Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was very upset this afternoon on Radio Mambi. He called Ninoska Perez-Castellon and appeared on her 3pm show today telling listeners that the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce needs to apologize to Cuban exiles in Miami.
The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce (GMCC) has a Cuba Committee that every year presents a report on trade possibilities with Cuba. Along with a report, it also conducts conferences about Cuba and related issues. Last year's report was a significant departure from earlier hard-line attitudes, and included trade possibilities with an unchanged Cuban government. Trading with Cuba they argued was "potentially perhaps one of the greatest if not the greatest economic opportunity that Miami has or will have." This year, the GMCC was planning to hold its Cuba Conference on March 16th. But, they recently had to postpone the date.
Today it seems Radio Mambi and Rep. Diaz-Balart found out about this event. Even though they were slightly satisfied that it was postponed, they found it appalling that such an event would occur at the Freedom Tower, and sponsored by Miami-Dade College. They saw the Cuba Conference as a great insult, and demanded explanations and an apology from the GMCC.
But, one of the scheduled speakers at the conference really bothered Perez-Castellon and Rep. Diaz-Balart: Martin Aragones, representing Sol Melia, the Spanish hotel chain that currently operates 24 resorts in Cuba. They see Sol Melia as an accomplice to human rights violations in Cuba.
Several other speakers were scheduled to appear at the Cuba Conference, including Florida Governor Charlie Christ, former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, and former Governor Jeb Bush. Of course, these speakers got a pass from Radio Mambi because they are likely ignorant of what the Cuba Conference is all about. Sure.
According to the GMCC website, the Cuba Conference was postponed due to "scheduling issues by key presenters" and "will be restructured and held later this year." It will be interesting to see how this conference changes in the future.
--- [Update: 3/3/10] ---
One thing that had me wondering when I first heard about this event was the reason Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was suddenly on Radio Mambi. Was this such an outrageous event that he was compelled to call his favorite AM station in Miami? Or is Radio Mambi at the beck and call to whatever is on the mind of Mario Diaz-Balart?
Rep. Diaz-Balart occasionally appears on Radio Mambi, but usually when he has lots to say, such as on U.S.-Cuba policy or other national issues. He rarely (if ever) appears for short periods to express his outrage over domestic issues in Miami.
But, I recently became aware of possible reasons this Cuba Conference was such a thorn in the side of Mario. It was so obvious.
Miami Dade College, sponsors of the GMCC Cuba Conference, depend on the Diaz-Balarts (and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen) for crucial federal grants. For years (ever since Mario Diaz-Balart was Chairman of Florida's Senate Ways and Means Committee in the mid-90s) Eduardo J. Padron, President of Miami Dade College, has depended on Mario, Lincoln and Ileana for government funds.
Just last year, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart presented Padron a $142,500 federal grant for the Kendall campus. It was only one part of federal appropriations obtained for the College, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also obtained a $95,000 grant for the Medical Center Campus. Rep. Lincoln-Diaz-Balart helped too, obtaining a total of $900,000 for both the Hialeah Campus, and the historic Freedom Tower, which Miami Dade College now owns. Of course, there have been other ways these three Florida legislators have helped Eduardo J. Padron.
So, it seems clear why Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart suddenly called Radio Mambi to voice his outrage at the Cuba Conference (sponsored by Miami Dade College). It is also no surprise why he was demanding an explanation from Eduardo J. Padron, whose name was specifically mentioned:
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart believes he has done a favor for Eduardo J. Padron, and therefore Miami Dade College should return the favor and grant him tacit allegiance to his hard-line attitude towards Cuba.
Looks like that federal grant came with baggage.
[Article on U.S.-Cuba trade possibilities]
[Tampa Chamber of Commerce cancels trip to Cuba]
[Photo above of the original title of the Cuba Conference]