By Appointment Only

What could be more exciting and fulfilling than the life of a consul? Well, lots of things, actually.

The flower arrangements on each table were red, white, and green -- Mexico's colors -- as were the balloons that clung to the ceiling. Along with personalized place cards, commemorative menus greeted each diner, disclosing on one side the relevant corporate sponsorship (Aeromexico, AT&T, Bacardi) and on the other the evening's fare (ensalada tricolor, mole de pollo, mousse de guayaba). The band, upscale mariachis, dependably mangled "La Bamba."

In details subtle and plain, the event was the Mexican government's way of showing off for the local gentry. The other Central American countries had celebrated their own independence with far humbler receptions. "Everyone showed up for this one, though, because they know we throw the best party of all," remarked a Mexican consular staffer.

As Pacheco stood under the flag listening to a young girl recite his nation's endless virtues, he knew there was more at stake than social bragging rights. For the preceding month, after all, Cuban exile leaders had camped outside his consulate, shouting epithets and burning the Mexican flag to protest his government's decision to deport eight Cuban rafters.

In the early Eighties Cuban exiles had expressed their wrath at Mexico's cordial relations with Fidel Castro by planting a bomb in the consulate. Thus, the recent demonstrations had not been taken lightly. A dozen Metro-Dade police officers were deployed to secure the consulate, on the fifth floor of a bank building on Le Jeune Road. The State Department's local Diplomatic Security Service, the agency charged with safeguarding the Consular Corps, had a team of agents surveilling Pacheco around the clock for several days.

Eventually the Mexican government -- fearful that the powerful exile lobby would oppose the North American Free Trade Agreement -- bowed to pressure and allowed the rafters to immigrate to Miami. Pacheco, in fact, served as the link between exile strongman Jorge Mas Canosa and the Mexican foreign minister. But the affair left Miami's Mexican American community bristling with indignation. And tonight, with his most esteemed countrymen present, with Mas Canosa seated in his very midst, with cilantro and jingoism perfuming the air, Pacheco was expected to break his official silence. Protocol required that he defend the honor of la patria.

After a few opening remarks, he did just that. "Our flag was burned by a minority who doesn't know what they want," he thundered. "They are angry at the government of Mexico, but they take it out on the people. The majority of Cubans don't feel anything against Mexico. But we don't need Cubans to teach us about oppression because we have a long history: 300 years with Spain, a painful revolution. We don't need anybody to teach us about oppression." In the foreign-relations scheme of things, the comments weren't worth the paper they were scribbled on. But the crowd greeted his words with a sustained chorus of "­Viva Mexico!" Before quietly exiting, Mas Canosa pledged his support for NAFTA. Pacheco looked as pleased as a future ambassador.

A Scandal
Perhaps it wouldn't have been so bad if it weren't the Spaniard. But then, you have to understand the role Spaniards traditionally have played in the Corps. Because they are considered the cultural progenitors of Latin America, they are treated like royalty. Local brahmins inundate them with invites. Other Latin consuls fawn over them.

When Erik Martel arrived in 1989, he seemed to possess everything one could want in a consul general. An Iberian pedigree that dated back to the Moorish occupation. Years of seasoning as a diplomat. And grandiose plans for the 500th anniversary of Columbus's voyage. Sadly, the strong-willed Martel proved less than diplomatic in his dealings. He clashed over the Columbus event with prominent exile banker Carlos Arboleya. He angered his staff. Rumors began circulating in the Corps that he was abusing the privileges of his office. In July 1992 the Spanish government ordered him home.

But Martel refused to leave the consular residence, claiming he had immunity. The siege dragged on for ten months. The eleven-room Coral Gables mansion, built by a Dominican dictator and once owned by Lucille Ball, fell to ruin. The pond in front turned green, the shutters tattered. The electricity was terminated. The new consul general was forced to conduct business from his hotel room. When the new consul's wife confronted Martel, he summoned the police to expel her. In a quixotic bid to clear his name, Martel sued the Spanish government last year for $81 million. The suit was dismissed, and this past January a county judge evicted him.

Even his father, a retired admiral and the marquis of San Fernando, turned against him. Martel, who will someday inherit that esteemed title, remains in Miami. His lawyers say he will carry on the legal crusade, but they refused to return several messages from New Times seeking specific comment from the embattled ex-consul general.

Martel is not the only consular bad boy, of course; he's merely the loudest. Over the years a number of diplomats have run afoul of the law. During the Seventies a Haitian consul was found with marijuana in his back yard. More recently a Colombian staffer was nabbed at the airport with a false-sided briefcase full of cocaine. Unlike ambassadors, who can literally get away with murder, consuls and consular staff enjoy very limited immunity. They can be arrested, detained -- even issued traffic tickets. Only if they commit a crime while engaged in official consular duties can they escape prosecution.

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