When Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine not only became the first sitting head of a Dade County city to visit Cuba but also sparked the possibility of a hosting a Cuban consulate in Miami Beach, it could be seen as a litmus test to see how charged the third rail of local politics still is.
Turns out it's still pretty damn charged.
The Miami Beach Commission voted 4-3 today to oppose the idea of a consulate after a rash of local outrage. The vote is a rare blow for Levine, a mayor who usually enjoys majority support from a city commission packed full of his allies.
Levine traveled to Cuba with students from Tufts University last month, and during a meeting with Cuba’s Foreign Relations Ministry, he broached the idea of a consulate. Commissioner Ricky Arriola, a Cuban American himself, joined Levine on the trip and defended the idea.
“No one invited them to Miami Beach," Arriola said Monday at a meeting of the city's Hispanic Affairs Committee. "I did not. Mayor Levine did not. What we invited was the essence of the American way of talking and engaging. Just simply to talk."
Though, even the idea of talking about it proved too controversial for many local Cuban Americans.
Activists showed up to oppose the talks, and last week protestors took to the streets to chant, “No Castro in South Beach!"
Both officials in the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County have formally opposed the idea of opening a Cuban Consulate within their borders.
With the passage of the resolution, Miami Beach now also officially opposes the idea unless serious human rights reforms are made in Cuba.
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Commissioners Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, Micky Ross Steinberg, Michael Grieco and John Elizabeth Aleman voted in favor of the resolution.
Levine, however, has remained resolute in his personal support for a consulate in Miami Beach, and even accused Commissioner Grieco of playing politics by sponsoring the resolution in the first place.
“The only reason this has happened is because you have a commissioner who is trying to use this as a political ploy because he would like to run for mayor, prematurely,” Levine told The Miami Herald earlier this week. “And he believes he can get the Cuban vote by appealing to their deepest level of fear and insecurity. Which is cruel. Especially when he’s not Cuban.”
Roughly 20 percent of Miami Beach's population is of Cuban descent.