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After Uribe Street Name Approval In Miami-Dade, Doral Voters Face Question Over Naming Streets After Living People

 Álvaro Uribe Vélez
ROBERTO KOLTUN
/
The Miami Herald
Former colombian president and senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez during a press conference in 2018.

Naming streets and facilities after people who are still alive has a mixed history in South Florida.

The Miami-Dade commission voted Tuesday to rename a stretch of Southwest 117th Avenue after Álvaro Uribe, the controversial former president of Colombia. The move has proved divisive for the Colombian-American community of South Florida, and is also a potential preview of a ballot referendum in Doral, a city with a large Colombian population.

In November, residents of the city of Doral will vote on a ballot referendum that will allow the city to name streets, parks or other public facilities after people who are still alive.

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By the estimation of Jerry Jones, it’s a small, almost inconsequential change to the city charter. Jones heads the city of Doral’s charter review commission, a group that meets every five years to suggest changes to the city charter.

The group met and issued its recommendations for changes in 2019, but they are only making the ballot now.

Jones really didn’t want the proposal to be political. But with the controversy of naming a street after Uribe, the question has taken on a new dimension that he did not foresee.

“The intent is that this city is maturing,” said Jones.

In the years to come, he foresees the city of Doral expanding its borders and gaining clout as a major city in the region. That means opening the door to philanthropists and civic organizations that want to contribute funds to the city.

“What we’re attempting to do here is to allow for civil organizations, charitable organizations — they can put like bandshells in a park, they can build like a facility, a community center in a park, and they would just want that named after one of their family members or their organization,” said Jones.

Naming streets and facilities after people who are still alive has a mixed history in South Florida.

Journalist and activist Marjory Stoneman Douglas had two schools named after her when she was still alive. Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula has an expressway named after him well before he died earlier this year. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama have had segments of highways named in their honor in South Florida, both when they were still alive.

Current Miami-Dade School Board member Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall has a public building named after her in her district. Sections of Southwest 12th Avenue are named after Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who just won reelection in August.

On the flip side, some street names have been questionable, if not premature.

Part of Southwest 16th Street near Florida International University was named after baseball player Jose Canseco, but was later taken down after Canseco was caught up in a major steroids scandal. In 1990, a six-block stretch of Southwest 132nd Avenue was named after developer Leonel Martinez, until he pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges the following year.

Banker Abel Holtz was convicted of lying to a grand jury in connection to a corruption case against former Miami Beach Mayor Alex Daoud. Despite that stain on his record, Holtz still has sections of Northeast Second Avenue named after him, along with a tennis stadium in Miami Beach.

Two years ago, sports radio host Brendan Tobin launched a campaign to name part of Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami after Dwyane Wade. In the wake of that campaign, the Miami-Dade county commission passed an ordinance that mandated background checks for people who receive naming rights.

The ordinance was triggered by the proposal to name the stretch of Southwest 117th Avenue between Southwest 24th Street and Southwest 40th Street after former Colombian president Uribe.

Uribe was a conservative president who was broadly praised for fighting the Marxist guerrilla group, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) that for decades reigned terror on Colombians through a campaign of kidnappings and bombings. Yet, since leaving the presidency, Uribe’s own ties to right-wing paramilitary groups have increasingly come under question. Those groups have been accused of human rights abuses that have killed scores of Colombians.

In August, Uribe was placed under house arrest as he awaits a hearing of witness tampering for a case related to paramilitaries. The push to name a Miami-Dade street after him came a few short weeks later.

Carlos Naranjo, a community organizer with the New Florida Majority and a co-founder of the group Colombian Progressives, mobilized some Colombian-Americans against naming the street after Uribe.

“It should be someone that has passed, it should be someone that represents everyone whose record is unblemished, and it should be something that doesn’t divide, that brings people together,” Naranjo told WLRN.

As a general principle, public streets and buildings should only be named after people who have already died, he said.

But even then, Naranjo said he could think of a few exceptions to the rule. For a street honoring Colombians, he threw out a few examples that would make everyone happy: soccer star Carlos “El Pibe” Valderrama or Shakira.

The problem is that naming streets for someone who is still alive, said Naranjo can be seen as political — especially if they're a current or former political figure.

The Miami-Dade commission passed the resolution to name the street after Uribe Tuesday, with a 9-2 vote. The mandated background memo submitted to the commission by county staffers noted that Uribe is currently under house arrest “for alleged fraud and witness tampering.”

Commissioner Javier Souto, who sponsored the item, vowed to remove Uribe’s name from the street if he is convicted of a crime.

A public relations campaign has been launched by Uribe’s son to try to sway U.S. opinion in defense of Uribe. The PR firm DCI Group registered as foreign agents with the federal government in August to mount that campaign, according to documents filed with the Department of Justice.

The timeline for the filing closely overlaps with the timeline for the push to rename the street in Miami-Dade after Uribe.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if they’re also trying to change something like this in Doral,” said Naranjo.

His instinct proved to be right. There is a nexus between the efforts to rename the Miami-Dade street and the Doral referendum to allow the city to name things for people who are still alive.

“We’re supporting it,” said Fabio Andrade, the conservative Colombian-American activist who led the push to rename a street after former President Uribe. “I am supporting it and I hope people will vote on it.”

Andrade, a Weston resident, has close ties to city leaders and residents in Doral, and he is urging people in the city to pass the item.

If someone makes a mistake, then the local government always has the option of reversing the decision and taking it down, said Andrade.

“What’s the big deal? The big deal is not recognizing an individual who has done outstanding service to a community while he’s alive,” said Andrade. “That’s what we should do, is recognize people while they’re alive.”

If passed, Andrade didn’t say he would move to name a street in Doral after Uribe. Instead, he suggested he might try to get a street named after Ricardo Brown, a Cuban-born journalist.

For his part, Jesse Jones, who led the Doral’s charter review commission is unhappy with the chatter. The purpose of the amendment, he underscores, was not at all political.

“I know when someone is trying to politicize something and this is what they’re trying to do,” he said.

What’s lost in the discussion is the fact that, according to the process and the procedure in Doral, elected officials would still have the final say about who can and can’t have something named after them. The only change that voters face in November is whether that person should be dead or not.

“Whether the guy was the second coming of Christ you can still say no,” said Jones. "If the elected officials choose to let someone use it for political purposes, then shame on them."