The Cubanization of Xavier Suarez

February 10, 1992
Mr. James Batten, Chairman/CEO
One Herald Plaza
Miami, Florida 33132

Dear Mr. Batten:
Last Wednesday, you called me and complained in rather accusatory terms of my "activities during the last ten days."

You proceeded to confront me with supposed quotes from a radio program in which I participated by phone. After gathering all the patience and understanding I could muster, I promised that I would review the transcript of said radio program and clarify (answer, repudiate, etc.) any of my own comments which seemed inappropriate or even out-of-context, given the difficult circumstances of not being in situ during the radio broadcast.

I was also interested in any statements made by other participants in the program, such as Jorge Mas Canosa.

I understood that you were going to send me a transcript for that purpose.
Yesterday we asked your office to see if they could follow through on that offer of a transcript. Apparently that request was conveyed to you.

Today you called me and informed me that there is no transcript as such, just some "quotes" taken by one of your reporters. You proceeded to read what were allegedly my "quotes" and it was obvious from their brevity, sentence construction, etc. that you did not have a verbatim transcript at all.

I then suggested that I would myself endeavor to get a tape or a transcript. Then you asked me point-blank if the Cuban Committee Against Defamation was "controlled by Jorge Mas Canosa."

I replied that such a statement was intolerable and that I resented it. I suggested the conversation should continue at some other time in some other fashion.

God intervened at that point since we were disconnected, apparently because you were on a portable phone. Afterwards, your secretary called to set up an appointment.

Jim, your attitude in these two phone calls is such that I prefer not to discuss this topic with you at all. In addition to which, the Anti-Defamation Committee has held one productive meeting with six Herald officials, including its publisher, who has handled these matters in a rather dignified and ostensibly empathetic manner.

If you as CEO of Knight Ridder wish to meet with the Committee as a whole, I am sure that can be arranged.

In the meantime, I remain your friend and the City's humble servant in all affairs.

Very truly yours,

Xavier L. Suarez

My guess is that a normal politician in a normal city wouldn't write a letter like the one above. Most politicos would do nearly anything to avoid picking a fight with the head of the company that owns their city's only daily newspaper. But Miami, as we all know, is not a normal city. And Xavier Suarez, more and more, is beginning to look like anything but a normal politician. Strange and dark forces appear to be working on the mayor, affecting his behavior in ways that would have been difficult to contemplate just a few short years ago.

In his book Miami: City of the Future, T.D. Allman argued that Suarez's 1985 mayoral victory did not mark the Cuban "takeover" of Miami, but rather it was a signal that "Miami politics was now firmly back in the American mainstream.... Suarez's greatest asset turned out to be what, at first, had seemed his biggest liability. It was the very fact that he wasn't a stereotypical Miami Cuban that gave him the chance to usher in a whole new chapter in the city's political history. For by the time he finally was elected mayor, tens of thousands of Miami Cubans weren't stereotypical Cubans any more either. They were just as American as he was."

Not that a pragmatic politician, a pothole mayor, a Harvard-educated technocrat such as Suarez couldn't have disagreements with his hometown newspaper. He has. For example, the Herald did not endorse him in the 1985 election he won. And Suarez himself concedes that "I've had a lot of private battles with the media, a constant war with the Herald." But the significant point is that his battles - especially those concerning coverage of Cuban exile affairs - have been waged privately, out of the public eye. By and large, his political instincts have led him to maintain a prudent buffer between his expressions of Cuban patriotismo and his responsibilities in governing an ethnically and racially fractious city.

The wisdom of that practice became painfully evident the one time Suarez chose to ignore it. In June 1990, when he denounced Nelson Mandela for his support of Fidel Castro, Suarez catalyzed the most serious crisis of his political career. The resulting black boycott of Miami's tourism industry remains unresolved, and the mayor's efforts at damage control in the black community have met with little success.

Suarez has had plenty of time to ponder that debacle, which is why you can imagine his trepidation when, in late January, he took a call from Pepe Hernandez. Besides being the mayor's long-time friend and political ally, Hernandez is president of the Cuban American National Foundation. (His boss is Foundation chairman Jorge Mas Canosa.) Hernandez was calling to tell Suarez about the formation of a new civic group. He wanted the mayor to sign on as a founding member, even to act as a spokesman. The group would be called the Cuban American Committee Against Defamation, and it would be dedicated to ensuring that Cuban Americans received fair treatment in the media.

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