Thursday, February 6, 2014

It's Just Business

I came across this article discussing the possibility of a deep fracture in the South Florida Cuban community that may see practical business interests overcome outmoded sentimental political interests to end the Cuban Embargo. The monied interests if mid western agricultural export imperatives have failed do far to open new markets in Cuba, but perhaps this drive by a Cuban sugar mogul may be the force that ends the embargo. Recently a group of wealthy Key West types took the first charter flight across the straits of Florida in a private plane. Perhaps if the one percent start to feel the embargo is irksome it may be blown away at last by the magic power of wealth and influence. By whatever means..!

The Scramble for Cuba

by ALAN FARAGO, cross posted from CounterPunch



Consider it done: in the United States, the figurative hurricane barriers against access to Cuba are opening. Given they have been clamped shut for half a century, there is a lag time between turning the screws and actuating the gates. Put it this way: the lubrication is done.On Monday, the conservative Capitol Hill Cubans blog hoisted a warning as the Washington Post published, “Sugar Tycoon Eyes Sweet-Deal With Castro”. Pay attention wherever Big Sugar surfaces. Cafecito is not the currency of the realm in Florida: sugar is. And not just Florida. Half of American health care costs are tied to the ill effects of sucrose in its various forms.In June 2012 the blog, EYE ON MIAMI noted the first visit of Alfie Fanjul in Havana. Alfie is one half of the Florida Crystals family, the billion dollar brand that dominates anything related to land use, water management, agricultural subsidies and pollution control in the Florida legislature, Congress, and the White House.

It was more than a curiosity to learn that by 2012 wealthy Cuban Americans had publicly crossed the Florida Straits, risking the antagonism of the right wing message machine in Miami.That message machine — embodied by vitriolic anti-Castro, Spanish language AM radio – routinely enforced political orthodoxy in Florida’s most politically influential county, Miami-Dade. Instructions came from the top down, and at the top: money from Big Sugar. The booming shrink wrapped luggage and long lines of passengers en route from Miami to Havana defied the stigma of the embargo. In other words, a brisk business between Miami Cubans and families on the island had already started beneath the AM language rants. Notwithstanding old hard liners banging war drums, by 2012 the gold rush was gearing up and by the presence of at least one Fanjul brother — Alfie — in Havana, political cards were being played.Political observers who dismiss the importance of recent Fanjul statements to the Washington Post are missing the point. The Post offers Alfie Fanjul’s version of himself: teary-eyed, standing before the family mansion in Havana. Maybe there was a tear or two.

Capitol Hill Cubans allude to the fact that the Fanjuls’ wealth grew from the largesse of American taxpayers and through the sheer political skill involved in maintaining the subsidies that have earned hundreds of millions of dollars. Moreover, I would add, a billionaire fortune built on immigrant farm labor, pollution, and turning the Everglades, the Florida legislature, and Congress into their own VIP rooms. That’s not, however, the direction Capitol Hill Cubans want to explore.“Monopolists understand each other”, they write. More to the point, conservative Cuban leaders tolerated the Fanjul monopolists extraordinarily well so long as the action was shared. One of the first business lines of Jorge Mas Canosa, founder of the right wing Cuban American National Foundation, was to broker farm equipment to the sugar barons.The current leader of the foundation, Pepe Hernandez, told the Washington Post, “Having known Alfie for 40 years, I think we can trust him to do the right thing.”

Now, the Capitol Hill Cubans spy the fault line breaking at the possible campaign of Hillary Clinton, where the Democrat side of the Fanjul clan, Alfie’s, resides. But that’s not it at all.The issue prying the remaining hard liners in Miami from the Fanjuls is that the Fanjuls will not wait while billions in business opportunities are being hammered out between the Cuban government and wealthy South Americans and European competitors. It’s not ideology that kept the Fanjuls from Cuba, it’s the fear of losing money now that there is money to be made.Leaving the issue of the Castro regime to the side, the question is not when will the regime come to a close, but …when will the money spigot open?It is open, now. The sign is not yet above the model unit, beckoning buyers, but insiders have already done their walk-thrus before the public is admitted.

For an aging and dying generation of Cuban Americans, the enduring hope was for retribution and a swift execution of justice in Havana. Miami Cuban Americans would lead the charge. Instead of forcing change in Havana, anti-Castro hatreds primarily succeeded in mobilizing voting blocks in South Florida, ensuring a conservative GOP majority in the state legislature and a Congress that marched to the same syncopated downbeat as the upbeat in Havana. Meanwhile, a lot of money was made by Miami Cuban Americans controlling the levers of politics, of growth and development of suburbs and condo canyons, of privatization of government services and charter schools, while the Castros held on in Havana.

Today, the Castro brothers are fading faster than the conservative Cuban American lock on Miami politics. The Fanjuls, on the other hand, with their “30,000 foot view” do understand that history is moving.So what the Fanjuls do, matters. The Washington Post story is like the wisp of smoke emerging from the Vatican chimney when the cardinals have made their decision on the next Pope.Put another way: there is money and then there is real money. The very rich, like the sugar barons, are — as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in another context — “not like you and me.” The Fanjuls have excelled at manipulating governments in service of sugar profits in the United States. In the Everglades, they deploy the best black hats that money to delay Everglades restoration while tens of billions of taxpayer dollars are spent in work-arounds of lands in sugar production that need to be returned to fix the Everglades.

There are always ways to make money from economic barriers. But when those hurdles are defeating profits — the way opposition to Castro in Miami is, today — the hurdles have to fall. It’s just business.Here is what Capitol Hill Cubans will not write. For so many of the Miami Cuban American elite, the signal of the Fanjuls turning to Cuba is a shift as great as the state department declaring the cessation of hostilities and the return of the embassy to Havana.What the Capitol Hill Cubans can’t ask and can’t answer, how big is the piece of the pie going to be for Miami Cuban American businessmen? That’s always been the question they wanted to know. (I learned this in the 1990s, leading the battle against the conversion of a military base in South Florida bordering two national parks into a privatized commercial airport for the benefit of powerful Cuban American businessmen. They said it was for a “reliever airport” to Miami International. No, it was for a private and exclusive cargo airport to control the resupply of Cuba once the regime changed.)

For decades, Miami Cubans claimed to want the whole of Cuba, for “freedom and democracy”, knowing that they probably have to settle for less. But how much less? As the years ground on, with Mas Canosa gone and Fidel enfeebled, business interests from other parts of the world have gained traction. The port work, the infrastructure, the city center: the shovels are turning in Havana.The Miami vise-grip of Cuban Americans on the “embargo” against Cuba is the theoretical analog of the decrepit, old fleet of 1955 Chevy sedans, held together with the same tenacity in Cuba. That fleet is being replaced on the streets of Havana with Toyotas, KIA, and Fiat, the same way as they have in Rangoon. Or Yangon. Whatever.The Washington Post story and the instant reaction from the Capitol Hill Cubans couldn’t be more clear. The Fanjuls want their piece of the action. The game in Havana is on. Let the scrambling of lesser mortals, begin.

Alan Farago is president of Friends of the Everglades and can be reached at


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Postcards From Bahia Honda

"Let's take Cheyenne for a walk at Bahia Honda!" my wife said. So we did.

The rangers at Bahia Honda don't like dogs. The park is well known for its beaches and dogs are FORBIDDEN on the beaches. Therefore when you and your wife drive in and pay your nine bucks for access to a slice of sandy heaven with Cheyenne on the back seat, the uniformed guardians of state park heaven who are required to let the dog in usually give you the third degree about no dogs on beaches. I preempted that speech by telling the uniform I needed no site map and the other bumf they toss in the car.

In a state filled with extraordinary strands the Keys fall short. There is no other way to put it. Beaches in the Keys are generally miserable affairs and some tourists are offended by their size and general lack of sand. If you want a world class beach fronted by still water check out southwest Florida. It you want modest wave action check out the east coast. If you want crystal clear water fronting a narrow strip of sand check out Bahia Honda.

We took Cheyenne up the old Flagler railroad bridge for the views and the hill climb...lovely views of course!

That's the Overseas Highway four lane bridge built in 1982:

This is the old 1912 railroad bridge converted to road use in 1938 and now left to crumble:

Seventy two degree water is too cold for us, but not for visitors:


Absurdly lovely. We sat and read our books and were glad we were here.

Key West Diary: Bahia Honda Beach

Key West Diary: Bahia Honda Images


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Things We Like

I love winters in Key West. It's nothing to do with what's happening elsewhere in the country, which this winter seems to have suffocated under an extraordinary blanket of snow and ice. My pleasure lies in what I see here, day after day. Driving Cheyenne into Key West of a morning, South Roosevelt Boulevard:

It's not like I ever lived in a freezing cold state. California in winter was too cold for me, and foggy coastal summers weren't that great either actually. Yet I knew tons of people who had emigrated from various mysterious places that got covered in snow in winter. It sounded miserable and they were delighted to be in cold damp frosty Santa Cruz. Around here a day or two of clouds, wind and sudden rain is followed by a gradual but determined return to normal, which is eighty daytime degrees and sunshine.

California lives through an appalling drought and our unusually wet winter is recharging the aquifers. Strolling Key West of a February morning is cool and fresh, and when summer comes and the tourists are fewer it will be hot and sticky.

Above we see a classic conch cottage while below a modern structure next door tries to imitate some of the architectural features in a building far too large to be a conch anything.

In Key West if you drink too much and pass out on the lawn in midwinter you won't get hypothermia or freeze to death. You will simply wake up with a headache. This is a very forgiving town, much of the time.

My dog on her walk doesn't care about the beauty of the foliage, the blue sky or the rising sun. She is looking for what interests her, which works for me as her rooting around gives me time to drink in the beauty of a warm colorful winter day.

I overhear people standing around talking about the weather "back home." This is my home weather and I like it. All year long.

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Tale Of Two Choices

It is tourist season they tell us in Key West and the streets are filled with the carefree. This year I find myself wondering where they come from and where they go to when they go home, and what do they think when they get there. Was it worthwhile? Did we do a good job of making their winter break memorable? Did they find within what they looked for in the Keys? And then what if we did...what if we did such a good job that they think this really is paradise, the place they want to live, not just vacation

I got a disturbing call this week and it forced me to look within and I wonder how it us that I live here when others don't. I do not think I am alone in believing we are living life on a knife edge as we launch ourselves into the 21st century, a time of turmoil and uncertainty and in many cases, scarcity. We all know these are not the 1970s, a time of abundance and certainty and revolution too, hippies and protestors who waved clenched fists at the people in charge, certain that when the time to protest was over the time to work, to sow future wealth, would be ready and waiting to embrace the former protestors. Nowadays we live in uncertainty, unemployment, social isolation and obedience. Our leaders tell us that to protest the ordained order is to be a Nazi, to demand more from our bosses is to be a Facist. When a billionaire compares himself to a persecuted minority and we do not ties up and deride him en masse we can safely say we are cowed.

I love history, it explains the present and hints at the future. History is also complete, there are no surprises or uncertainties. We can study Pearl Harbor in the sure and certain knowledge that the sneak attack is not the prelude to disaster but the beginning of a drive to ultimate military victory. Read about the Great Depression and know that no matter how times may have been in 1935, milk and honey would flow in abundance fifteen years later. At least for the survivors of all those explosions that separated the decade if poverty from the decades of abundance after the war that killed fifty million people. History is certain, history is written, immutable, a world where consequence follows action in a straight clearly understandable line.

Today we are of course living tomorrow's history and our actions today will lead to consequences tomorrow that will one day seem linear and obvious. Yet right now the consequences of our choices today are mere speculation, filled with possibilities, yes, but also with rife with failure. They say the process of shiny is one if accumulating regrets, and I am sliding into old age as I wonder at the choices of my younger life. And yet things could have gone worse. I am grateful to KeyWest, a city that stepped into my life, that declared itself ready to accept me after decades of flirting with a relationship and has given me a refuge in a world filled with uncertainty. My wife and I have jobs we like, with pensions promised just at that moment when our working lives are starting to wind down after two working lives in jobs that offered no retirement. How is it possible we found our retirement home in a town whose image promoted far and wide is a place of mindless, foolish hedonism?

The telephone call from a blog reader whose life dedicated to a place filled with winter, high costs, rich people playing, jobs lost, angry relatives all combined to present an uncertain future. Joblessness is at the heart of it all, the sense of not bring wanted or needed, the loss of the true value of one's labor, one's place in the world. We meet, we talk, we learn about each other and the first question, as we size each other up is: "What of you do?" And what if the answer is nothing? It's the fundamental explanation of our lives. It justifies us and gives us our place in the world and when the answer is "nothing" the void is until label. It's enough to make you dream of pulling up your toots, leaving your friends your history and your familar places and sent you spiraling south to escape the ice on the roads and the ice in your heart. And yet in an hour on the phone I fought to put the emigrant off. Why? I am fearful, I know how unshakeable is the rejectionist front in the Florida Keys. Our unemployed skilled Northerner dreams of holding a simple job, bringing useful industrial skills to our small southern community, fishing and watching winter sunsets in shirtsleeves. Why not? Because the rot of unemployment, of off shooting of jobs, of the fear and navel gazing of our self absorbed leaders has penetrated One Human Family. Secure jobs are at a premium and to come from outside is to ask local people to trust that you will stay, even when you discover low pay, long hours, not much time to fish, office politics and no interest in building your career aspirations. Resentment builds, paradise is found not to be and home looks like the dream deferred as the ice melts and the trees bud and the honey bees come back yo the lost hedgerows of the emigrant's youth.

I have been observing this process first hand of another blog reader who came to Key West with her fiancé for years enjoying the bars and the winter sun and the crowded optimism of America's Southernmost Town in the years before 2008 when wealth inequality and the powerlessness of the middle class were made brutally apparent to anyone who cared to look. She and he bought a house, using the wealth of their northern, unionized pension plans to buy an excessively expensive home in a union free town with not many opportunities. Her job did not pan out and on his alone they cannot live. This story is not history, yet, and it's ending cannot be foretold. But it does not look happy to me. I can say this, Key West in some manner rejects people and in some manner she did not tie herself to the fortunes of her adopted town, a place where strong prejudices and loud beliefs are not easy easily digested. Sitting on a barstool being loud and doctrinaire making "friends" is one thing but telling anyone who will listen how their lives would be better if they did things your way at work... That is a hard thing to sell in a town where we all are grateful for the acceptance our quirks have received at the hands of our neighbors. Yeah, our way may not be the most efficient, it may very well not be the way you did it Up North, but that's okay, our bosses like it that way and we know they are the puppeteers of our daily lives. Key West is very feudal town for incomers: know your place, be loyal, don't rock the boat and know your place, take orders, know your place. It's the price of a footstool at foot of the dinner table in paradise. I pay it willingly because I have lived a life and know when I am well off. The foot stool suits me.

A young colleague of mine was pondering one day about buying a house. She looked me, I demurred. She sees a future married one day to the man she lives with, she sees children in the picture, the whole American catastrophe. They already have a dog, bought not adopted, but her heart is in the right place. I didn't know what to say. Buy a house with a man you think you know? She's done that once already and had the devil's own job leaving the house to her former boyfriend and his ambitious family. Buying a house is the dream, no one can tell you what to do etc...we know the refrain. The problem with house buying here is that prices are high and the commitment is thirty years in a community famous for impermanence. Divorce, separation, a move, all will end up requiring that house to be sold. Does that possibility mean it's not worth trying to settle down now? She'll know the right answer a few years hence...

Another friend married almost thirty years raised three children in the family home but now she is pondering a future without him, they've grown apart and so forth. So was it worth it? Undoubtedly I'm sure she would say as those children raised in these islands go out into the world and make their own successful way. She spent her whole adult life living and working in the Keys, where they built their own home and a life. It's the dream, lived. That the storyline takes a different turn doesn't invalidate what came before. It takes adaptation to keep going.

People who observe me from the outside believe me to be impulsive, but I am a planner. Faced with a choice I ask myself what's the worst thing that could happen? If the worst outcome is too much to bear I know my choice. At the same time if I have a deepseated desire to do something I plan my way towards that goal. If you want to live here and have the opportunity should you not take it? On the other hand burning bridges at home to launch yourself on an experiment in sub-tropical living is not too wise, in my cautious opinion. Key West's image of itself doesn't lend itself to the way life is supposed to be lived, get a career, get married, buy a home and have kids. Yet people do it all the time, in defiance of the image, the bars, the temporary nature of a society in transition. Incomers bring their baggage, their desire for escape from the burden of expectations, and they expect to find freedom from convention.

Freedom comes from within and it's a hard task master. No one loves pioneers, no one trusts travelers who come and go and don't put down roots. Later, after time passes society reveres its founders, the awkward members of society who figured it was better to cross a desert or an ocean and risk dying rather than stay in town and do as expected. Blessed are the settled for they shall prosper in situ, and not suffer the uncertainties of change. I have wondered how it is to live in Alaska, a place of extremes, of cold, of darkness, a place where people live normal lives despite the natural extremes around them. Yet that curiosity has never driven me hard enough to do anything about it. It's an idle curiosity and I dare say at this point it will never be fulfilled. And one could argue I am the worse for my curiosity unfulfilled, but I feel okay. I like living in the heat, taking on the same daily tasks in a world of palms and mangroves, not so different from granite and pine trees, or saguaro and thorn bushes, madrone and eucalyptus.

So what's the choice? Me, I'm cautious and I suspect that my mobility over the decades has been enabled by an economy cruising along, cheap energy fueling mobility with work on tap in any town. I balanced no career with a choice to have no children, so all I needed was a job from here to there. Today it's not so easy to show up new in town and find a job with millions unemployed everywhere. You stay put to keep what you have. So is there a choice? I have no idea. I'll tell you in a few years, or decades, when this history is written.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A New Marina

Last weekend they had a grand opening at a new Marina on Stock Island. Cheyenne's sudden illness prevented us going with friends on Saturday but we went Sunday afternoon after we went yo see a matinee of Gravity, an astonishing 3D movie showing at the Tropic Cinema. The movie was well worth it, the Marina less so.

The new Stock Island Village Marina had a grand opening last week with flyers everywhere exuding enthusiasm for a wonderful new nautical community that is coming into being on a Shrimp Road. By the time we got there Sunday afternoon the festivities were packing up and the Marina seemed yo be fully functional already.

Not all slips are filled but quite a few are. Stock Island Marina Village sells itself as cool hip and youthful.

It has floating docks and all manner of amenities, a dog walk, a gym (closed to the public on the grand opening) stores, tons of parking picnic tables and so forth. All that a modern marina resident might want except perhaps a swimming pool?

Stock Island Marina Village | Key West & Florida Keys Deep Water Marina is a place where everyone knows your name which doesn't seem like much of a thing to someone like me who likes his privacy...

I suppose it can only be a good thing to see more recreational slips opening up especially as this Marina is interested in liveaboards and visitors but I am surprised they see a large enough market to support yet another facility on. Stock Island. All to the good I suppose!


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Vandals On Big Pine

It was just another glorious winter morning in the Big Pine key wilderness of the Key Deer Refuge.
The new full color signs are a welcome improvement in my opinion as they highlight what to see along the Jack Watson Trail. A controlled burn got out of control and crisped a hundred actress of scrub including some near the trail and as a result the rangers out in new more informative signs. Key West Diary: Burnt Pine
I really like the trail, a circular meander that takes less than an hour on a nicely manicured gravel path. Which was not very well manicured last week.
Instead bushes and trees were toppled and the trail was gouged. I could hardly believe my eyes...
...but the tire tracks were clear as was the presence of empty beer bottles and this peculiar item of clothing:
The hat not the shoes I mean. I doubt any real Rotarians would come out in their ATVs and deface a footpath in an act of deliberate drunken stupidity and disrespect.
I really like this trail, it's an easy walk, it's peaceful, and it's usually empty. Cheyenne only likes to walk it in winter when it's cool but I guess winter is also the season when the idiots come out.
Tearing up the trail just isn't cool.
And leaving tire tracks sucks. I clean up after my dog and take only pictures.
What's wrong with these people?

I hope the rangers won't go ballistic when they see what's been done to their beautifully refurbished trail. I wouldn't blame them for closing it for a while just to give the assholes time to go home where they can plot to wreck their own pine barrens thank you. I hope we can pretend nothing happened and keep on going. At least none of the new signs were damaged. And the Key Deer are still there:
Cheyenne was resting comfortably and as usual didn't notice lunch on the hoof tip toeing by. Vandals or not the Jack Watson Trail is a great place to go for a stroll of a winter's morning.