A filmmaker's exposé peeves the sugar powers.
By Edmund Newton
If they gave an Oscar for the muckraking documentary that most riles the world's fat cats, turning them into red-faced, sputtering stuffed shirts, Amy Serrano's film about Big Sugar would surely win hands down. The exposé film Sugar Babies, which won best documentary two weeks ago at the Delray Beach Film Festival and is having its first commercial screening this week in Fort Lauderdale, has sugar barons and their allies scurrying around the globe trying to stop people from seeing it.
So far, the barons — including Palm Beach County's famous Fanjul family — have had moderate success. A scheduled screening at this year's Miami International Film Festival was abruptly canceled, probably after pressure from the sugar industry (the ostensible reason: The film had already been screened at Serrano's alma mater, Florida International University, a fact that Serrano says she discussed ahead of time with the festival's organizers, who said, "no problem"). Then the Women's International Film Festival got a similar case of cold feet (the event's South Florida organizer supposedly told Serrano that she feared for the future of the festival if they showed the film).
Who knows how many other invitations were not extended because of threats?
When Sugar Babies does get screened, it brings out the wrathfulness in some people. The showing at FIU attracted a visibly agitated Manuel Almanzar, the Dominican Republic's Miami consul, who simmered through the film, then sought to take over a subsequent discussion, and finally stormed out during a raucous Q&A session with Serrano.
A screening in Paris during a human rights conference attracted hired Spanish-speaking goons, who joined a line of well-wishers who waited for just the right moment to curse Serrano to her face, warning her that they were going to "get" her. The same dudes showed up at a subsequent screening in Montreal. Serrano says she has encountered strangers watching her house in New Orleans, as well as people with subpeonas rushing up to serve her.
Serrano, a short woman with long blond hair and a formal, teacherly way of expressing herself, says all the hullabaloo has complicated her life but has not deterred her. "I have learned to take precautions," she said the other day in a Fort Lauderdale restaurant.
The film grew out of a visit Serrano made to the Dominican Republic in 2005 with UN Ambassador for Human Rights Armando Valladares. Touring the southeastern cane fields and the bateys — rural shantytowns, where Haitian workers are housed — Serrano and Valladares found entire communities that were close to malnutrition, widespread illnesses with little access to medical care, and downcast, unschooled children, many of them working in the fields with their parents.
Back in the States, Serrano scrounged together $150,000 from foundation grants and donations to bankroll the film. It records her secret visits, along with a priest-activist and others, to interview batey residents. Not only were conditions appalling, but also the Haitian residents were virtual prisoners in the work camps because they lacked Dominican documents allowing them to travel.
Serrano says the lockdown was achieved with the complicity of the government, whose representatives not only recruited new Haitian workers and funneled them to the sugar plantations but also kept them in line once they were settled.
Riptide wasn't able to reach representatives of the Fanjuls, who produce 10 million tons of sugar a year here and abroad, or of the Big Sugar family the Vicinis. The Fanjuls, who own a controlling interest in Domino Sugar, boast they produce two of every three spoonfuls of sugar consumed in the United States. Fanjul family representatives have responded in the past that the conditions shown in Serrano's film have since improved.
Perhaps that's true, acknowledges Serrano. "I couldn't tell you, because I've been declared persona non grata by the Dominican government," she says. "God willing, there are improvements. But why do we have to rely on people speaking out, putting their lives at risk, before changes are made?"
Sugar Babies runs this week from Wednesday through Sunday at Cinema Paradiso, 503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale.
The Bonarian Candidate
Obama, McCain ... Imperato?
By Alexander Zaitchik
The Libertarian Party has never suffered a shortage of eccentrics. But even among the colorful cast of 14 presidential candidates competing at this past weekend's Libertarian nominating convention in Denver, Daniel Imperato, the only candidate from Florida, stands out.
"I'm the only one here who is a Papal Knight," says Imperato, a Boston native who has lived in West Palm Beach for 30 years. "I'm also a Knight of Malta and a Grand Prior of the Orden Bonaria."
The last refers to an obscure ancient order based in Syria. Or something. The 51-year-old former Republican preferred not to discuss the details of the title — also known as Grandmaster — or its powers, but he believes it bestows upon him a unique qualification for the office of president of the United States.
"I have run a successful [consulting] business and traveled the world at the highest levels," he says. "If the major media would give me a hearing, I am sure the country would embrace me like nobody's business." Imperato's platform includes funding Social Security through a tax-deductible charity and taxing foreign tourists and exchange students entering the United States.
Imperato ended up a Libertarian by default. After hiring Ross Perot's former lawyer to explore a third-party campaign last year, he flirted with the Green, Constitution, and Reform parties before landing under the Libertarian Party's big tent. But it hasn't exactly been a warm welcome; on Sunday, the party nominated former Congressman Bob Barr as its presidential candidate. Imperato got one vote.
"The Libertarians don't understand me," Imperato complains. "They get nervous when I talk about my connections to the Vatican and how the Constitution is rooted in Judeo-Christian values. But I'm thankful for the education they've given me. I now understand that the Constitution is a document rooted in the beginning of time."
Though he has no political resumé, Imperato seems genuinely surprised he's not a first-tier presidential contender. "America needs an educated man of the world like me," he says. "My name means 'emporer' in Italian. I am the descendent of Roman emperors."
Despite the purported royal bloodline and exalted titles, Imperato says he might one day consider a lowly governorship. "If someone came and asked me to serve the great state of Florida, I would consider it. I actually reached out to Jeb Bush, but he never got back to me. I have also proposed a meeting with Governor Christ," says Imperato. "I'm still waiting."
P.I. gets credit for a tip — five years late.
By Francisco Alvarado
It took almost five years, but the City of Miami Police Department finally gave Joe Carrillo his due.
On September 19, 2003, "Shenandoah Rapist" Reynaldo Rapalo was captured. The serial offender, who menaced Miami's Shenandoah and Little Havana neighborhoods, had eluded identification and arrest for months. After he was apprehended, police maintained that no one outside the department — including Carrillo, a private investigator — helped them nab their suspect, in spite of the $25,000 reward that had been offered. At a press conference the night Rapalo was caught, Chief John Timoney boldly proclaimed that although the cops had received hundreds of tips, none had panned out.
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That didn't sit too well with Carrillo. The investigator — who, now 52 years old, was once a bodyguard for the boy band Menudo — had arguably given police a decisive bit of information: an address on SW 11th Street near 12th Avenue. Sgt. William Golding later saw Rapalo slowly drive through that intersection in a faded black Mazda that fit the description of the vehicle cops were looking for. Golding arrested Rapalo — who in December 2005 pulled off a dramatic escape from county jail while awaiting trial, only to be recaptured shortly thereafter — a few blocks down the road.
Yet Miami Police never credited Carrillo. In May 2006, he sued the city and Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers for failing to pay him the 25-grand reward.
Earlier this year, the private eye settled with the department and Crime Stoppers for nothing more than a piece of paper. "It was never about the money," Carrillo says. "I didn't care about that." He simply wanted a little credit, he insists. Carrillo got it this past April 15, when the MPD presented him with a certificate of appreciation that reads, "In recognition of your assistance in the Shenandoah Rapist Case." It is signed by Timoney, who ignored a request for comment from Riptide.
"This certificate shows that I wasn't full of crap," Carrillo gloats. "I helped them catch this guy. And having them admit it means the world to me."