In Miami some are being ignored by more than the politicians

Al’s Loupe

In Miami some are being ignored by more than the politicians

A serious (or should we say courageous?) Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce would start a campaign to lift the Cuban embargo

By Alvaro F. Fernandez

“This is potentially perhaps one of the greatest if not the greatest economic opportunity that Miami has or will have…”
              — Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Chair Bruce Jay Colan, also a partner of the law firm Holland & Knight, declares to during a weekend retreat where the chamber report, The Business Impact of a Post-Embargo Cuba, was presented.

Miami has multiple faces: Young, old and in-between — very poor, some in the middle and the very wealthy. You find them divided among the fast and hip lifestyle of South Beach; the privileged who live in multi-million dollar homes on Star and Fisher Islands, Miami Beach, Coral Gables and other areas; and also the out of luck neighborhoods typified by East Little Havana, Overtown, Liberty City and Little Haiti, to name a few. Historically, the hard luck areas, and those who live in them, are ignored, passed over (usually by massive highways), or hidden — especially from the many tourists who visit us yearly.

This past weekend the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce held its yearly public relations summit. I refer to it as public relations because if you asked me (and nobody has), most of these folks are out of touch with what’s really happening in Miami. They stage this once a year conference where goals are set, politicians show up to allow them (the Chamber crowd) a glimpse of what’s on their mind (usually vacuous BS) and then they terminate a liquor-lubricated weekend in typical circular Miami mode.

Yes, circular… and useless. Here’s an example of the results, as described in his lead paragraph by the Miami Herald’s Scott Andron: “A single sports ticket that covers all local pro teams and a master plan for education were among the ideas supported by business executives at the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s annual goal-setting conference…”

A single sports ticket?

Miami was recognized as one of the poorest large cities in the U.S. even before the economy’s downturn hit Florida harder than most of the rest of the country. In Miami-Dade, there are approximately 100,000 unemployed Miamians. As you walk on our streets, almost one out of every 10 potential working person you see — is unemployed! And these uppity SOB’s are discussing single sports tickets…

As usual, The Miami Herald, a member of that same Chamber, didn’t help much either. One of the issues discussed during the event was the Cuban embargo and its impact on Miami. Here’s how the Herald — typically cowering on the Cuba issue — described it in its headline: “Lifting Cuban embargo a trade-off for South Florida business.” Their lead story cited a Chamber report which, they claim, proclaims that “Miami’s economy would likely be hurt by a flood of highly subsidized Cuban exports…” Hidden inside that article, the Herald quotes a scaled down version of the words used by Chamber leader Bruce Jay Colan I posted above from which basically states the opposite.

Embargo a loss for Miami

Like our politicians, many members of the Miami business community (Herald included) are not known for their courage, or forward thinking for that matter. If they were — thinking forwardly and courageously, I mean — they would have been working hard at lifting the Cuban embargo a long time ago.

There are examples that solutions to our problems have been ignored for at least a decade. In 1999, Dr. J. Kenneth Lipner, a Ph.D. in economics and professor at Florida International University (FIU), conducted a study presented at the 2nd Cuban Research Institute Conference on Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. His conclusions were significant. He wrote that “the annual economic cost to the Miami economy because of the Cuban trade embargo is close to $1 billion. This figure,” he wrote, “accounts for 30,000 lost jobs at an average wage of $25,000 per year and $250 million in new capital investment in buildings related to the trade.”

This study was presented (a decade ago) and after it was read was filed — who knows where. The Miami Herald did not cover it (then) and former FIU President Modesto “Mitch” Maidique, present at this past weekend’s Chamber conference, didn’t push to give it the spotlight either. Still today, politicians and those chamber-types keep ignoring Professor Lipner.

Several months ago, when many of these same folks were trying to ram the Florida Marlins baseball stadium down our throats, which they did at taxpayer expense, Lipner, a baseball enthusiast and believer in the positive economic impact of a new stadium for Little Havana, where plans are to build the stadium, was called to testify before the Miami-Dade County Commission. After completing his testimony on behalf of the stadium proponents, Lipner shared just a tad more information with our commissioners. He informed the 13 commissioners that if what they wanted was to help re-ignite the South Florida economy… He went on to cite his 10-year-old study which he admitted needed some adjustments since there were already other parts of the country doing business with Cuba. He warned that if we waited much longer we’d be arriving late. Miami-Dade commissioners sat stone-faced and stared at him. And not a single sound was heard — from any single one of them.

The impression one gets is that most of these local leaders are shrugging their shoulders and telling us: Who cares? There’s important business to get done… like that single sports ticket.

It’s too bad that residents, who would surely benefit from 30,000 new jobs in Miami, aren’t being given the chance they deserve — and now it’s the fault of our business leaders.

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