Dead End

This past May the Dade County Commission unanimously voted to honor the late Cuban expatriate Pedro Fico Rojas by naming a stretch of NW 58th Street (between 97th and 117th avenues) after him.

Commissioner Pedro Reboredo, himself a well-known anti-Castro activist, sponsored the resolution; Commissioner Miriam Alonso, in whose district the street lies, was Reboredo's cosponsor. "Together with his family, [Rojas] worked as a community leader and was always ready to volunteer in such causes as helping war veterans and working with recently arrived refugees," reads the proclamation that designates the honor. "Whenever he was needed to fight communism, Pedro Fico Rojas was there."

Rojas, a member of the Cuban exile group Brigade 2506, was respected throughout the exile community for his zeal and dedication to la causa. But he also did some things even many loyal friends thought were a little crazy. Perhaps most brazenly, he announced in 1995 that he was convening a "jury trial" in which some 35 exiles "charged" with treason for their advocacy of dialogue with Castro would be prosecuted in absentia at an encampment in the Everglades. The sentences -- presumably death -- were to be carried out in a free Cuba.

Though the project caused some consternation in el exilio -- especially among the defendants -- none of that was mentioned at county hall in May.

Reboredo's special assistant Janet Launcelott says she knew nothing about Rojas's judicial experiment. When she asked her boss about it, she adds, he had "no comment." Elba Morales, Alonso's chief of staff, prefers to dwell on the positive. She says she knew Rojas for more than 30 years and recalls him as "an exemplary citizen, a decent person, a very hard-working man. He was somebody who really loved his country. Certainly the commissioner was honoring this particular person because he was a good man."

In November 1995 Rojas announced that the Brigade would convene a trial at its military headquarters and that prominent members of other anti-Castro organizations would serve as jurors. "The accused," who were invited to participate, included some names most reviled to right-wingers, among them former political prisoner Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, writer Carlos Alberto Montaner, publisher Max Lesnik, attorney Magda Montiel-Davis, businessman Bernardo Benes, and professor Maria Cristina Herrera. All 35 had traveled to Cuba, advocated peaceful negotiations with Castro, or both.

Rojas's announcement received wide publicity in Miami's Spanish-language media. But as 1995 drew to a close, the Brigade's director fell ill and the trial was postponed, according to reports in El Nuevo Herald.

It is unclear whether the proceedings were ever held. The Brigade did convene a full assembly around that time at Rojas's behest, at which several Bay of Pigs veterans were kicked out of a related organization, the Asociacion de Veteranos de la Bahia de Cochinos, recalls stalwart member Mario Girbau. But that action did not involve the 35 alleged traitors. The Brigade, he adds, doesn't have the authority to conduct the kind of criminal proceeding Rojas had in mind. "He was a good friend," Girbau adds. "A good person, but very emotional."

Radio commentator and author Enrique Encinosa, who has written two books about the anti-Castro struggle and who is firmly ensconced in the right wing of exile politics, takes a slightly dimmer view: "This 'trial' is one of the least serious pages in anti-Castro history. It's the kind of shit that gives Cubans a bad name. It was a symbolic propaganda thing that nobody took seriously -- although some of those [accused traitors] were real assholes, don't get me wrong. Fico meant well, but not all the things he came up with made sense."

Neither, for that matter, have all the county's street-naming decisions. One of the commission's more blatant faux pas was Leomar Boulevard, named in 1990 after Leonel Martinez, a generous political contributor -- and later a convicted cocaine dealer. Though that particular fourteen-block span of SW 132nd Avenue no longer exalts a felon, county streets still bear the names of Abel Holtz (who pleaded guilty in 1995 to lying to a grand jury), ex-Hialeah mayor Henry Milander (convicted in 1970 of grand larceny), and Juan Ramon O'Farrill (a popular Catholic priest who was ordered to a pretrial intervention program in 1994 for giving false information to police in exchange for seeking sexual favors from a young man accused of robbery).

The county in 1995 amended its criteria to rule out naming streets after living people, reasoning that they couldn't be embarrassed by subsequent crimes if an honoree was already dead. The following year commissioners added an exception for people 100 years of age or older, in deference to local environmental luminary Marjory Stoneman Douglas. And earlier this year they fiddled with the guidelines again, allowing for a street to be named for a living person as long as the commission vote is unanimous. (A requirement that any renaming be favored by at least 50 percent of the residents who live along the street can be waived by the resolution's sponsoring commissioner.)

Of course, among the hundreds who have had streets named after them, most are worthy, to one degree or another: Besides the usual assortment of presidents, entertainers, and cultural icons, several Cubans (and even at least one American) involved in the anti-Castro struggle have their names in green and white. There's even a Brigade 2506 Street, a stretch of SW Ninth Street.

"I have total respect for the dead, and Fico Rojas is dead," says magazine publisher Max Lesnik, a perennial object of opprobrium by the exile right and one of those who was to have been tried in 1995. "But the commission ought to be more careful in who it chooses. This is something bordering on the ridiculous.


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