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Miami Democracy Keeps Setting An Embarrassing Example For...Cuban Democracy

An image of Miami city commissioner Joe Carollo
Carl Juste
Miami Herald
EVOKING THE M-WORD? Cuban-American Miami City Commissioner Joe Carollo holding forth against new Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo during a special commission meeting on Monday.

COMMENTARY This week's Miami City Commission spectacle is another reminder why Cuban-run Miami is rarely a democratic showcase for communist-run Cuba.

This week we got another reminder of why democracy in Miami keeps failing as a model for democracy in Cuba. It was another shameful performance by the Miami City Commission — which, sadly, has given folks a bigger temptation to hurl the derogatory term "mafia" that helped prompt the spectacle.

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Most of us have been guilty of flippantly using “mafia” to describe the alpha cohort of any ethnic community, especially if said community is said to be running the show in our city. The “Irish mafia” in Chicago, for example — or the “Cuban mafia” in Miami, as new police chief Art Acevedo recently tagged the bloc that's generally thought to run the Magic City show.

Acevedo, himself a Cuban exile (escaped to Miami but was raised in California) has apologized for saying it — as he should have. The expression, especially when slung by a top public official, is admittedly more harmful than humorous.

But what’s flabbergasting is that Miami’s majority Cuban-American city commissioners, led by Joe Carollo, would then go out of their way during Monday’s special meeting to attack Acevedo with the sort of erratic, thuggish behavior that regrettably evokes street epithets like…“mafia.” Or worse, that makes the ghost of Fidel Castro — who liked to call his exile enemies in Miami a “mafia” — grin like Che Guevara puffing a Cohiba.

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Carollo (his nickname is “Crazy Joe”) and fellow commission cubanos apparently don’t like Acevedo’s attempts to reform a Miami police department that until this year had been under federal oversight due to the deadly shootings of Black suspects. So they used Acevedo’s “mafia” comment to leverage a bizarre inquest whose sole gutter purpose turned out to be humiliating the chief and then beating their chests.

The lowlight, of course, was Carollo’s embarrassing, interminable showing of a video of Acevedo once doing an Elvis impersonation for charity. Crazy Joe kept pointing to Acevedo’s tight pants, insisting they focused attention on his, um, huevos in a way Carollo cried should scandalize every Miamian.

Many Cubans probably heard about this week’s Miami vergüenza — and they're wondering: is that the kind of civics we want, what we’re risking our lives marching on the streets here in Cuba for?

Miami was instead scandalized by its commission — and likely will be on Friday when Carollo and company gather again to assail Acevedo.

But there’s a problem beyond Miami to all this, and there has been ever since politicos like Carollo started running the show here three or four decades ago.


Declaring their bully antics divinely permissible — because anything is permissible for Cuban exile leaders engaged in the struggle against Cuban communism — they’ve time and again set Miami back as an example to Cubans in Cuba of how democracy functions.

A prime example was the 2000 Elián González debacle. Miami’s then mayor — gosh, hermanos, it was Joe Carollo! — turned Miami into The Laughingstock In The Everglades by firing his city manager for refusing to fire the city’s police chief for refusing to prevent federal agents from plucking 6-year-old Elián from his Miami relatives and reuniting him with his Cuban father — the boy’s only living parent.

Federal agents seizing 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives in 2000 to reunite him with his Cuban father.
Alan Diaz
Federal agents seizing 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives in 2000 to reunite him with his Cuban father.

The people running Miami’s show at the time were flouting international law — an unsightly exhibition that wasn’t lost on Cubans I interviewed on the island in the episode’s aftermath. All they knew was the Miami fiasco had, absurdly, made their communist dictator Fidel look like a human rights-promoting, rule-of-law-following hombre by comparison.

Ditto the fierce effort here to keep the late Cuban exile militant Luis Posada Carriles — whom the FBI considered a terrorist — from ever facing trial.

And all of that occurred before Cubans were wired to social media — and to U.S. and Miami media. Many today have confirmed to me they’re aware of even more of Miami’s Cuban-run show, most recently a suggestion from Bitcoin-breathing Mayor Francis Suarez that the U.S. should bomb Cuba in support of this summer’s unprecedented anti-government protests. Every anti-regime Cuban I’ve spoken with there calls that unhinged — and a darkly confusing signal about the developed democracy they’re bravely aspiring to.

No doubt many have also heard about this week’s Miami City Commission vergüenza. And many have got to be wondering: is that the kind of civics we’re demanding, what we’re risking our lives marching on Cuba's streets for?

It’s not. But maybe someday, when Cubans run their own democracy, they’ll set an example for Miami that doesn’t elicit the m-word.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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