Poor Relations

The Dade Community Relations Board doesn't and isn't very good at relations, either

Indeed, only 5 of the CRB's 26 members are female. Black and Cuban-American men are statistically over-represented, relative to county demographics; and of the board's thirteen Hispanic members, only one is not Cuban. (The board also counts among its members at least one felon: Alfredo Hidalgo-Gato, a former Metro-Dade police officer and an appointee of Commissioner Bruce Kaplan, who pled guilty in state court to charges of grand theft and insurance fraud in 1989.) Overall, the CRB more closely conforms to the Metro Commission's demographics than to those of the community at large.

After that first meeting, Tribie decided she would show up as an informal Haitian presence when the board convened every month. As it happened, one of the board members, a Hispanic woman appointed by Commissioner Javier Souto, resigned soon after.

It seemed like a golden opportunity for a commissioner to take a step toward remedying the CRB's ethnic imbalance and for Tribie to become a more active advocate for her community. Board Chairman Manny Crespo submitted to Souto a list of names of qualified black women interested in serving (including Tribie's), and Lloyd Major says he spoke with Souto's chief of staff at least twice about appointing a black woman. Tribie wrote to and phoned the commissioner's chief of staff, and at one point she introduced herself, in Spanish, to Souto at a public gathering -- all to remind him she wanted the appointment. In early April, Souto's office announced the appointment. It was neither a woman nor a Haitian. It was a another Cuban man.

Souto says he appointed Mario Martinez Malo to the seat because Martinez Malo is "an old friend from the Brigade," referring to Brigade 2506, the Cuban contingent that invaded the Bay of Pigs in 1961; he adds that Martinez Malo had been visiting his office to express interest in the position. No one ever told him about any black women, Souto insists, nor did he see any letter from the CRB.

Martinez Malo joins a vocal Cuban contingent that in December attempted to unseat the board's officers, who had been elected before the November revamping. "The board was controlled by a certain group in the last two years; they want to maintain control, and the only way is to go back to the old system, so now they're creating the issue of Haitians not being represented, someone else not being represented," argues Alfredo Hidalgo-Gato, who also sits on several City of Miami advisory committees.

Tribie got a second chance at the CRB in June, when a Kaplan appointee was removed from the board for failing to attend meetings. Tribie went to speak with Kaplan's chief of staff. The office already had received a form letter from the CRB that was sent to all commissioners advising of the absence of black women on the board. Kaplan appointed Tribie on June 23, making her the first Haitian woman ever to sit on the board. "I'm ecstatic," she says. "I can fill in some gaps for my sisters until some others get onboard."

Non-Cuban Hispanics also are becoming more vocal about their lack of representation on the CRB. Victor Pinz centsn, president of a nonprofit organization called the Hispanic-Latin Foundation, attended the most recent meeting to complain that the board ignores the Colombians, Nicaraguans, Argentinians, and other Latin nationalities that make up a sizable presence in Dade.

Board member and erstwhile business-card toter Gustavo Adolfo Marin doesn't see what the problem is. "We are designated by the county commissioners," he explains. "You don't expect an Anglo commissioner to recommend someone from Colombia, or a Cuban to recommend people from Bosnia -- what is the point? If they want to be represented, they need a commissioner from Haiti, one from Nicaragua. You know what I mean. If they can be involved in community affairs, we are very glad, but we represent the commissioners.

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