interminable security screening process happening inside the air-conditioned paradise just through the double-doors. Most of the guests pretended not to understand the instructions, feigning a language barrier to avoid losing their spot.
The surprisingly small venue began to fill out by three in the afternoon. Soon thereafter, three people ascended the stage. One led those present in a prayer, another followed with the Pledge of Allegiance and, finally a third delivered a slightly over-the-top rendition of the National Anthem to get the political performance underway.
Setting the Stage
I have never seen former Florida Governor, and now Senator Rick Scott so animated. He almost seemed human, projecting a commanding stage presence and flawlessly executing his messaging behind that podium. There’s no doubt that speech writers and coaches at the federal level are a cut above. Unfortunately, all that good work was somewhat diminished towards the end, when he reverted to his bad habit of addressing Hispanic crowds in his stabbing attempts at Spanish.
Ultimately, though, it was about one thing: Socialism is evil. Maduro is evil, because socialism. Socialists commit evil by simply drawing breath. Evil, thy name is socialism.
This was the premise for every speaker who followed, up to and including the President of the United States. “Little” Marco Rubio whom Trump would call a friend and an expert about Cuba and Socialists, in general, came out to deliver his own variation on the theme of the evils of socialism. He started issuing ultimatums to the Venezuelan military, whom – he said – had until Saturday to decide whether they wanted to cooperate with the Atlanticist’s dictums regarding the delivery of so-called “humanitarian aid” or become fugitives from justice.
Newly elected Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, made an appearance, as well. He also exhorted the Maduro regime to step down and provided his own list of grievances against evil socialists around the world, blaming the ideology for the “starving Venezuelans” and other distorted pictures painted about a country, whose economic woes have been imposed not by Socialist policies, but by direct economic warfare from the Atlanticist block.
After these relatively minor political celebrities, National Security Advisor, John Bolton, took to the stage and sealed the anti-socialism narrative with his trademark phrase – designed to create a media-ready soundbite, which can be drilled into the mainstream consciousness. Bolton, who just might be a cloned Mark Twain, pointed his accusative finger to Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua – The “Troika of Tyranny”. Catchy. Also the three countries, which happen to be the places of origin of the most prominent exile communities in Miami.
Everybody was expecting Bolton to finally introduce the man of the hour, Donald Trump. The hour, however, had originally been 4 o’clock and we were well past by this point. Instead, he pulled what looked to be – at first – a stroke of crowd-pleasing genius when he announced that none other than Juan Guaidó, the self-sworn President of Venezuela was there to speak to them.
The audience’s surprise and excitement was palpable, but soon fizzled when it became apparent that Guaidó wasn’t actually present and that the video of him coming through the big screens wasn’t even a live feed, but a run-of-the-mill, pre-recorded message made in an undisclosed location somewhere in Venezuela.
The Guaidó speech was over quickly and thereafter, the stage sat empty for a good three-quarters of an hour or more. The rally-goers were free to mull over the opening acts and their main takeaways: Socialism is evil; Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua are run by evil socialists; and don’t vote for evil socialists in the United States.
The main attraction had to wait until a few local luminaries arrived fashionably late and took their places in the reserved seating area stage left, along with the previous speakers. Among the special guests were the Mayors of the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County, Francis X. Suarez and Carlos A. Gimenez. Mario Diaz-Balart, who had just been in Cúcuta, Colombia with fellow Senator, Marco Rubio, making threats against a foreign military also took his seat.
Finally, The Rolling Stones were muted for the announcer’s voice.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the First Lady of the United States
You know that when Melania deigns to visit, the fashion and political stakes are higher. True to form, the First Lady dazzled in a white dress with a colorful “Latin American-ish” pattern. She was led down the catwalk by Trump and after a few twirls for the crowd, took center stage at the podium to deliver a short, trite speech like a regular beauty pageant contestant.
Her husband, much like a pageant host, followed up with compliments for his wife and egged on the audience to back him up on her physical attributes as she walked back to her spot in the reserved seating area, waving at the people.
Donald Trump would now bring it all together. The red hatted crowd held up their iPhones and their multi-colored flags. The evils of socialism had marinated. It was time for the Commander In-Chief to expound on the concept and accentuate the narrative with emotional cameos by for the Venezuelans in the room – the mother of a man killed by Maduro forces and exiled Venezuelan politician David Smolansky.
The Atlanticist-created crisis in Venezuela dovetails with the incumbent’s strategy for 2020 and what happened yesterday at FIU was nothing less than the President’s inaugural campaign speech.
Miami will be a republican stronghold, as always. It is, after all, the refuge of the oligarchs who were thrown out of their own countries when popular uprisings and revolutions reversed their multi-generational fortunes, built on the backs of exploited underclasses.
They are the politically expeditious demographic who are pandered to every election cycle and, now, also serve to advance a foreign policy goal, which has nothing to do with the “freedom” and “democracy” being peddled at these type of events.
“The communists are coming” has been used for decades to win votes and commit crimes against humanity. It’s an old and tired MO. But, it still works here, just blocks away from Calle Ocho where the voting base continues to drink from the same political poison well.
Italian authorities were on the trail of Roberto Calvi and the Banco Ambrosiano’s irregular activities, oblivious to the incredible chasm of corruption, blood and terrorism that lay open just behind him. Founded in 1896, the bank had cultivated a pristine reputation as a model of integrity and independent governance, thanks to its policy of restricting the total amount of stock any single entity could own in the institution to 5%. Calvi had created a web of shell companies with myriad subsidiaries to get around these limitations, and by such means attained 16% control of the bank on behalf of the Vatican.
When the scandal broke all over the Italian press, the Pope himself was implicated in a conspiracy so large and dark, that even the most audacious spy novelists would balk at the premise. A wide-ranging Masonic fraternity called P2, comprising hundreds of powerful government figures and mobsters, was exposed as a central mover in the multi-billion-dollar scandal. Even high-ranking Vatican officials were part of the fraternity – a violation of Church tenets.
Banco Ambrosiano’s long-established good name had been tarnished beyond recovery, but the Milan-based institution’s role barely scratched the surface of a far bigger and much more sinister reality emanating from the deep recesses of post-World War II America; a burgeoning superpower intent on asserting itself on the rest of the world, bleeding from the shores of the Mediterranean all the way to Latin America.
Dubbed “God’s Banker”, Calvi was in charge of laundering billions of dollars generated through world-wide heroin trade networks established years earlier by the CIA and its precursor agency, the OSS. Allen Dulles, future Director of the CIA, and his spy mentor “Wild” Bill Donovan, devised a plan at the conclusion of World War II to prevent – as claimed – a Soviet invasion of Europe. The concept revolved around recruiting Nazi officers and other extreme right wing elements to form so-called “stay-behind” units throughout the old continent, stationed clandestinely in several countries ready to act on a moment’s notice. They called the operation “Gladio”, and though the awaited red invasion never materialized, the services of the covert militias, who stashed CIA-provided armaments in thousands of secret locations, were requisitioned on multiple occasions as the need to quash left-leaning movements arose.
Calvi’s boss, Michele Sindona, had been the first to establish and manage the laundering networks for the IOR (Instituto per le Opere di Religione), the Vatican’s invisible bank, through which all drug trade, arms sales and miscellaneous illegal profits were funneled. His vast connections to the Sicilian mafia made him the perfect go-between in the early days, but Calvi’s more sophisticated knowledge and financial creativity offered Gladio the necessary expertise to scale their ever-increasing thirst for dirty money. Calvi’s stealth takeover of Banco Ambrosiano was a salient example. Sought out for its solid reputation, he would go on to open several international branches of the bank to facilitate the movement of Gladio-destined funds around the world. Among the places Calvi incorporated these brass-plate shells were Luxembourg, Nassau in the Bahamas and Managua, Nicaragua.
The Heart of Liberation
Anastasio Somoza Debayle ruled the small Central American nation of Nicaragua the way any scion of a foreign-backed, generational ruling family would. Protected by Washington from the start, Somoza had little to threaten his fiefdom. As long as his benefactors in Langley, Virginia and the U.S. State Department gave their tacit approval, there was no manner of corruption or repression he wouldn’t avail himself of to remain in power.
Agrarian movements and peasant revolts were ubiquitous in the entire region. Nicaragua was no exception. The Sandinistas had always been a thorn on the side of Somoza, but had little chance of mounting a successful revolution as long as American interests remained steadfast behind the dictator. But, the rise of left-leaning groups and political factions were a predictable consequence of the oppressive presence of U.S.-sponsored, right-wing dictatorships not only in Nicaragua, but all over Latin America. Most concerning for the Gladio intelligence clique, however, was the emergence of a grassroots religious movement, led by local Catholic bishops and clergymen called Liberation Theology.
To the immense consternation of a Vatican leadership, which was fully invested in the suppression of leftist ideologies and the imposition of conservative, right-wing governments in Italy and all over Europe, Liberation Theology began to draw a great number of advocates within dioceses all over Latin America. The concern was, of course, shared by their partners in the CIA who aided the Vatican in the subsequent persecution of priests, nuns and other members of the clergy who supported the movement through the already established, transnational spy network known as Operation Condor, centrally relayed through Southcom headquarters in Panama.
Spurred on by his superiors at the top of Gladio’s hierarchy, Roberto Calvi created a web of corporate fronts in different countries to facilitate the flow of black funds from the IOR to Latin American dictators, in order to round up, incarcerate and kill tens of thousands of dissidents. Argentina’s “dirty war” was only one of the operations of state terrorism financed by the Vatican/CIA nexus, which slaughtered, kidnaped and tortured over 30,000 people. Among Argentine dictator Videla’s informers was one Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, then the Provincial General of the Jesuits, better known today as Pope Francis I.
By the Skin of their Teeth
Years later, when the noose was tightening around Calvi as Italian judge Carlo Palermo uncovered more and more of the astonishing truth, Gladio’s financial wiz wrote a letter threatening to expose the Vatican’s deep ties to the murderous state repression unleashed by the coterie of military dictators halfway around the world, revealing that he had been tasked with creating:
an effective politico-religious penetration into secular society by securing control over banking institutions. The enormous importance of what I just said induced me to incur debts in foreign currency in order to buy Banco Ambrosiano shares in sufficient quantity to guarantee IOR control over the institution… On more than one occasion, I believed that my life was at risk as I rushed from one Latin American country to another, seeking to oppose the ferment of anticlerical ideologies. I did my upmost in every sense even to the point of concerning myself with the supply of warships and other war material…
The gauntlet was about to come down. Ambrosiano’s collapse was opening leads Italian law enforcement might think twice about before following them. Carmine “Mino” Pecorelli, the Journalist who first published the P2 member list, was promptly murdered. Judge Palermo was nearly killed when a car bomb exploded just as he was arriving at the office he opened in Sicily to continue his probe, and the head of Italy’s Military Intelligence, Guiseppe Santovito – whom Palermo had arrested and was scheduled to be interrogated by Italian investigators – was killed in his holding cell. The real culprits behind Italy’s “days of lead” were being exposed as right-wing Gladio saboteurs and not communists, as was propagated by those same Gladio networks. The CIA saw the writing on the wall and started leaving its partners in the lurch. Michele Sindona was indicted in New York and convicted after a convoluted attempt at a staged kidnapping, which ended up exposing even more P2 members and widening the net for Italian prosecutors, who would eventually try and convict over 72 members of the Sicilian mafia in connection to Gladio.
As the 70’s rolled around, several other factors began to interfere with the smooth execution of the operation. The OPEC nations’ boycott following the Arab-Israeli war reverberated across the world economy and directly impacted Gladio’s cash sources, which stretched across different currency baskets.
President Jimmy Carter’s policies would also interfere with the international scheme. Carter ended support for the Somoza regime and opened the door for the Sandinista revolution, which ultimately drove the U.S.-backed dictator out of power.
Nevertheless, Gladio had managed an enormous victory as the USSR found itself hopelessly embroiled in Afghanistan, where the CIA had successfully created cells of radical Islamic militants to wage Jihad against the Russian-backed government of Afghanistan, going as far as recruiting African American Muslims through proxy organizations in the U.S. to go fight in the Gladio-created holy war.
However, the Sandinista takeover of Nicaragua and imminent collapse of the Italian Gladio networks, thrust the American deep state into damage control mode. George H.W. Bush, who along with Henry Kissinger, represented the top of the Gladio pyramid, mobilized their political machinery to take the White House. The infamous “October Surprise” was engineered through Gladio’s Turkish networks, which delivered weapon caches to the Iranian government in exchange for delaying the hostages’ release and putting the Reagan/Bush ticket in office.
Just months into the new administration, the first of two failed Gladio assassination attempts occurred when Bush family friend, Hinckley Jr. shot Ronald Reagan. Pope John Paul II, who had incurred the network’s ire by holding secret talks with the Soviets, was slated to be removed later that Fall.
Power By Any Other Name
Roberto Calvi’s body would be discovered dangling over the Thames river in London. Bricks would be found in his trousers – a Masonic signature. The Pope would miraculously survive the bullets shot at him by multiple Turkish assassins, belonging to the Grey Wolves Gladio unit and the capture of Ali Agca nearly derailed the planned cover story to blame communists for the attempted murder. Ronald Reagan survived, as well, but he was mentally weakened enough from the trauma, that Bush could operate just as well from the Vice Presidential office.
Soon after the former spokesperson for General Electric recovered from his bullet wounds, he officially declared narcotics a matter of U.S. National Security and the “War on Drugs” was launched in earnest. A few years later, the Berlin Wall came down and George H.W. Bush assumed power directly, moving Gladio into the second phase of operation in a post-Soviet world.
The War on Drugs is yet another manifestation of the original Gladio operation, designed to maintain American hegemony in Latin America, as well as subvert any attempt at self-determination by countries in the region.
Framing it as a battle between Capitalism and Communism allows factions to align themselves on either side of an ideological debate, that is in itself, false. On final analysis, this is all just a gambit of power. The ultimate goal is to consolidate resources and energy in the fewest hands. The right-left paradigm is a Hegelian dialectic, and who ever participates in it – no matter which side they fall in – simply furthers the final objective.
By the time the big name speakers were done and gone, the line of cars along 87th Avenue flanking the right southbound lane was still backed up for a quarter of a mile as more Venezuelans continued to arrive – hours late – to a12 o’clock-scheduled rally at Doral Central Park.
The energy of the crowd was decidedly lukewarm and never really numbered more than a thousand people at one time. Jose Antonio Colina, who leads many of these Venezuelan opposition events in Miami, was visibly frustrated with the people’s laissez faire disposition on this mildly hot Saturday afternoon and tried teasing them with jokes, at first. As the proceedings moved on, the attendees’ demeanor was not meeting with the former military man’s expectations. Eventually, Colina resorted to cheerleading at the top of his lungs over already booming speakers hoping, fruitlessly, to elicit a response in kind.
Some on the portable stage, towed there earlier, seemed to credit the weather via indirect remarks for the seeming lack of emotion. But, it was not particularly warm for South Florida standards and definitely far less humid than usual. No. This wasn’t a weather-related dud of a crowd. Perhaps, deep down, they all knew something was wrong.
A Telegraphed Coup
Few were caught off guard when Juan Guaidó swore himself in as president of Venezuela last week. The systematic attacks against the Maduro regime by the Atlanticist axis, led by U.S. economic sanctions, manipulation of oil prices and outright theft of sovereign assets in excess of a billion dollars have had the desired result in the South American country. Buttressed by sabotage from oligarchic factions within the country itself, which (contrary to Western media propaganda) control important business sectors, the nation’s economy has been brought to its knees. Guaidó’s “inauguration” was simply part of the same, ongoing subversive operation.
The usual suspects immediately declared themselves on Twitter, which seems to be the platform of choice for dissemination of Atlanticist discourse. Senator Marco Rubio came out ahead of the rest, throwing his total support behind the CIA-bred usurper and rallying the other pro-coup members of the house and senate. The Tweeter-in-Chief chimed in soon enough and the chorus began to regurgitate the party line around the globe. Brazil, recently fitted with their very own far-right, rich man’s populist was among the first countries to ratify the brazen affront to national sovereignty. A slew of aligned governments around the world followed in tow and the lapdog press has been treating Maduro’s downfall as a fiat accompli.
The reality, of course, is much different. Maduro remains in control as the Venezuelan military and a big enough base continues to support him. Washington’s de jure president has been appointing his cabinet while embassy hopping; hiding first in the American and then the Colombian embassy – as has been reported. Meanwhile, Maduro has offered to hold a dialogue with the pretender; a strange move for a so-called “dictator”. Guaidó, predictably declined to entertain the idea as such optics would ruin the pretense.
Speaking of pretense, all of it was dropped when Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton, matter-of-factly stated America’s intention of taking Venezuela’s oil as ransom. Such imperialist candor is very 21st century, ushered in as it was by the controlled demolition of two skyscrapers and a CIA vault (building 7) and subsequent declaration of perpetual war. The real estate developer cum reality star Donald has taken it to the next level, of course. The “open conspiracy” is here and Venezuela is quickly becoming a case study on how the world’s only superpower plans on flexing its muscle hereafter.
Guaidó himself issued a formal request for a U.S. invasion of his own country within the first 24 hours of self-appointing himself head of the Venezuelan people, cloaking it as “humanitarian aid”. The news cycle, currently embroiled in another tabloid scandal involving high school yearbooks, has not kept us abreast of the progress of his request. But, we can be sure it is being processed.
Exiles in Arms
Almost from the get-go at Doral Central Park, a distinction was drawn between those who are waiting to return to Venezuela and those residing permanently in Miami; the latter being the largest contingent, by far. Jose Antonio Colina and later, exiled clergyman Jose Palmar, exhorted those present to keep resisting Maduro’s regime from afar.
Palmar fled Venezuela in 2018 via Mexico, after years of criticizing the Bolivarian government of Venezuela on social media and leading anti-government protests. The catholic priest claims he was arrested and tortured by state forces in multiple attacks beginning in 2014. According to Palmar, he became a target after exposing corruption in the state-run oil concern PDVSA back in 2007.
Given Venezuelans’ ubiquitous religiosity, the father’s emotive delivery managed to generate excitement behind the barricades. It was intended to set the stage for the political luminaries who were about to come on the platform and drive home the message of exile-to-exile solidarity.
First up was Juan Carlos Bermudez, Mayor of the city of Doral. Cuban-born Bermudez would lead off with references to the Cuban exile experience, assuming a paternalistic tone as he urged Venezuelans to follow the path laid down by his anti-Castro brethren. Bermudez showed no trace of topical awareness when he twice joked about assuming power in Miami-Dade County on account of Mayor Gimenez’ absence. Only his fellow grifters waiting under a small tent beside the stage laughed.
Next up came Miami-Dade Commissioner for district 12, Jose “Pepe” Diaz, who laboriously made his way onto the stage and continued with parallels between Venezuela and Cuba, though his shockingly unintelligible Spanish likely precluded anyone present from actually understanding anything he was saying. Florida Senator, Jose Javier Rodriguez, and Miami Mayor, Francis X. Suarez followed with similar talking points.
In between, a three-headed hydra of the new, pro-war left came on to deliver short, trite speeches. Recently elected Congresswoman, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, struggled to look up from her lengthy notes, while her congressional colleague, Donna Shalala, had nothing much to say beyond a smattering of embarrassingly jumbled Spanish words. Of the three democratic members of the federal government, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was clearly the most prepared and seasoned speaker. Of the three – and possibly of all those present – she also has he most to gain from the events currently unfolding in Venezuela.
Wasserman-Schultz was just appointed to lead the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. Her District (22) is home to a number of security firms with extensive links to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and she has a long history of taking money from defense industry sources, including General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and BAE Systems.
Her demeanor on and off stage betrayed the importance she is giving this particular issue. At one point, she walked along the entire barricaded perimeter with her assistant, collecting photo ops with rally-goers. None of the other politicians did anything close. Just the fact that she used this event to build political capital foreshadows bad tidings, as we are left to wonder how she intends to spend it.
Surely, someone in the building only a few yards away can offer an educated guess.
U.S. Southern Command is the head of the spear in American interventions from the Caribbean to Tierra de Fuego. So, it was more than appropriate for this anti-Maduro rally to take place within earshot of Southcom headquarters in Doral. It’s unlikely that any of the people wearing Venezuelan flag colors that day understood where they actually were. Most Americans, to be frank, don’t know what Southcom is or does, either.
They don’t know, for instance, that when this military agency was headquartered in Panama, it played a vital role in assisting right-wing military dictatorships all over South America murder, torture and repress their citizens. Southcom was the central relaying point for intelligence on left-leaning political and social groups in the hemisphere.
They also don’t know, that a few decades ago it became the single lead agency in the interdiction of drugs both inside and outside of the United States. A much more comprehensive treatment of these facts can be found in my recently completed docu-series “Borderline – The Unhinged Truth About the Drug War”, which is streaming free online.
The so-called drug war, is intimately related to the events happening in Venezuela. As I posit in my series – far from being the failed policy alleged by many – the war on drugs is actually a tool of American hegemony in this hemisphere and beyond.
Accusations against the Maduro government of engaging in state-sponsored drug trafficking follow the same pattern utilized against any target country in the farcical drug war. More than once during the rally was the Venezuelan government branded as “Narcoterrorista”, an amalgam between narco-trafficking and terrorism emerging from the neo-con, post-911 perpetual war crew in Washington.
If an invasion of Venezuela does take place, it will be Southcom leading the way. Indeed, thanks to the drug war bilateral agreements signed by Venezuela’s closest neighbors, drug-war-trained troops are already lining up along their borders. It will also displace millions of people, creating an avalanche of refugees and placing undue pressure on neighboring states. Southcom has been preparing to manage an exodus of this magnitude since, at least, 2007 when they published “United States Southern Command Command Strategy 2016 – Partnership for the Americas”.
Unless the army has integrated psychics into their ranks, we should take this as a clear sign that there is much more than meets the eye to what is happening in Venezuela.
Ignorance of Treason is No Excuse
It might not be part of their conscious awareness yet, but the men, women and children who came out to support the Atlanticist coup of Venezuela on Saturday in Doral, Florida seemed to have a funny feeling about the whole affair. Their awkward silences and less than enthusiastic reactions when called to cheer Guaidó’s name revealed that, perhaps, in the back of their minds they don’t really believe this is the right course of action.
Regardless of the very real problems facing the Venezuelan people, much of it critically exacerbated by sabotage from without, the unabashed frothy-mouthed war hawks openly declaring their lust for Venezuela’s oil – the cornerstone of the country’s economy – might have given some of them pause.
After all, what will the future generations of Venezuela say of those who lent their support to the military invasion of a country they no longer call home, but still claim as their own and willingly handed over its most important natural resource to the invaders themselves?
P.T. Barnum could not have imagined a more salacious character to feature on his marquee posters. Donald Trump doesn’t even need make up; the orange skin, discoloration around the eyes and the bright yellow hair already give him a naturally clownish appearance. The act itself is grotesque. The elephant man, himself, would struggle to cause such revulsion. But, any apprehension by circus-goers, would fail to overcome the irresistible urge to see, once and for all, if the lion will eat the lion tamer.
The 45th President of the United States is the greatest show on earth, and the mainstream media are cashing in day-in and day-out. The Don Lemons, the Rachel Maddows, the Sean Hannities and the Tucker Calrsons climb on their fiber-optic high horses nightly to deliver their inflammatory monologues and preside over faux-opposition panels while behind the big top, animals are whipped and starved in their cages. The business of empire continues unabated while the people are transfixed by the loudmouth on the pulpit. The real actions and persistent policies of the American government are completely ignored.
MAGA hats and border walls make for riveting campaign rallies in the poorly educatednooks and crannies of this nation. Promises to “bring back jobs” and restore America to shining beauty are nothing but empty rhetoric designed to maintain the pretense of a popular base; to keep the illusion of democracy alive and give the voices of political analysts that flavor of sincerity. Underneath the pomposity and vulgarity of the Piñata Don extravaganza, hides an increasingly worried contingent of powerful corporate interests trying to salvage a global investment trade regime, which has been slipping away over the last decade.
The Best Laid Plans
When the Berlin Wall came down in the late eighties, Western investment bankers, lawyers and assorted capitalist enterprises went to work on the world with a blowtorch and a pair of pliers. Decades of slogging through the slow, and – in their eyes – ineffective protocols of the Bern Convention and WIPO, spurred corporate American giants like Pfizer, IBM, Dupont among others to change the focus of world trade from goods and services to intellectual property rights, setting their sights on the ongoing GATT negotiations.
They attacked the Uruguay round of talks, led by Pfizer CEO, Edmund Pratt, and managed to introduce IP into proceedings with the Basic Framework document. Though only a modest gain, it marked a significant victory for American multinationals, most of which relied heavily on investment in research and development to drive growth.
Out of the ashes of GATT, that drew to a close after Uruguay, emerged the WTO. What followed was a deluge of bilateral and multilateral trade deals largely benefiting Western corporations, and a tiny clique of lawyers, who cornered the market on writing, executing and arbitrating any disputes arising from these deals.
Hundreds of trade deals would be signed over the following ten to fifteen years. Riding the post-cold war propaganda wave of MTV, blue jeans and Michael Jordan, the U.S. hooked country after country on onerous agreements, which stipulated private companies could sue sovereign governments over internal legislations or other national developments, which might infringe on their investments and patent protection rackets. According to a study published in 2012 co-authored by Corporate Europe Observatory and the Transnational Institute, the number of investment arbitration cases ballooned from 38 to 450 between 1996 and 2011.
Over the last several years, many countries have either reneged on existing deals or have simply refused to renew their relationship with Western corporate entities. African nations extricated themselves from these agreements altogether, terminating existing ones and issuing a moratorium on signing new ones. Meanwhile, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela withdrew from the World Bank’s body, that administers trade disputes, the ICSID. Even Australia, a fellow Western nation, decided it would no longer include investor-state dispute provisions in its trade agreements.
The legal fees and the punitive judgments arising from the lawsuits pursued by corporations against sovereign countries can threaten the vital social services of many developing countries. Cases like Plama Consortium vs Bulgaria and Fraport vs The Philippines highlight the risk these legal fights pose to the sued nations’ populations. In the first lawsuit, although Bulgaria was awarded US$7m in legal fees, it remained on the hook for US$6.25m – which could have covered the salaries of over 1,700 nurses during a healthcare crisis, which was affecting the country at the time. The Philippines, was forced to spend US$58m to defend against two cases involving one plaintiff.
UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) found that legal and arbitration costs average US$8m. Adding insult to injury, “tribunals most frequently [require] parties to share tribunal and administrative costs equally and absorb their own legal fees”, which means that sovereign nations lose even when they win.
This secret tug of war between profit-driven behemoths and foreign national interests, which has been unfolding over the last few years never makes it to the nightly news in America. As usual, people are only fed narratives which will serve to sway public opinion, that will justify the necessary measures – whether the soft stick of economic sanctions or the outright use of Apaches and Cruise missiles.
The story lines are always simple and geared towards the common denominator. Even if Americans were so frivolous as to get behind the bombing of Brazil for better prices on tin for General Electric, it’s probably easier to make up a narrative of evil doers and bad hombres.
Lurking behind the “free trade” infrastructure is the other arm of the hegemonic beast, expressed alternatively as the drug war in Latin America or Western-funded terrorism in oil-rich Middle East. These are points of entry for the muscle when Western diplomats and arbitration lawyers fail to get their point across.
Donald Trump’s job is to signal to the world, on behalf of Western corporate interests, that the trade regime is not going as they wish and that all bets are off until the world gets back in line. In the meantime, the military-industrial complex is sharpening its knives and waiting for the go-ahead. The trade-dealer in Chief already has his marching orders.
Last Thursday, the TPO board members voted to forgo extending the beleaguered Metrorail to South Dade, and instead approve plans to build a Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT) along the busway, a 20-plus mile stretch of pavement that currently runs several bus routes from the Dadeland South terminal to different points in the southernmost parts of the County.
The question of Metrorail extension has been dangled over the heads of Dade County’s transit-challenged population for decades now, like a chunk of raw meat over a starving circus cat. This last instance of kabuki theater comes on the heels of massive and continuous cuts to bus routes all over the city and the roll out of the new, privately owned “Miami Trolleys”, and the by-now infamous campaign promises of Carlos Gimenez, who led the charge for BRT – beginning just months after hoodwinking the electorate with glossy re-election posters proclaiming “More Rail”.
However, if we look more closely, we can see that neither Gimenez nor any of the “Rail, but” crowd who have been promoting the ‘idea’ of rail while leaving themselves enough space to backtrack at a moment’s notice were never really planning on giving residents of Miami-Dade another mile of rail. The airport extension only got built because former Mayor Alex Penelas left the project fully funded before leaving office and – most importantly – it would ostensibly serve the interests of the tourist industry; a concept, which has so far proven wrong. But, the fate of Metrorail expansion to South Dade had been decided years ago when they ripped up the existing train tracks, which ran all along what is now the Busway.
Fast-Track to Nowhere
The special session three days ago, once again leaned on the people’s well-known desire to see Metrorail extended. In yet another sham hearing with a few pro-rail voices peppered throughout, the final pro-BRT majority had been determined long before. Among the most disappointing pro-BRT votes was that of newly elected County Commissioner Eileen Higgins, who herself ran what is possibly the most pro-transit campaign of any aspiring Commish in the history of the County. The few minutes allotted to each Commissioner during the session saw Higgins offer a justification of her upcoming vote, citing her “luxurious” experience with BRT in Mexico City – a massive metropolis with a public transit system that surpasses that of New York’s and many other world class systems.
Commission Chairman, Esteban Bovo Jr.’s hypocrisy was in full display from the beginning. When fellow TPO board member and pro-rail, Coral Gables Commissioner, Vince Lago was defending his motion to re-open the “reasonable opportunity to be heard” in favor of the community, Bovo interrupted Lago in typical fashion and warned his colleague over “grandstanding”. Bovo’s admonishment was completely uncalled for and drew a quizzical look from Lago, whose motion was nevertheless adopted by Bovo, but only allowed 2 minutes for public comment, lest the individual had spoken at the first session, in which case they got only 1 minute to speak. Bovo, himself, would conclude the day’s proceedings with a grandstanding, 8-minute speech about being for rail despite voting against it seconds later.
The entrenched, American Dream ideology of several board members was also expressed during the short meeting, with Commissioners Joe Martinez and Javier Souto doubling down on last century’s car-equals-freedom paradigm. Martinez even went as far as to disparage public transit users entirely, implying they’re not worth spending any real money on. Souto, who – incredibly – was just reinstalled for yet another term in office, ran down his decades on the dole as if it was some kind of virtue and proclaimed to know more than anyone else. His pitch as elder statesman should convince us that we don’t need rail, apparently.
Only TPO Executive Director, Aileen Bouclé and Commissioner Moss offered some kind of practical opposition to the pro-BRT item on the table, calling into question the 35,000-rider threshold proposed in the BRT plan to “convert” the system to rail once the aforementioned rider density is reached. Citing Commissioner Moss’ numbers regarding rider densities in other cities around the country, far lower than 35,000, Bouclé suggested an amendment be considered to change the South Dade BRT plan’s language from an arbitrary rider-threshold number to a contingency designed around a national average of rail rider density. After some lip service from Bovo and others, Bouclé’s logical request was quickly swept under the rug and ignored.
Finally, Miami’s new Mayor, Francis X. Suarez, stated his opposition over the fact that the full BRT project study had only been submitted Monday afternoon, and nobody – including him – had read more than a few snippets, much less the entire 1,200-page document. No matter, according to the TPO board majority. The vote was fast-tracked to take place by 1pm, thanks in part, to the deliciously ironic pleas of TPO board-member Carlos Hernandez, who begged the board to move quickly on the item because of his long and arduous 4-hour commute to-and-from the County seat.
Just minutes after one o’clock, the Metrorail was struck down again and BRT was passed as the preferred option for South Dade, despite the overwhelming and repeated support for rail by both the residents of South Dade, and the rest of the county. Meanwhile, Gimenez will move forward with his plan for an 836 extension along the edge of the Everglades, costing about as much as the rail extension would have, and multiplying the threat to our already stressed eco-system, to boot.
The Old Switcharoo
Before lunch had even arrived, Bovo posted a victory tweet announcing the TPO’s passing of South Dade’s BRT project. The wording of his post should raise red flags, as he immediately starts changing the terminology, referring to it as “enhanced premium transportation alternatives”. We should be wary about what actually comes of this BRT project we still know little about, except for a couple of expensive animated renderings they were already playing on MDT’s digital signage screens BEFORE the vote.
In addition to Bovo’s slick tweet, the County Mayor, himself belied the entire premise of converting BRT to rail in the future right after the meeting, when Herald beat reporter, Doug Hanks asked him if Metrorail would ever be expanded in Miami-Dade:
After the vote, I asked @MayorGimenez if he thought Metrorail would ever be expanded in Miami-Dade. His answer: "Metrorail? It's very difficult. Because it's very expensive." Did say commuter rail on Brightline tracks was likely, and maybe light rail elsewhere.
It’s unlikely we’ve seen the end of “Metrorail vs (bacon)” scam. We may have even been privy to the set up for the next farcical battle in Miami politics involving this evergreen issue, with Mayor Suarez’ inconsequential no-vote on Thursday. Carlos Gimenez has recently stated his desire to remain in public office and challenge Suarez for city Mayor in 2022. Transit will still be a major – and probably bigger – problem in Miami by then, so if Gimenez and Suarez do square off in six years, you can be sure they’ll try to use Metrorail as a political tactic again. We can’t allow that.
The TPO’s decision over BRT vs Rail underscores the County’s continued failure to properly address, manage or otherwise offer functional public transit solutions to the people of Miami-Dade. Transit director, Alice Bravo has shown herself to be unequal to the task. Now, she will oversee the implementation of BRT for South Dade, but no one who has used Miami-Dade Transit lately can seriously expect any kind of practical improvement.
As a long-time user of MDT, I can’t be optimistic. As many others, I know the reality on the ground. The county is so far behind where it should be on transit, that it will take a complete 180-degree shift in priorities and a basic level of honesty from our political class, that – like my bus and trust in County government – is simply not there now.
In Miami, one of the most popular phrases used by our political class is the ever present “American Dream”; the go-to euphemism for social mobility and odd rebuttal to the residents’ continued demands for better public transit.
A Better Life?
Cars, according to County Commission Chairman Esteban Bovo, are part of the so-called American Dream. For the people who move to Miami from all over the world, toll-roads, expressways and bumper-to-bumper traffic on Bird Road is the fulfillment of a yearning they carry over from their respective Latin American ‘shit holes’. Buses and trains? That’s just a bad dream.
While Bovo pays lip service to the transit-challenged population, engaging in visible marketing bus adventures, the pervasive mentality among his ilk – who otherwise never step foot in a bus – is decidedly anti-public transit.
Just a few days ago, Bovo put out this telling tweet:
Using the @IRideMDT app made the experience good. I use Metrorail often, however the bus doesn’t work for me since I have my son in camp and meetings all over town. https://t.co/jyExnaWlla
Perhaps the commissioner is unaware that most people in Miami have children, too, and taking “meetings all over town” is about as feasible on a Miami-Dade bus as getting to a 9-to-5 on time. Perhaps the bus “doesn’t work” for him because it doesn’t work for anybody.
El Sueño Cubano
With few exceptions, wherever you look on the County Seat dais, instead of representatives we find agents of developer interests masquerading as elected officials, who carry a chip on their shoulder about a boogey man in another country altogether. It’s almost as if these guys have been making policy in Miami for the last 30 years just to ‘stick it’ to Castro, and show him how capitalist capitalism can be. To them, public transit is an expression of socialism, it seems. The car, on the other hand, embodies the ‘free market’ ethos they ostensibly champion, while rigging the game for their developer friends in back room deals.
The Mayor, who staked his entire re-election campaign on public transit, has invoked the so-called American Dream to excuse one of the most unbelievable about faces in recent memory, comparable only to George Bush’s “Read my lips. No new taxes.” Giménez even had the audacity, after circulating campaign materials with the words “More Rail Lines” directly above his pepper shade comb over, to dismiss rail as “19th century technology”, shortly before taking a publicly-funded trip to China with a 15-people entourage. The two-week sojourn was billed as a fact-finding mission for innovative transit solutions; a laughable premise, which never seemed to produce any kind of official – or unofficial- report of their observations. The only notable fact to come out of the Asian vacation was the Mayor’s absolute silence about the tragedy of the collapsed FIU pedestrian bridge. Despite having direct family connections to the company, which designed the ill-fated structure, not a single word came from Beijing or wherever in the Middle Kingdom Carlos Giménez happened to be at the time.
It’s also not a trivial matter that the Mayor traveled to a communist country to conduct business, and everyone who lives in Miami should get the joke. As a member of the world’s leading anti-communist exile community, Carlos Giménez and the rest of the Cuban-born gang who presides over the vast majority of local government seats have made a living backing a five-decade old economic embargo on ‘la patria’, and condemning everything left of your right hand’s pinky finger.
Cars Killed the Dream
The irony is that the automobile itself is to blame for the demise of the so-called American dream.
For close to a century, the American working class managed to gain benefits and increase wages, while reducing the number of hours they had to put in each day. This, in turn, resulted in the creation of the biggest middle class in modern history. The automobile was a big part of that process, spurring growth and entrepreneurship.
The federal highway system and urban roadway development gave rise to the car-based, American lifestyle characterized by suburban sprawl, malls and the big box store. It was an ode to prosperity as each generation bequeathed a higher standard of living to the next. This was the American Dream, and for a few decades it actually worked.
As Dr. Richard Wolff from the New School so clearly lays out in this lecture from 2009, the 1970’s was the beginning of the end. Since then, corporate profits have consistently soared while wages have stagnated, remaining at virtually the same level. The rise of productivity coupled with flat lining wages allowed corporations to acquire massive wealth, while the workforce they employed had no choice but to turn to credit cards to bridge the gap between income and their desire to continue to living the American Dream.
General Motors, was among the first companies to take advantage of the American working class’ new plight, and decided to go into the mortgage lending business, expanding the scope of their original car loan business, GMAC. The General Motors Acceptance Corporation kick-started what would become the credit card/debt boom in the United States. The automobile, in particular, would be used as the asset, which underpinned the burgeoning credit-based economy. Linchpin of the small loan industry, cars have been used to both issue loans and secure credit lines using the vehicle as collateral.
Television is riddled with car commercials, that flash financing and leasing terms on the screen. Every movie and TV series, almost without exception, promotes the idea of car ownership as a status symbol, rite of passage and the key to all your dreams come true, especially as it relates to sexual prowess. Anyone who knows the history of the diamond trade and how DeBeers manipulated public perception through movies and stealthy advertising techniques to literally create a market out of thin air, knows this is not an accident.
The unpolished truth is that cars are little more than debt traps. Gateway credit drugs designed to hook people on a lifetime of interest payments and modern-day indentured servitude. The literal American nightmare.
The children and grandchildren of the ‘exilio’ have heard the stories of dispossession and betrayal. If “El Sueño Americano” makes a cameo, it carries with it a certain melancholy, double entendre that reveals the real dream of their redemptive return to the island. This place called Miami is really just a way-station. It was never part of the plan. Smart or otherwise.
If the past keeps informing our actions in the present, then we are simply sowing the seeds for history to repeat itself. At some point, you have to let go. Miami is ready to move on. Francis X. Suárez is the first Miami-born Mayor the city has ever had. His father, County Commissioner Xavier Suárez, is one of the few voices in the County who seems resolutely against building more toll roads and regularly advocates for better transit solutions, though he, too, has been known to indulge in the occasional fawning over personal internal combustion engines.
The Columbus High alum, Francis Suárez, has hitched his wagon to Beckham’s soccer stadium as the first major project of his era. The wisdom of this move is yet to be seen, but the city’s very recent history with sports stadiums does not augur a good outcome. A serious lack of transparency in the process and the young leader’s full-on support of the massive development is concerning, to say the least. Hopefully, as the first native mayor, he will identify as a resident of this city first and foremost, understanding that Miami is not Havana 2.0 anymore.
Miami needs leadership that sees the city as more than a tourist trap or a preferred destination for asset flight of Latin American grifters. It’s time for the people of this community to stand up and demand a public transit system on par with the enormous potential of this beautiful place. The cost of neglecting transit for decades is already manifesting, and will ultimately inflict a terrible toll on the future of Miami if nothing is done to stop the irresponsible, short-sighted and tone-deaf approaches we have endured for years.
Our commissioners and representatives keep dreaming about America. But, this is our bed and we’re the ones laying in it. It’s time to wake up.
I don’t want any interruptions from anyone in the public… We’ve done this day in and day out for a very long time in the City of Miami… We do not need assistance with running this meeting.Keon Hardemon (District 5) - Commissioner & Chairman
We are circumventing our own statutes, our own laws… Let the real owners of the land decide… We are going against our own charter. That’s why people don’t trust us.Manolo Reyes (District 4) - Commissioner
For the purposes of the questions that were posed, the way the commission is proceeding at this time is perfectly legal. I wanted to remind the commission that in 2014 there was a resolution passed that we wanted MLS soccer, David Beckham to be the group that led this charge… It’s legal.Victoria Mendez - City Attorney
This impromptu proposed ballot language is deceiving and is calculated to elicit a particular response. But, I also think it’s out of order… I have not seen this. We were not contacted about this. We were not asked questions by Commissioner Reyes’ office.Francis X. Suarez - Mayor
We are extremely confident that the remediation costs on this particular site, including the park and including the lease premises will be substantially less than $35 million. Richard Perez - Holland & Knight partner
We would adopt reaching a living wage on a scalable basis, starting at $11 dollars over four years to get to the $15 dollars.Jorge Mas
I know that you say that it is legal. But, is it ethical?Manolo Reyes (District 4) - Commissioner