Letters from the Issue of January 8, 2004

I Know a Thing or Two about Beauty Pageants

And this one is anything but beautiful: Thanks to Forrest Norman for his article about Mario Princigalli and his Miss Cuban-American pageant ("Tiara Squirm-a!" December 25). I competed in this year's pageant and I had a terrible experience. My parents were forced to pay for one item after another and were obligated to make various donations to Mario and his mother.

The pageant is one lie after another. The title is "Cuban-American" yet there is nothing American about it. Some of the girls didn't even speak English. I was raised in the U.S. and am proud of it, but was told to downplay my American pride. When the judges asked me how I felt about social issues concerning Cuba, I responded honestly but it wasn't what they wanted to hear. My platform, the AIDS crisis in Africa, didn't interest them.

This isn't a real pageant decided by judges. Mario chooses the winners himself weeks before the event. Everyone knew which girl would win the various titles. I'm not new to pageants; I know what goes on, and this is the worst of the worst. It gives Cuban Americans a bad name.

Directors from my modeling agency wanted to support me in the pageant but Mario's mother Gloria told me it would be unethical to have them supporting me. She went as far as to tell me that I wasn't refined enough to win beauty pageants -- this despite the fact that I've held titles such as Miss Pan-American, Miss Jewish Florida America, and Miss Continental. Currently I hold the title of Miss Israel-USA.

Esther Perez Dollar

Miami

The FTAA Was a Success but the Protesters Failed

And as city manager, I should know: Much has been stated lately with regard to the way union and other protesters were dealt with during the recent Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) ministerial meetings held in our city. These sentiments, which lay accusations and blame against our police department and city officials, are simply rooted in failure -- unions and protesters failed to recruit support from our college campuses, failed to add residents of our poorest neighborhoods to their ranks, failed to disrupt the meetings, and most important, failed to rally public support for their cause.

Union leaders and protesters ignored the fact that Miami is a city built on trade and commerce, widely recognized as the Gateway to the Americas, where hard-working men and women directly benefit from the economic opportunities that come with free trade. Their failure and frustration has led them to engage in a one-sided attack on our police and organizers after their main goals of arousing antitrade passions and disruption of the trade meetings did not materialize.

Such an attack is characteristic of groups that do not use the processes of government and the appropriate forums to air their disputes, preferring instead to level allegations in the media without much basis in fact.

Beyond street protests, those who oppose the trade agreement were given a formal forum to air their disputes. Members of civil-society organizations, including unions and other antitrade groups, had unprecedented access to the trade ministers during a meeting track parallel to that of business leaders -- including equal face-to-face time with the ministers -- to express their concerns regarding the free-trade agreement. Yet this was not enough. Because their message failed to resonate, they now seek other ways to stay in the public eye -- by attacking our police presence as "overwhelming" when in fact our level of preparation was based on the projections of union organizers, who expected crowds in excess of 50,000 to 60,000, many bused in from out of town. Our police also prepared based on the experiences of Seattle, Cancun, Quebec, and countless other cities that saw a reign of chaos take over when so-called peaceful protesters took to the streets against free trade.

When the city mayor and I entered the security perimeter to meet with union organizers, they advocated for the rights of anarchists to "blow some steam," even suggesting we allow the security fence to be toppled as a symbolic gesture. While we negotiated, protesters recognized and attacked our car. These are the stories that go unreported but which gave us a taste of what our police and other security personnel were experiencing and responding to firsthand.

Union leaders and protesters complain because our city would not tolerate any violence, any amount of property damage, nor any loss of life. They failed in their goals. The ultimate story was not how the unions and protesters stopped the meetings, but how city leaders and police did not abrogate their responsibility to maintain the peace. Our gratitude goes to Miami's citizens, especially those of the downtown area, whose patience and hospitality make ours a city worthy of hosting this historic meeting of the hemisphere's trade leaders. We place our trust in them, knowing they will not rush to condemn city leaders and police without first hearing the full story.

We invite all those who have any grievances or complaints to air them before the Citizens Investigative Panel. And while we are prepared to defend our actions, we cannot allow those who failed in their objectives to taint a ministerial meeting being hailed as a great success in all trade and diplomatic circles.

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