From Bitter to Sweet

Forget the awful past, say Alfonso and Pepe Fanjul, Florida's sugar barons. It's time to make nice and go into real estate.

In the western expanse of Palm Beach County, where sugar cane stretches to the horizon like an endless green sea, sits the Osceola Farms refinery, an island of grime-covered cement, an eyesore of human creation. A maze of steel pipes rings the five-story factory that billows waste from a pair of smokestacks. The Fanjul family of Palm Beach and Coral Gables, the world's most infamous sugar barons, built this place. With all the zeal of Colonial-era plantation owners, the Fanjuls fashioned a fortune here on the toil of immigrants. Inside the refinery, the workers know they're as expendable as the machines. When they break, the sugar barons will throw them away.

It happened to José Gallardo, who literally covered the Osceola mill in his blood on the morning of July 23. Gallardo ran a drill press. He punched holes in sheet metal with one hand, then used the other to wipe away shards underneath the spinning machine. The sharp bits often sliced open his arms and hands, so against regulations, the factory allowed him to wear gloves and a long-sleeved shirt.

And that's what got him. As Gallardo wiped away the shards on that morning last month, the drill sucked in his shirt sleeve. The machine yanked his left hand into the press and ripped his arm clean off just below the elbow. Panicked, Gallardo ran. He flailed his mangled arm wildly. A torrent of blood painted the mill. A rescue helicopter rushed him to St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach, but surgeons failed to reattach his arm.

Colby Katz
After losing his hand in a Fanjul factory, José Gallardo wonders how he'll pay his bills
Colby Katz
After losing his hand in a Fanjul factory, José Gallardo wonders how he'll pay his bills
After the sugar harvest was mechanized in 1993, thousands of cane cutters lost their jobs
Colby Katz
After the sugar harvest was mechanized in 1993, thousands of cane cutters lost their jobs
Ernest Robinson (left) used to drive a Fanjul work truck
Colby Katz
Ernest Robinson (left) used to drive a Fanjul work truck
El jefe, Alfonso "Alfy" Fanjul
newscom.com
El jefe, Alfonso "Alfy" Fanjul
Lamont Oliver escaped the sugar fields, which he says broke many of the imported laborers
Colby Katz
Lamont Oliver escaped the sugar fields, which he says broke many of the imported laborers
José "Pepe" Fanjul, Jr., after his 1991 arrest
Colby Katz
José "Pepe" Fanjul, Jr., after his 1991 arrest

Lying in his hospital bed days later with a bandage over his stump, the 47-year-old Mexican immigrant knew his days of working at the mill were likely over. "I cannot work with one hand. They will not want me. Nobody will hire me," he said with a depressing candor. He had no money to pay the hospital bills or his rent back in Pahokee, on the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee. Ten months earlier, his wife had given birth to twin boys at the same hospital. Now he wasn't sure how he would feed them. He had worked for the Fanjuls for seventeen years, since leaving Mexico, and he knew the price of disability was to be discarded.

On the same day Gallardo lost his hand, José "Pepe" Fanjul Jr., heir to the sugar fortune, was playing hooky. Fanjul, vice president and head of the family real estate division, was supposed to meet with one of the area's top environmentalists, hoping to persuade her to support the family's plans to turn their sugar cane fields into housing developments. The 33-year-old Fanjul is supposed to represent the family's softer side, a generation that cares about things like workers and the environment. He is part of the Fanjul company's attempt to recast itself as a responsible corporation that can be trusted with carefully developing land surrounded by the Everglades.

To excuse Fanjul's absence from the meeting, company spokesman Gaston Cantens explained that Pepe went personally to console Gallardo's family. The young Fanjul assured the Gallardos they would be looked after, the spokesman said. "He wanted to handle this personally," Cantens explained.

This was not true. Fanjul never visited Gallardo or his family, and no one from the company had explained to Gallardo whether he would be paid while recuperating. The Fanjuls had not reported the accident to government regulators, and company officials had denied Gallardo workers' compensation payments. After learning of the accident from New Times, the Florida Division of Workers Compensation and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration both began inquiries.

It was all a big mix-up, according to Cantens. "We were trying to track down where they took him," he said by way of explaining why Pepe never showed up at Gallardo's bedside. "We could never figure out where he was." Ultimately, Cantens contended later, other company officials went to visit Gallardo and promised him groceries and paychecks. But Gallardo said such promises did not come until New Times began questioning the company.

The Fanjuls' hope of turning some of their vast sugar holdings into developed real estate may rest on their reputation, and Gallardo's accident suggests that little has changed for the often-reviled family. For decades the Fanjuls and their company, Florida Crystals, have symbolized the harshness of corporate, big-business farming. Dozens of lawsuits and many critics have accused the Fanjuls of ignoring complaints of unsafe conditions, falsifying time cards in order to underpay workers, and of forcibly deporting immigrant workers who protested the poor conditions.

The Fanjuls did not respond to numerous interview requests by e-mail, phone, and fax. For two months Cantens, state representative from Miami's District 114 who is retiring from politics, assured that the Fanjuls and their employees would be available for interviews. "We will try to make this happen," Cantens said earlier this month. "Just be patient." But Cantens continued to delay meetings, saying the Fanjuls were either too busy, leery of interviews, or out of the country.

Meanwhile the Fanjul family's new public-relations campaign hopes to paint Pepe Fanjul, Jr., as one of the company's new, well-intentioned leaders. It has hired a team of environmentalists who claim the Fanjuls are planning a "green" community that will aid efforts to restore the Everglades. The first phase is a nearly 15,000-acre community west of Wellington, which may be the beginning of a wave of development, perhaps extending residences and commercial strips from the ocean all the way to Lake Okeechobee, environmentalists say. In the end, the plan could make the Fanjul family -- already worth at least $500 million -- hundreds of millions of dollars richer. The Fanjuls have backed up the public-relations campaign with millions in political donations to both major parties, sending money to everyone from presidents to county commissioners. In the end, the plans rest on whether politicians and environmentalists can trust the Fanjuls, finally and at last, to do what's right.


Nobody expected a Fanjul to be there. Not at something as unglamorous as a Palm Beach County Commission meeting. But on the morning of July 13, Pepe Fanjul, Jr., strode to the podium and made a two-minute speech that was perhaps the only such public appearance by a Fanjul ever.

The speech was a sales pitch. Fanjul, backed by a team of lawyers and hired environmentalists, wanted to persuade the county to drop on their land the soon-coming Scripps Research Institute's Florida branch. With that project, funded by nearly one billion dollars of taxpayer money, the Fanjuls would have the anchor to build a rural utopia of barrel tile and stucco. Fanjul promised to donate 1000 acres to Scripps as long as commissioners agreed to allow development on 14,000 other acres nearby.

At the podium the Fanjul heir looked decidedly uncomfortable. Sweat ran off his tan brow as he read dryly from a one-page speech. He stumbled over his words with no fewer than seventeen "ums." With slicked-back hair as black as molasses, the classically handsome Fanjul looked like he could be one of Alec Baldwin's brothers. A wiry-framed man at five-foot-nine and 150 pounds, he wore a surprisingly modest, charcoal-gray suit that looked off the rack from J.C. Penney. His eyes darted nervously as he addressed the commissioners. "We will make sure this project is done properly," Fanjul muttered with no emotion.

The speech was an odd coming-out for the supposed next generation of Fanjuls. Pepe Fanjul, Jr.'s, first public appearance did little to paint him as a new-and-improved sugar baron. The plan Fanjul sketched out is mammoth. The family planned to develop the eastern border of its sugar kingdom into a new community ten miles west of Wellington, off State Road 80. The 14,850 acres would include 1000 new homes, 50,000 square feet of retail space, a university for 2000 students, and a sprawling campus for Scripps. Company representatives came armed with a packet three inches thick touting the benefits. The pitch claims the Fanjul empire will generously set aside the western edge of the community for a seven-mile-long preserve that will allow wildlife and water to pass between northern and southern conservation lands. The plan was one of several potential Scripps sites county commissioners considered in July, but the Fanjuls have vowed to return with a development plan -- Scripps or no Scripps.

Perhaps on their side in the PR campaign is the fact that few know much about Pepe, Jr. That's in sharp contrast to the Fanjul elders, whose stories are legend. Since Colonial times, the family had owned plantation-style sugar farms in Cuba, until Fidel Castro's revolutionaries seized all 400,000 acres. The Fanjuls fled to Palm Beach in 1960, where they began amassing a dynasty that systematically conquered weaker sugar companies. Now the oldest Fanjul brothers, Alfonso "Alfy" Fanjul of Coral Gables and José "Pepe" Fanjul, Sr., of Palm Beach, own 180,000 acres. (Alfy is the company chairman and CEO; Pepe, Sr., is vice chairman, president, and COO.) Their land is bigger than Pinellas County, four times larger than Washington, D.C., and seven and a half times the size of Coral Gables.

Not wanting to see their land seized again, as it had been in Cuba, the Fanjuls have shared their profits with politicians -- including the Clintons, the Bushes, and Sen. John Kerry -- through political donations. The Fanjuls have given $2.6 million to politicians and political committees since 1979, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The brothers split their allegiance fairly evenly, with Pepe, Sr., cutting checks for Republicans and Alfy supporting Democrats. (In July 1999, Alfy hosted a fundraiser for the Florida Democratic Party at his Gables Estates home. The guest speaker was his friend the president, Bill Clinton. At $25,000 per person, the sumptuous event raised more than one million dollars.) In return, politicians have given back to the Fanjuls in the form of federal sugar price supports. Sugar in the United States costs three times what it does elsewhere. The Fanjuls get an estimated $65 million per year from government subsidies and have received untold hundreds of millions from the price supports.

Examples of the way the Fanjuls have bought political support are plentiful. In 1996, faced with a proposal to put a penny-a-pound tax on sugar to pay for Everglades restoration -- which has become a necessity largely because of the phosphorous and nitrogen that flow off the sugar fields -- the Fanjuls and other sugar companies spent $24 million to defeat the measure. Big sugar nearly doubled the $14 million spent by Save Our Everglades, the plan's main backer, and voters defeated the referendum. Then last year the Fanjuls joined a lobbying blitz to persuade state lawmakers to delay Everglades restoration by a decade or more. In the two years prior to the vote, Big Sugar hired 33 lobbyists, courted black legislators, and donated one million dollars to state parties. Despite harsh criticism from environmentalists and Congress, the delay sailed through the legislature.

Probably the most famous example of the Fanjuls' phenomenal access to power occurred on February 19, 1996. President Clinton was in the Oval Office trying to explain to Monica Lewinsky why their "intimate relationship" wouldn't work, according to Kenneth Starr's report. A phone call interrupted the lovers' spat; it was Alfy Fanjul chewing out Clinton over presidential hopeful Al Gore's proposal to tax sugar growers to pay for Everglades restoration. The call lasted 22 minutes.

As they built their fortune, the Fanjuls tried to polish their public image by creating New Hope Charities. The organization runs a medical clinic in Pahokee and an orphanage in the Dominican Republic, where the family owns posh resorts. It takes poor kids from the Glades out to expensive dinners to show them what it's like to eat at fancy places. The Fanjuls boast that they've donated $1.5 million to New Hope since its founding in 1988. In reality, the Fanjuls' donations make up only eight or nine percent of New Hope's budget, says the charity's chief professional officer, Mark Coppock. The Fanjuls do donate their time occasionally, Coppock says, even joining the children for their high-priced dinners.

When New Times asked in June to tag along next time they come by New Hope's offices, however, Coppock said that would be difficult: "I'm having trouble tracking them down. One's in London; the other is in Spain. It's summertime, as you know."

Pepe, Jr., joined the West Palm Beach-based Florida Crystals just two years ago, after working as an investment banker in New York, former Fanjul spokesman Jorge Dominicis says. While he splits his time between a Park Avenue apartment and a $2.4 million home in Palm Beach, Fanjul isn't devoted to playing the role of socialite, as his family has done since it fled Cuba. It may be that the young Fanjul has been something of a bad boy. In October 1991, at 1:30 a.m., a Metro-Dade police officer pulled over Fanjul's white BMW for speeding along Crandon Boulevard, near Sundays on the Bay. Fanjul, then twenty years old, gave the cop a fake ID and failed roadside sobriety tests, according to the resulting police report. The sugar heir explained that he was driving because he wasn't as drunk as the passengers in his car, the report states. The ID was from friend Juan José Arteaga, who now says he didn't know Fanjul was using his license. "No one informed me of that," says Arteaga, a Miami real estate investor. Prosecutors charged Fanjul with three crimes: DUI, driving with a suspended license, and using a counterfeit ID, a felony. But in the end, like many children of the privileged, Fanjul got off easy. After he attended a four-hour pretrial intervention class, all charges were dropped, according to court records.

Now, José Fanjul, Jr., is officially the senior vice president for Florida Crystals, likely in line to take over the billion-dollar company. After his speech before commissioners in July, Fanjul and his team of attorneys and environmentalists continued their sales pitch. In the hallway outside the commission chambers, they crowded around Rosa Durando, the diminutive environmentalist who speaks for the Audubon Society of the Everglades. Attorney Mitchell Berger, a major Democratic fundraiser and former board chairman of the South Florida Water Management District, did most of the talking. "This generation," he told Durando, "wants to do the right thing. We are environmentalists too."

A doubtful Durando agreed to sit down with the Fanjuls. The meeting launched their campaign to convince critics that they're not as bad as their reputation, which, if history means anything, is ghastly.


Back when cane cutting was done by people and not machines, no one worked the fields if they knew better. The Fanjuls and other sugar farmers recruited mainly Caribbean workers who came with little idea how rough it would be in the fields. On November 1, 1986, those imported workers had finally had enough and organized an impromptu strike. Gathering outside the decrepit barracks on the Fanjul property, a place they called "Vietnam," they demanded fair wages for the backbreaking work. What they got was a trip home.

Rather than negotiate, the Fanjuls assembled a force of Palm Beach County deputies, Belle Glade police, and Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers. Using the threat of guns, K-9 units, and nightsticks, the cops rounded up the men and placed them on buses. They were forced to leave their belongings behind in the barracks. The Fanjuls then shipped them to Miami International Airport, where 384 workers were forcibly deported. The Fanjuls kept the men in a Hialeah warehouse until loading them onto chartered airplanes to Jamaica, says Greg Schell, managing attorney for the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project in Lake Worth. In a rare interview for the February 2001 Vanity Fair, Alfy Fanjul expressed his regret over the "mishandled" incident. He told writer Marie Brenner, "I am sorry that it was handled that way."

Last week Cantens said only one side of the incident has been told. He claims the company sent the workers home only after they became violent, threatening Fanjul employees with the machetes they used to cut cane. The men were in the United States to work, and if they refused, they were not permitted to stay, Cantens asserted. While no previous news accounts or reports of the uprising mention violence from the workers, Cantens stuck by this new version: "While we regret the incident happened, we didn't cause it."

The deported workers sued the Fanjuls after what had come to be known as "the Dog War," and in 1995 the family agreed to pay $355,000, about $1000 for each worker. But the Dog War is just one of many examples of the Fanjuls' rough treatment of workers and, in light of their efforts to recast their image, seems emblematic of the way the family does business. As environmentalists and lawmakers decide whether to trust the Fanjuls to develop in the Everglades, it may be wise to remember the family's past.

The U.S. Department of Labor under President Reagan investigated the Fanjuls' company after the Dog War incident and found that it shorted workers regularly. The investigation then triggered a flood of lawsuits from ex-workers. "They paid the lowest wages of any of the sugar farms, and that resulted in widespread underpayment of workers," says Schell, the farm workers' attorney. "They partook in a systematic falsification of payroll records to cover this up." Former cane cutters banded together in the early Nineties to sue the Fanjuls and other sugar barons. They claimed the Fanjuls promised them $5.30 per ton of cane but instead paid about $3.00 to $3.50 a ton. Former supervisors who kept track of the wages for workers claim the Fanjuls and others ordered them to falsify the records, Schell says. "Superman couldn't cut enough cane" to meet the Fanjuls' quota, Schell says.

In 1994 Circuit Judge Lucy Brown decided the case was so clear-cut it didn't need to go to trial. In a summary judgment, she awarded the ex-workers $51 million. But an appeals court threw out the judgment, ruling that the cane cutters must sue each farm owner separately. Clewiston-based U.S. Sugar settled in 1998 for $5.7 million. The Fanjuls, meanwhile, beat the cane cutters in court, claiming they never paid less than what was promised in contracts signed by the workers. In a 1999 trial, a frustrated jury wrote to the judge that one of the Fanjuls' companies, Atlantic Sugar, didn't break the terms of the contract but they did treat workers unfairly. The company "consistently misrepresented" incentive programs in a "shameful" treatment of the workers, the jury wrote.

David Gorman, the attorney who spent fifteen years trying the cases, says the Fanjul lawsuits failed because the juries couldn't grasp the complexities of the dispute. "These cases, it's really a shame," Gorman says from his North Palm Beach office, where four filing cabinets and a room of trial exhibits sit like a shrine. "The Fanjuls could've easily settled these lawsuits for what they spent defending it. It would've taken so little for them to do what they had promised, and for them, it would have been pennies."

The Fanjuls' alleged shortchanging of pay also extends to their office workers, according to a federal lawsuit filed in 2002 by an ex-employee. Suzanne Wolff of Boynton Beach, who worked in Florida Crystal's computer department, claimed in the suit that the Fanjuls regularly refused to pay overtime and cheated her out of 400 hours' work worth $10,964. Thanks to the sugar lobby's effect on U.S. labor laws, many of the industry's workers, like most farm laborers, cannot request overtime. But office workers are exempt from that rule, says attorney Cathleen Scott, who filed the suit. In July 2003, the Fanjuls settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed sum and forbade Wolff from speaking of it. Norman Davis, the Fanjuls' attorney on the case, says Wolff and others are covered by a "white collar" exception that precludes them from overtime. "The Fanjul family and their companies," Davis says, "comply with fair labor standards as much as anyone."

On October 18, 1991, a tragic accident again brought to light the harsh treatment of Fanjul workers. In the early-morning darkness, a station wagon packed with seven Guatemalan workers on their way to a Fanjul farm outside the town of South Bay lost control. The car flipped into a canal, trapping the men inside. They clawed at the doors and at one another trying to escape. Only one man survived. Six died in the murky water, including a fifteen-year-old boy who cut cane in the fields. The accident brought national attention to the Fanjuls for the poor safety conditions of workers transported to their fields, packed in privately owned buses, vans, and wagons. The Fanjuls' insurance company in 1999 agreed to pay the families of the drowned workers $5.6 million.

In 1993 the Fanjuls found a way to eliminate many of the complaints over bad pay and their poor record on safety. That year they automated the sugar harvest, eliminating a large portion of the work force. In an instant, the Fanjuls devastated the agriculture-driven towns of western Palm Beach County. Apartment buildings and camps that once held workers now sit abandoned and boarded. It's easy to find former Fanjul workers in Belle Glade. On a recent afternoon, three of them sat on milk crates in a part of town called The Hole, where abandoned buildings seem to outnumber occupied ones.

Ernest Robinson used to drive a bus that took cane cutters to work. "When I'd pick them up at the end of the day, it looked like somebody beat them up with charcoal," recalls Robinson, who now drives a milk delivery truck. "I don't know how they did it. They looked like a chain gang, the way they worked 'em."

Leaning on the bed of a pickup nearby, Lamont Oliver remembers when a Fanjul recruiter hired him on the impoverished island of St. Vincent in 1986. The job was offered with the promise of decent pay for just a few months of work, but it came with a price. "From the first day, everybody wanted to quit, but we didn't have no way out," Oliver says. "They brought us here, and they won't send you home until you finished cutting." Now a roofer and 56 years old, Oliver says workers often left the fields crippled. The work required them to bend over while swinging a machete into the cane stalks. Cutters often missed, the machetes landing instead on their feet or shins. Oliver still owns the metal shin guard he wore, riddled with dents and dings from where he nearly cut himself. Every worker knew, Oliver recalls somberly, that an injury would mean no pay and a one-way ticket back home to poverty, care of the Fanjuls. "I came out all right in the end. I didn't lose no fingers or no toes," Oliver says with pride. "Some of those men, they didn't do so good. They say the cane took 'em, because it did."


The meeting that Pepe Fanjul, Jr., skipped, the one that could decide the fate of the family's development plans, began with a falsehood. Gaston Cantens, the Fanjuls' spokesman, explained Pepe Fanjul's absence. "A worker severed his hand today, and Pepe went to handle it. He wanted to be here, but ...."

Across from him at the table in a Boca Raton law office sat Rosa Durando, the 78-year-old environmentalist with the power to help the Fanjuls create their new development. A former horse trainer, Durando regularly lectures elected officials over develoment projects and has earned respect as someone who's willing to compromise. Others will refuse all new development, while Durando has sought middle ground. The Fanjuls want her backing. Convincing her means possibly convincing many in the environmental community -- and perhaps swaying the county commission to put Scripps on Fanjul land.

To persuade Durando, the Fanjuls sent an impressive three-man team -- the trio's prestige further proof of the Fanjuls' ability to enlist high-powered talent in their cause. On her right sat Samuel E. Poole III, a former executive director of the South Florida Water Management District who recently joined the Fanjuls. Across from her were Cantens and Michael Davis, a consultant hired by the Fanjuls to draw up the plans. Davis once earned respect among conservationists for running Everglades restoration for the Army Corp of Engineers. The three wore dark slacks and white dress shirts with no tie. They carried legal pads and rolled maps and graphics of the proposals. Meanwhile Durando, looking grandmotherly in flower-print pants and purple top, plopped down a tattered notebook, a long shoelace tied to the spine so it doesn't get lost among her home's stacks of papers.

Davis spoke first: "They're willing to use their land as an example of how to do a green community. I think we're talking about a community like we haven't seen in Florida."

Durando answered with a diatribe on the water management board, then on lazy politicians, and then the history of Everglades restoration. For the next sixteen minutes the three men nodded along with her, inserted polite giggles, and even paid close attention as she complained about kids joy-riding on country roads and the planned cemetery near her house. In the end, though, she went back to her usual critical ways. "We'll have to see what you propose pretty explicitly," Durando demanded, banging her bony finger into an artist's rendering of the plans. It showed a flow-way of water with two arrows pointing into preserve lands to the south. "I'm going to hold off on final determination unless you have something better than a couple of squiggly arrows."

The Fanjul team feared defeat. "Well, why wait?" Poole asked. "This is the public-private partnership we need to use as the right model and duplicate it elsewhere."

Durando interrupted, "People tell me that this ought to be the last stand." She explained that environmentalists have chastised her for even talking with the Fanjuls. Groups including 1000 Friends of Florida and the Environmental and Land Use Law Center fear that the Fanjul project could lead to massive urban sprawl and doom Everglades restoration. A community in the western Palm Beach County expanse would be smack in the middle of preservation lands to the north and south. But Durando acknowledged that the Fanjul plan might be the best option. Buying the land outright for preservation would be too costly, so if development is coming, perhaps this is best.

Davis chimed in: "The Fanjul family wants to do something good here, and I think that they mean it. These lines are not just smoke and mirrors."

Still Durando held off her support. "I want to see something on paper, something that guarantees to me that you are going to do what you're saying here."

That's what essentially ended the meeting. The Fanjul folks changed the subject. A promise, especially on paper, was apparently too much to ask. Cantens suggested maybe Durando could set up another meeting, next time bringing other environmentalists. "We'll have it at your place," Poole added.

"We'll see," Durando said, looking a bit tired as the party headed to the elevators. "We'll see about all this."


When the County Commission met August 17 to consider the Fanjuls' land as the new home to Scripps, everything seemed to fall into place. Their campaign donations, their lobbying efforts, their attempts at convincing environmentalists they could be trusted -- all seemed to have worked. Mary McCarty, who's received $4000 in donations from the Fanjuls just since 2002, more than any other commissioner, noted that the Fanjul property was the best fit for Scripps. Commissioner Tony Masilotti, recipient of $1000 in Fanjul money, noted that the land is destined to be developed. "We need to look in the future," he said.

Then Rosa Durando pulled the podium microphone down to her level. "It would be best to work out a deal with Mr. Fanjul," Durando told the commissioners. "It's the only plan that offers some environmental benefit."

Not long after Durando spoke, Fanjul spokesman Cantens crept out of the commission chambers and back to the Florida Crystals headquarters at 1 N. Clematis St. He left because, in a tactical move, the Fanjuls had quietly withdrawn their proposal to turn sugar land into a headquarters for Scripps. The Fanjuls had learned that during a closed-door meeting, Scripps had told county officials that it didn't want to locate on the Fanjuls' property. There were too many environmental concerns, and the location was too far west. If the Fanjuls had gone forward with their proposal, it would have surely resulted in a failed bid. Instead they'll come back without Scripps and without a botched plan behind them.

Outside the commission chambers, environmentalist-turned-Fanjul lawyer Samuel Poole stood by himself. He leaned against a wall watching the meeting on a television set and promising that the Fanjuls would be back. He said they would win over more environmentalists: "We intend to seek a dialogue on what should happen on this site."

Meanwhile that day, out past the sea of sugar cane on the Fanjul property, into the poverty of Pahokee, José Gallardo went to his first rehabilitation clinic. Gallardo had not heard the Fanjuls were planning a development on their fields that would put him and his former colleagues out of work. He hadn't heard that the cane fields could soon become homes and shopping malls. What he cared about was that the Fanjuls had finally promised to pay him.

When confronted August 4 with the fact that Gallardo hadn't been paid since losing his arm, Fanjul officials said it must have been a misunderstanding. The Florida Crystals human resources and safety manager, Johnny Tellechea, claimed he had visited Gallardo to explain that the company would be paying his hospital bills and paying him while he recuperated. "We're not going to leave this gentleman out to dry," Tellechea said. "He will be taken care of and not forgotten."

Later that day, however, Gallardo said nobody had contacted him. The following morning, on August 5, he received a call from a Fanjul representative assuring him that they would make things right. The employee promised to pay the medical bills, issue him paychecks, and even bring over groceries if he needed them. "I haven't seen him yet," Gallardo offered. "But he said he would come tomorrow. I think he will. They said they would do what is right."

After New Times challenged Florida Crystals officials about their failure to pay Gallardo, the company finally reported the accident to the state, as they are required to do, according to the Department of Revenue. Gallardo is now entitled to 80 percent of his salary, perhaps forever, and may receive a lump sum of as much as $10,000 for his disability. The company, however, may still face a fine from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration when it completes its investigation into the accident. OSHA investigators have six months from the accident to complete their inquiry.

Cantens maintains that the company complied with OSHA regulations after Gallardo's accident. Managers recorded it in an OSHA log book and cooperated with investigators. "We did everything we were supposed to do," Cantens says.

Gallardo had nearly lost his faith while wondering how he'd pay his bills, but he says he always knew the Fanjuls would come through for him. He remembers how el jefe, Alfy Fanjul, would sometimes eat rice and beans in the factory cafeteria at lunch. He remembered how el jefe would walk among the machines, watching as high-powered jets of water would break sugar from the stalks of cane. "I knew they are good," Gallardo said. "I knew they will do what is right."

While the Fanjuls -- once confronted with their failures -- did what is right with Gallardo, they must now prove they'll do the same with their land. With property twice the size of the nation of Luxembourg, the Fanjuls have begun what could be South Florida's largest-ever development, built on the reputations of the country's most despised sugar barons.

Show Pages
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...