By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
“Miami's has the potential to be the biggest Carnival in North America,” asserts Gregory Antoni, president of the Miami Carnival Band Leaders Association, which is attempting to unify local bands to gain clout in negotiating sponsorship and purchasing deals. “It could be second only to Trinidad's. We need to do more marketing. It's not yet recognized outside the Caribbean community. But it will be.” Antoni also is the leader of the two-year-old mas band Generation X,a name that not coincidentally connotes a sense of new, young blood infusing the action.
First, though, the Carnival will have to gain more distance from its past. Often the Carnival organizers themselves -- a core of community leaders that has changed little since the beginning -- have proved their own worst enemies. A few years after the event's inception, allegations of missing and misappropriated money and broken promises to corporate sponsors started to emerge. As time went on, the questions of financial improprieties snowballed within the Caribbean community but were never resolved. “No one ever did an official investigation,” Andrews recalls. “People showed me evidence of this and that, but of course nothing was ever proven. I've had [committee members] on my program several times and raised the allegations, which they denied. It's just that when you have questions of integrity and honesty and so on, it tarnishes things; it takes people's minds off being willing to sacrifice their time and make it work. There are still a lot of corporate sponsors who say as long as certain people are involved, they don't want to get involved. We hope every year it will go away, but it hasn't yet.”
Infighting among Miami Carnival host committee members became so heated by 1995 that the planners split into two groups, and for the next few years staged separate Carnivals. The feuding factions reunited in 1997 after mediation by the general consul for Trinidad and Tobago. Since then the Carnival committee and community volunteers have made some strides in presenting a unified and professional front.
There is still a ways to go. The Hialeah City Council denied Carnival organizers a street parade permit in 1998, complaining that masqueraders had disrupted neighborhoods and inconvenienced motorists during the previous year's Carnival. Mayor Raul Martinez rebuffed offers to improve crowd control and postparade cleanup.
After Hialeah told the parade to get lost, just weeks before it was scheduled to take place, Florida state Sen. Willie Logan helped organizers secure a deal with the Opa-locka City Commission and Miami-Dade County to stage the event at the county-owned Opa-locka Airport. It's not the most visible location, and this year the parade route was changed to take the revelers still further off main thoroughfares. Many of the bands, says band leaders association vice president Carl Montes, believe that the Carnival committee let them down by agreeing to the new route. “Most of us don't feel that's enough exposure for the time and effort we put into getting our costumes done,” he says. “The issue was raised at one of the meetings we had with the Carnival committee, and it was just pushed to the side as if that means absolutely nothing -- “We're giving you what we can and nothing else.' We all felt slighted, but there's nothing else we can do at this point.”
And with the misgivings (the usual regarding rowdy revelers, trash in yards, and traffic snarls) voiced by Opa-locka commission members after last year's parade, the Carnival may be lucky to get any route at all. “Now they're asking us to move it next year,” acknowledges Carnival committee chair Selman Lewis, “because it's such a large event.”
Just about everyone agrees the best Carnival site was downtown Miami, with the parade staying mostly on Biscayne Boulevard, like the famous Orange Bowl parade. For its first two years, the Carnival was held in North Miami, then moved to Bicentennial Park. But in 1996, participants in the Hispanic Heritage Festival, which was then being held in Bayfront Park next to Bicentennial Park, angrily claimed that the Carnival had hurt revenue because the mass of paraders had kept people out of Bayfront. The following year the Hispanic Heritage Council went before the Miami City Commission, which ordered Carnival organizers to end the parade by noon. That was impossible, so in 1997 the Carnival moved to Hialeah.
All the rumors and accusations against Carnival committee members that were flying around by then didn't help the Carnival planners negotiate another venue. But a site was always found somehow, and the party went off well, perhaps partly from its own momentum.
“There are still internal battles,” Andrews observes. “There are people who are holding back from getting involved because there are still questions and allegations about the way things are done. It's just that people have kind of let the issue lie low. They may have resigned themselves to “This is the way it's going to be run.' And the true thing is, come Carnival time, it's great; everybody has a good time. Thousands come in and say it was the best time they ever had.”
That is the reason so many South Floridians can put up with the crises and disappointments, the hundreds of hours of unpaid work, and months of sleep deprivation. “The Carnival got in my blood, and it's not going anywhere,” confesses Denny Wallace, public-relations director for Generation X.