Cuban Elite Losing Influence in South Florida?
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Photo: photo: Hoppe

Cuban Elite Losing Influence in South Florida?


“Y me retumba la cabulla”!

Rosendo Rosell


In pre Castro Cuba, there existed a powerful social class, that was college educated and culturally sophisticated, they made a fortune from industry, agriculture and sugar. 

They were business partners with the state of Fulgencio Batista President of Cuba, who was on his end partnered with elements of the american mafia who had settled in Cuba and made it grander and more dazzling than even Las Vegas or Atlantic City at one point, due to the casinos and nightclubs.

Their existed nouveau riche oligarchs, alongside the scions of the Spanish conquistadors and more recent arrivals during the 19th century colonial period (some Cubans still hold extant titles of nobility), these all lived in Cuba with a white conservative Cubanized european upper class and a mixed Afromestizo underclass (who later fully embraced communism) also wishing to get a larger piece of the pie.

This society, this lost world reached it’s apogee and ferment in the 1950’s. 

According to many there was no place more fabulous than the Cuba of the 1950’s, since the music, movies and literature that came out of Havana were all hits and are mostly all still classics of a lost golden age, notwithstanding many social disadvantages extant at that time.

This Lost World met it’s end on January 1st, 1959, at the hands of the so called Revolution headed by Fidel Castro Ruz.  Some would call that, this.. uprising, a great social cataclysm that compelled the aforementioned upperclass to withdraw to other shores to seek out how to make their comeback with regards to what was considered at that time a temporary aberration of a communist upstart in Havana.

One of the places that the Cubans who withdrew went to was South Florida, namely a small town called Miami.

The people who arrived in this first unwitting wave were the highly trained Doctors, lawyers, accountants, university professors, nurses, government bureaucrats and a smorgasbord of entrepreneurs that settled in the small city to plan their return.

This group came to be called El Exilio Historico, they left in 1959 and became the backbone, the foundation of the Cuban Exile community in Miami and the USA. 

There are other large branches of the Exile community: New York, New Jersey, New Orleans, Tampa as well as the ones in Europe.

Here we’ll focus on the Miami Cubans who are the most cohesive and powerful of them all.

One Group of Exiles to rule them all.

Miami was a good place to pack up to because many Cubans had millions of dollars in South Florida banks ready to go and Miami was only 100 miles away from Cuba.  A perfect springboard to launch a counter attack from.

Thanks to their money, social savviness, intellectual capital and above all support from a White House that was eager to shape this mass of men, many who had military experience due to having been part of the Cuban Armed Forces into a Cold War fighting machine.  The CIA stepped in right away and used the swamps and other remote South Florida locations to train the Exiles in military tactics and espionage.  These cold warriors traveled far and wide, their exploits becoming legendary.  These hardy men would later on be an integral part of Miami politics.

One thing we have to take into account was the unity that the early Cuban arrivals displayed.

Their ferocious unity was their bond and triumph.  They would always and forever have each others back.

While they would and did fight amongst themselves (sometimes with deadly force), they considered one another to be brothers and family.  To cross one was to cross them all to your peril since a fajazon (fight) or a sal pa’ fuera o piquete (rumble) would form.  Their sons and daughters would intermarry and a solid Cuban America would emerge in Miami.  So many Cubans gathered on SW 8th street that the area became known as Little Havana!

So due to all these elements, similar to Tony Montana, a fictional Cuban, the actual Miami Cubans alongside their Tampa cousins, achieved economic power, then naturally political influence in the State of Florida, Miami in particular which to be truthful was lightly populated, surrounded by jungles, mangroves and underutilized beaches, tourism was like now a huge draw at that juncture but due to the Cuban presence Miami became a larger more cosmopolitan, heavily populated, global city, later on to be called the Capital of the Americas.

The Miami Cubans brought in their mores and style to the town (can anyone say Cuban-time?)

The Senate seats, congressmen, mayorships, committees, councils and bureaucracies, sheriff and police departments came to be filled and dominated by Cubans and their children.   Radio stations, TV channels and print media was set up by and catered mostly to them. Alvarez Guedes and Celia Cruz were heard on the airwaves.  This dominance of the media was recognized by the Federal Government and RadioMarti was established to broadcast directly to Cuba to open up another front against Castro.  The Miami Cubans vs the Island Cubans, the war was on, by sea, land and on the airwaves, the personal vendetta between the Diaz Balarts and the Castro’s is a legendary example of this.

The Cubans dominated the construction industry, since so many kept arriving they became a force to be reckoned with and founded the Latin Builders Association, LBA as a lobbying association.

The Related Group is another outfit headed by a Cuban, his name is Jorge Perez also known as the Cuban Donald Trump, Related does Real Estate and Development, the changing skyline of Miami owes much to this Cuban Donald Trump.

It was something very common to hear in the talk radio shows of the 80’s in Miami, “transmitiendo para todos los Cubanos de Miami”. “Transmitting to all the Cubans of Miami”.

What about the Nicaraguans, Colombians, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics that inhabited the area?  The Radio station even stated that it’s official name was, LA CUBANISIMA. The hell with everybody else.

The Cubans were in charge and it was exemplified in it’s grandest and most larger than life figure Jorge Mas Canosa.

This man was the founder of an exile organization called the Cuban American National Foundation, CANF.

He was a favorite of Ronald Reagan who doted on him due to the votes and money Mas Canosa could deliver and above all his charm.

Mas Canosa was awarded government contracts and high level contacts with the Federal Government, further cementing his peoples power in Miami.

It was not a good idea to cross him since he would take affronts that he considered unfair very personally.  Once challenging a detractor to a duel and on another occasion starting a personal war with local newspaper the Miami Herald, when he said: “Yo no creo en el Herald”-“I don’t believe in the Herald”, which subsequently lost readers due to his words.  Mas had that much influence.

Mr. Mas, passed away but his CANF lives on and his sons, among them Jorge Mas Santos has founded a company called MASTEC to provide infrastructure, engineering and high tech services, it’s listed on the NY stock exchange as well.

Republican presidents George Bush to Donald Trump are highly attuned to the Miami Cubans due to the votes and campaign donations they can provide, votes and cash.  Oh yeah baby.

The Clinton’s wanted the Cuban vote and made a slight dent among some of the young but they and Obama were seen as too Commie for the the conservative exile communities taste, so they were dead in the water, tits up as far as they were concerned. The Cuban Democratic avatar Alex Penelas went down like the Titanic after the Elian Gonzalez affair and with him any real hope of Democrats making larger inroads in the Exile Community.  Obama also committed a huge offense, a sin by terminating something called Wet Foot/Dry Foot which we shall expound upon shortly.

This writer witnessed the joyous crowds of Cubans mostly at the unofficial political gathering place for the Miami Cuban exile community, Versailles restaurant on historic Calle Ocho in SW Miami.  There the patrons of the business waved Cuban and American flags, they emotionally embraced while also clutching signs of the TRUMP PENCE ticket around.

President elect Donald Trump subsequently returned the favor of this faithful voting block and shut down the burgeoning relations between Cuba and the USA that had been initiated by Trumps predecessor, Obama.

The Exile community has held sway in an undisputed manner for years.  Yet slowly this is beginning to change.

The most significant step in this writers opinion was Obama deciding to do away with the Wet Foot/Dry foot policy set up by ex-president Bill Clinton.

This rule allowed any Cuban that put even one pinky toe on USA soil to be open for admission into the country as political refugees, essentially no questions asked and social assistance and aid, a work permit, permanent resident card then citizenship to be provided in a short period of time, almost VIP service.  The other group of migrants in Miami were not amused, others demurred if ya can’t beat ‘em join ‘em and promptly attempted to marry a Cuban to be able to obtain the prize of U.S. citizenship.

Since Obama decreed that Wet Foot/Dry Foot is no longer in place, the huge masses of Cubans that used to arrive on the shores of South Florida has dwindled.  A great Marielito and Balsero massive Cuban migrant arrival will not happen like before causing the prior social upheaval seen in Miami.  It’s also perhaps a vindictive measure on the hands of Democrats since they saw that Cubans continued voting Republican even after being in the USA and most attempts by Democrats to lull them over to their side failed.

So despite the Cubans massive size currently 1.7 million strong, they might find that their predominance inexorably is being chipped away at.

The challengers have been many:

When the Cubans arrived they formed alliances with the traditional White Southerners who had come during the frontier days fighting against the indians and Northern transplants that had migrated later to Miami after World War 2, they allowed the White Americans to join them, yet remained highly distinct. 

The African Americans who had been in Miami for generations were emerging as a political force due to the Civil Rights era and were poised to push for even greater social gains, like in Baltimore and Detroit.  Yet the sudden arrival of the Cubans blunted the power of their boycotts and protests since the White Miami power structure could hire Cubans for a lower price and still discriminate against blacks, since Cubans would return to their neighborhoods and were too busy making money and they thought above all they were going to back Cuba anyway so they weren’t concerned about Civil Rights at that current time, so the African American challenge was also overcome.  The two communities lived mostly with their backs to one another.  The African Americans feeling that the Cubans had cheated them of their new opportunities after decades in their struggle and the Cubans feeling confirmed in their God given right of their causes superiority, since they felt they were an immigrant community that worked hard to get to where they were at and didn’t really need to share anything since they also believed their struggle against Godless communism was more special.  Yet they paid a price latter when they snubbed Mandela which somewhat ended their open disdain of the AA community that ironically decades later set up a boycott and that hurt Miami now controlled by Cubans who then offered a heartfelt apology.  Things have balanced out with the Exilio still holding the better part of any bargain, but more respect exists.

Their have been prior attempts by other migrant communities to intrude into this lair of Cubanismo.

The Colombians reared their head in the 1980’s and challenged the Cuban mafia with regard to the Drug running business, that in one way or another had been in existence for some time.  The legendary conflict was messy and nasty, yet the Cubans with their government contacts, media connections and allies in the police made short work of the boys from South America and millions were made, MILLIONS by the Cubans.

The Mexicans tried it in the 1990’s yet they made little headway since the Cubans were at the height of their power and influence.  The penetration was checked because since Cubans are all legal migrants, (political refugees in fact) and exceedingly well positioned they will not tolerate the large illegal Mexican influence that will hurt their jobs and standing in the community.  Mexico is also a semi-commie country that has always backed Castro and that was also not going to fly with the conservative Exile Community, no way Pepe.

So if Mexicans became too numerous it would also give the Democrats a voting block that would challenge the Republican stronghold in South Florida. 

Nevertheless many Mexicans did come to Miami and entered the social fabric of the city, they are numerous in the southern areas of the county yet despite being heavily represented in Telenovelas and other broadcast mediums, they’re impact is nowhere near as big as Cubans.  Mexicans can have L.A., Miami for now is still proudly Cuban.

There is a strong Nicaraguan community, a sizable Puerto Rican and Dominican community but none with the sheer power of the Cuban Community, aside from the Venezuelans who we will discuss below.

Another thing that has hurt Cubans in holding sway, is time. 

Yes, many of their most militant and vociferous members are slowly dying of advanced age. 

The typical member of el Exilio Historico is 80!

Gone are the days when Cubans would flood Biscayne Blvd and stop traffic because they were offended because Veronica Castro from Mexico went to sing in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. 

Or a spontaneous protest would form because a Pro-Castro Music group would fly in to perform, like when Los Van Van came to Miami and the Cuban Community rocked the town to a standstill.

Or if they sensed any normalization with Castro’s Cuba was imminent.

The abuelitos would vote, call the radio shows and bend the will of the politicos.

To go against them meant your doom.

The “viejito generation” which I myself am sorry to see go was the center of a gloriously passionate and unbridled Exile community who took no prisoners and kicked butt.

Excesses occurred such as veritable terrorist bombings of opponents cars and other types of aggression that would Al-Qaeda gasp took place. 

Emilio Emilian a Cuban radio broadcaster had his legs blown off in one of those moments of excess.

Groups like Brigada 2506 most definitely not a terrorist group that fought with bravery and honor on the shores of their homeland against the liberal extremist terrorist Fidel Castro have a beautiful memorial dedicated to them on the aforementioned Calle 8.  This glorious group of freedom fighters might as per rumors have had for example some members go astray and carry out attacks.

Yet members of this same group could quote the most beautiful poetry of the time of Cervantes, intone a spanish guitar or make a mean cuban coffee, good fathers, brothers and friends. 

So with their passing many of their children's zeal in being hardcore anti-Communists is just not as hardcore, the fire no longer burns as bright.  Yet it still burns and that torch is being carried by many in the new generation.

The struggle keeps the community focused and united.

Culturally the Cuban influence is also strong.

They still dominate the talk radio stations and the Cuban Spanish accent even among non-Cubans is still the prestige or default accent amongst many that have grown up around Cubans or in Miami.

However the reasons why Cubans face a new challenge to their undisputed titles as masters of the destiny of South Florida are many.

Amongst them:

  1.  The large and near never ending refugee crisis from poor Venezuela.  The Venezuelan community started as a trickle and in many ways was similar to the Cuban pattern, now becoming a flood.  A group of citizens from that country arrived temporarily and then established a beachhead. This beached was composed of millionaires, also with a college educated vanguard ready to invest and reach the American Dream.  In this quest they have established The City of Doral as their local stronghold much like the City of Miami and Hialeah are there for the Cubans.  The Venezuelans due to their negative and quite unhealthy experience with Socialism might not be very conducive to voting Democrat and thereby also challenging the hold Cubans have with the Republicans, this is evidenced by Senator Marco Rubio who has emerged as their champion with regards to giving them a voice at the federal level against the authoritarian liberal Maduro regime in Venezuela. This is an artful play since Rubio as a Cuban still keeps it in the familia and co-opts the ever growing Venezuelan vote. 

  2. The Venezuelans have set up TV shows, businesses and other enterprises that give them power, now they are poised to seize political influence. So while not at parity the Venezuelans could pose either a formidable threat the Cubans in the future or one of their greatest allies. 

  3. While not as great and not as influential, Hurricane Maria has recently brought in many Puerto Rican migrants.  The Puerto Ricans also called Boricuas are possible Democrats and that could perhaps diminish the Exiles strength at the voting booth, this remains to be seen though, since Puerto Ricans have never reached the potential Cubans have. 

  4. The final reason that might erode Cuban influence is the building boom in Miami.  This has brought about a new heavy migration, not one from any single group but of people from all over the world and domestically from within the USA.  This new vast group will swamp Miami in every conceivable way.  These include Europeans from France, Belgium and Spain.  White non-Hispanics from northern states seeking the South Florida lifestyle.  Also many latin americans have been reaching Miami and they are in some way resentful Cubans have achieved what they have not and could combine with the aforementioned groups to challenge the Exile community, since these individuals will also wish access the government bureaucracies, set up businesses and participate in all facets of local life if they feel the Exile community is in their way.

So once again while the Cuban Exile community is no longer as omnipotent as before, they are still a force to be reckoned with and the current generation will not give up power and influence easily, nor should they have to since much of what is Miami today is due to them and their forefathers.

However a newer Miami is being built bit by bit by new players, David Beckham among them.

These new actors will not be beholden to the old and will instead tread a new path.

I don’t see a confrontation likely since everyone wants to get rich in this New Miami and right now their is plenty of money going around. 

The Cuban community doesn’t need to fear ceding some of it’s monopoly of power.  Evidence of this is Marco Rubio who is sharing it with the Venezuelan community who will most likely be the second largest community in Miami with true economic, cultural and political power. 

If the economy hits a wall any reaction is possible of course, yet at the time of this writing said economy is on fire.


What could likely happen is that with time a merging of the many communities into something new will appear.

There will always be a Cuban community and they will probably be the leaders. . 

Yet the phenomenon of the Exilio Historico with it’s iron will and near stoic determination will have passed. 

Their children and grandchildren are now firmly in control, Xavier Suarez was the first Cuban Mayor of Miami, his son Francis is now the current Mayor of Miami, a true passing of the guard. 

So with this in mind will they, the heirs of the exiles, be able to hold on to it?

They are in strong position to take on any challenger.

We’ll have to wait and see how it all turns out since Miami is approaching a new age.

The investments, expansions and new arrivals are changing all the rules. 

Dead areas of the city are now coming back to life.

Crime filled areas are safe to walk through by everyone.

Blight and eyesore are being eradicated.

A new train called Brightline has been unveiled.

The city and county are now more liberal and more open.

Definitely a change in the once conservative stronghold.

As Bob Dylan said: “Times they are a changing” and echoing that cuban singer Willy Chirino himself sang: “Ya viene llegando”.

So if you ever meet an old time Miami resident who used to listen to AM Spanish language radio, feel free to test their knowledge and throw them the quote from the great Cuban actor, Rosendo Rosell: “Oye, te quiero y me quedo corto.  Pero si me quedo corto pa’ que te quiero?"

Author: Fernando Antonio Martinez Arauxo , Manuel Miranda