I have been involved in the Miami-Dade community for 40 years and, during this time, I have watched and supported most of the work done by the Miami-Dade County government. However, with all due respect, I must express my total dismay at the way the administration has been handling the massive development known as Airport City.
In February 2013, José Abreu, who was then the Miami International Airport director, revealed in his last annual State of the Ports speech before retiring what he thought would be his legacy to county: Airport City, developed by Odebrecht U.S.A.
This project, occupying 33 acres of county-owned land, had been more than five years in the making and is designed to bring 5,000 to 7,000 construction jobs and more than 10,000 permanent jobs.
Odebrecht committed to financing this $512 million project over 50 years, bringing the county more than $780 million in operating revenues. That translates into a lot of money over a long period of time for the county.
I spoke to several black contractors who were elated that here was a great opportunity for them and other small black and Hispanic businesses. But, now, a year later, the county has done a 180-degree turn and these small businesses are still waiting as they see this remarkable opportunity fade. Their cupboards are bare while the commission which voted for Odebrecht plays politics with their lives.
One small business owner told me that he had to console a wife whose husband was contemplating suicide because he had placed his hopes on his potential subcontract on the Airport City development to take him out of debt. That was a Cuban family, not one from the black community which is suffering from a high crime and murder rate which some say is caused by a 50-plus percent unemployment rate for its men.
The county is using the Cuba Ordinance – which prohibits doing business with Cuba or entities linked to Cuba – to undiplomatically renege on its contract with Odebrecht, even tough the courts have enjoined Miami-Dade from implementing it. County Commissioner Esteban Bovo Jr. sent a scathing letter to Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, as well as to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Department of Homeland Security, suggesting a close relationship between Odebrecht U.S.A. and the Cuba government while ignoring the fact that Bouygues, developer of the $1 billion PortMiami tunnel, is reported to be one of the biggest developers in Cuba.
To add insult to injury, Commissioner Javier Souto has indicated that Odebrecht, a Brazilian subsidiary based in Coral Gables, was disrespectful to Cubans, who pay “most of the taxes here,” and therefore should not have its contract honored.
It seems Souto has forgotten that then Congresswoman Carrie Meek, and other members of the black community joined forces with Cubans, both Democrats and Republicans, which made Cubans the majority on the very commission on which he now sits.
And, according to my sources, there’s a back story on the county’s flip-flop concerning a Cuban developer.
We all know that not only was Odebrecht selected for Airport City according to all the rules and regulations set up by the county but also by what it brought to Miami-Dade. Odebrecht has been the chief contractor at MIA for years, having to rescue the county on giant projects such as the massive North Terminal Expansion. Also, in 2009 Odebrecht was awarded a $360 million contract by unanimous vote of this same commission.
The bottom line is that the mayor, commission and administration need to stop playing racial politics and honor Odebrecht’s contract so these small business owners can get to work. Anything else is unacceptable.
Barbara Howard is a political consultant, radio host and commentator and motivational speaker. She is Florida State chairwoman for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and Trade & Travel goodwill ambassador to Kenya. She may be reached at email@example.com