On the morning of September 23, Dade County Commissioner Bruce Kaplan made a motion to dump Peggi McKinley from the county's Film, Television, and Print Advisory Board because she had expressed her support for allowing Cuban artists to participate in next year's Midem Latin American and Caribbean Music Market. Officials for Midem, which just concluded its first Miami conference, were threatening to pull out of its four-year agreement with the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau if Cuban entertainers were prohibited from attending in the future. The four-day conference pumped an estimated $3.7 million into the local economy, according to the bureau. (The Miami Herald has claimed that the conference's annual impact is $20 million.)
"While we respect and appreciate the concerns of Cuban Americans in the exile community," McKinley was quoted as saying, "allowing a few people's political standpoint to dictate the potential economic growth of the area is not for the benefit of the community as a whole."
Kaplan, who had appointed McKinley to the film board, wanted to get rid of her. His motion passed unanimously. But by afternoon, the vote began grating on Commissioner Katy Sorenson, who, like most of her colleagues, had supported Kaplan's decision as a matter of collegiality, believing that a commissioner had the right to remove an appointee who no longer represented his or her views. Sorenson, however, worried about how her vote might be perceived. So at about 5:30 p.m. she asked that her vote be changed from "yes" to "no." She didn't make a speech and she knew it wouldn't keep McKinley from being ousted. She simply wanted the record to reflect her vote as "no."
But on the Dade County Commission dais, nothing is ever simple. Commissioner Natacha Millan used Sorenson's vote change as an opportunity to generally berate Midem supporters, saying that their sentiments were "offensive for all of us who cannot go back home because we are not allowed to go back home."
Next came Commissioner Javier Souto, whose rambling, often incoherent tirades are legendary among commission watchers. Art Teele, the former commission chairman, used to count backward from ten, just loud enough for his colleagues sitting near him to hear, as Souto would begin gathering steam for one of his diatribes. When Teele reached zero, he would say, "We have liftoff!" and those around him would chuckle. By this point Souto would be in full, frothing glory -- slicing the air with his hands, bouncing in his seat. Commissioners knew they had no choice but to sit back and watch the show.
Last week he was in inimitable form. Below is a verbatim transcript of Souto's eight-and-a-half-minute screed against Sorenson:
"I'd like to say a couple of things. Number one, I'm really appalled by the, by the, by the disrespect shown by, by, by, this commissioner -- I'm sorry about that -- on another commissioner who's not here and that is -- I'm defending, I'm defending Kaplan at the moment. I think, I think that's unthinkable. I am -- I am -- I am really disturbed and perturbed by that lack of respect being -- I'm sorry that you're a lady but it doesn't -- a lady, a man, whatever -- I think it is very bad. I'm sorry about this but I have to say it. Number two, I think that this issue -- you -- there's people in this community -- and I participated in that, because it had to do with the Midem or Medem stuff and all that and the bringing of, of, again, again, again -- you know, when you -- am I, you know, are you going to tell me that, that, I would bring here, that I would have the audacity, the audacity, as you said before, of bringing in here some guy who, who, who likes to play -- let's say the musicians that Hitler liked, and then parade them in Miami Beach. You know it's the same thing to us. I mean this is offensive to the Cuban people, really offensive. I mean it! It is a matter of dollars and cents, so, so, I mean, you know, it's, it's frust-- we are in effect prostituting, going to prostitution, and, and, and really trying to sell this county for money. That's what we are trying to do. We're trying to say this thing brings $200 million a year, or $20 million a year, so let's have it. Let's have it here. Let's bring -- Dade County is going to lose $20 million. That's what you are proposing. That's what, that's what the people here who brought Midem or Medem, or whatever, or whatever, or whatever the name is, are saying, you know, for money. So it's not a question of, of, of principals, of values. It's a question of money. So, so then -- I don't have a price! I don't know if you people have a price, but I don't have a price! I don't ever -- nobody can buy me, you know! I will never have a price! So we are going for prices now? How much is your price?! How much is your price?! How much is your price?! How, how, how much are we going to pay for that? We're asking -- we're talking about $20 million. That is the argument in the paper today: We're going to lose $20 million! So there is a price. So ask the Jewish people on Miami Beach if they want to bring the Hitler people here for $50 million and you'll see what's going to happen. They are going to burn Miami Beach. So, you know, it's the same thing here -- you can bring these people here for $20 million -- and you know that I respect and like the Jewish people a lot. So, you know, this is, this is the point. There's no money -- you cannot bring this here for any money. And I'm going to be 100 percent opposed to that. And I tell you what, I, I, I, I, I dare to say this -- you, anybody here, okay, try to bring this thing here and force the Cuban people here, and you will have problems here. And I don't care if it is Gloria Estefan or Emilio Estefan or whatever their name is, if they are millionaires, and they get Stallone here, too -- I don't care. I don't, I don't, I don't care. I don't care who they get together, Albita, or the other, I don't care who they bring, they are going to have problems because -- just so that you know, let me just throw this at you. Yesterday going home I'm driving the car listening to the news and I heard on the news -- there is a radio station that every day at six o'clock when they start the news, they tell you what is the anniversary of who was killed in Cuba. Assassinated! Executed on the firing wall by that you-know-what SOB who is in Cuba. And every day at six o'clock you can tune to a, to a, to a 710 AM, Radio Mambi, and they will give you -- yesterday, two of my best friends, it was the 36th anniversary of their execution. You know, you know how I felt when I heard that? So now you come here to tell us that because we are going to lose $20 million and that the money is needed for some revenue sharing stupidity, you know, or whatever you, you, you might say or allude to that, then, we need the money and we need to have the Midem people here. Well, if that is the thing, it's like again, like saying to the Jewish people on the Beach, let's bring, you know, whatever music Hitler liked and all that and those people and all the composers and let's fly them to the Beach and let's have a big thing on the Beach. It's offensive to all of us. I mean, this is a very diverse community and you have to understand that this, this community is -- of the 60-percent-plus Latin people in Dade County it is probably 40 percent Cuban and we are very adamant about that, because of that guy who is in Cuba. And I, I, I don't want to talk too much because I get excited about this. That guy who made us come here, all of us, right, is still there. And they are wheeling and dealing. Everybody is wheeling and dealing! During the break I was showing, for instance, one of the, you know, you know, one of the county managers back there that we were drinking Lipton tea here. Well, the Lipton company is, my dear friends, is one of the companies breaking the thing with the -- because it is part of the Unilever, I understand. And Unilever controls the, the -- so I would like to see Lipton removed from here, okay, by the way. And I want the manager to see that, to take a look at that. I'm unsatisfied with Unilever. Unilever controls all the, all the, whatever the name is, the, the, the detergents in Cuba. Right? Unilever has the control which is -- Unilever is, I think, owns Lipton. So you know, just to give you ideas on things. That bothers us a lot, you know, because you, you are not -- you evidently, you don't know what happened in Cuba, you don't know what's going on, and you don't know how offensive this is to us, and, and let me tell you, politically speaking don't do that, because if you do that, it is going to hurt you tremendously with the Cuban people. If you have Cubans in your district, that's going to, that's going to, to put you down tremendously. Because any, any time, any time that you use something like that, people know. And you are doing a real bad service to yourself, I mean you are really hurting yourself because you are, you are -- as a matter of fact, going and proposing something that somebody told you, I don't know who, coming from the Midem people and from all these people that, you know money is money! Money! Money! Money! Money! Greed! Greed! Greed! Greed! Okay? So values, principles, that's nothing. I mean, you know, what the hell, you know, so. Not with me! And not with a lot of people in this community. And let me tell you again, let me tell you this: If you keep pushing for this, you are going to feel sorry with the Cuban people because they, because they are really going to hurt you. So, so don't think about that. If you have any aspirations politically, think about that, because this might come back to haunt you tremendously. I mean this is a boomerang. You are playing with fire. You don't know what you are doing. You are playing with fire. So, so be very careful and I'm very, very -- I'm incensed about Commissioner Kaplan not being here and you taking advantage of that. Don't do that because we have to respect Commissioner Kaplan. We have to respect each other. We are thirteen members and if we don't respect each other and we go to war with each other, then this is the end of this, my friends. So you know we have to respect each other. And I think this is a lack of respect for Commissioner Kaplan that I don't know -- he's not here now. But that is very bad that somebody tries to sneak upon some other guy, and let's do it to him, let's take advantage of that. Number one. Number two -- "
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"Madam chair," Sorenson said, trying to interrupt.
"I haven't finished, commissioner," Souto snapped. "You have to show respect for me, too, okay? You have to show respect for me, too."
"I have tremendous respect for you," Sorenson replied.
"No, no, you have to," Souto continued, "yes, because I am talking now and you have to listen until I finish. And let me tell you -- this is a piece of advice -- be very careful with all that stuff, because everybody knows, everybody knows, okay. And there are lots of Cuban people out there who vote, okay, and it has to do with the values of the good Cubans. I'm not saying that all Cubans are the same. Some Cubans might not -- there are some Cubans who, they will sell their souls, too. We know that. But that is not the case, you know. I'm talking about the good Cuban people, the ones with good values and they don't forget," Souto concluded, "they don't forget."
"Madam chair, if I could respond," Sorenson said. "The reason I need to reverse my vote on this, is not on the issue of the music itself. That has not come before us. But my value is on the value of freedom of speech. I was born in this country and freedom of speech is a very, very dear value to me. And to remove someone from a board for simply speaking her mind, to me it's just -- I'm sorry. I'm sorry that it offends other people and I, and I know how sensitive this issue is. And I know the political repercussions. But I cannot sit here and in good conscience not defend someone's right to say something, even though they may not agree or be part of the mainstream in this community. So for me, I'm voting on a matter of conscience that regards only the narrow issue of freedom of speech. And that's why I need to change my vote on this issue and I'll take the consequences.