Calusa Residents Crash Bacardi Sailing Party

Kendall residents and their attorney, David Winker (center right), protest outside a Bacardí event in Coconut Grove on January 29, 2022.
Kendall residents and their attorney, David Winker (center right), protest outside a Bacardí event in Coconut Grove on January 29, 2022. Photo by Joshua Ceballos
A small but impassioned group of six protesters, clad in matching green "SAVE CALUSA" shirts, traveled roughly 13 miles from their homes near the shuttered Calusa golf course in West Kendall to demonstrate outside a U.S. Coast Guard hangar in Coconut Grove where a Bacardi Winter Series sailing race took place Saturday afternoon.

They carried signs that read "Our Fight Is Your Fight. Join Us!" and "Loss: Undisturbed Nesting Refuge. Endangered Animals."

The residents chose the event, which is sponsored by Miami-based Bacardí Limited, to deliver their complaints directly to the spirits giant's chairman: Facundo Bacardí, who holds a 35 percent stake in a joint venture with GL Homes to build 550 homes on the 168 acres encompassing the former Calusa Country Club golf course.

The demonstrators argue that the plan would plague the area with more overcrowding and traffic and put imperiled native creatures — specifically, bonneted bats, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies as endangered, and tri-colored herons, which the EPA lists one step below on its extinction hierarchy, as threatened. The group also hoped to inform attendees, sailors, and pretty much anyone else who'd listen about Bacardí's role in undermining the sanctity of their neighborhood — that he'd managed to overturn a 99-year covenant that had prevented any development on the property until 2067.

"Aren't you those people from the Calusa Golf Course?" a passerby asked. "I thought that whole thing was over."

The group's leader, Amanda Prieto, responded defiantly, "It's not over. We're still fighting, and we're protesting Bacardí today."

Though Miami-Dade County commissioners voted 10-2 last November to approve the development plan for a gated community on the former Calusa golf course, residents and members of the nonprofit Save Calusa group have not thrown in the towel. In December, Prieto sued Miami-Dade County in civil court for not giving residents adequate notice of the rescheduled hearing at which commissioners approved the 550-home plan and for not performing the proper environmental studies.

"Facundo Bacardí is hosting a sailing event today and his name hasn't been brought up enough even though he still owns a major stake in the ownership," Prieto tells New Times. "We're here today because the county made a decision without full environmental studies, [and] because we filed litigation about lack of proper notice."

As staff began setting up for the Bacardí happy hour cocktail party in the Coast Guard hangar, the protesters stood nearby and were careful not to trespass. They waved their signs toward the organizers inside, who paid them no mind.

George Moussa, a resident whose property borders the disused golf course, says he came out to fight for the value of the wildlife that resides on that land. He adds that his children are also environmentalists.

"I've seen foxes, hawks, herons, and all kinds of animals from my backyard every day for 23 years," Moussa says. "What you see in the rookery on the course, you can't see anywhere else outside the Everglades."

Around 5:30 p.m., the group was packing up after two hours of sign-waving and shouting when the few sailors participating in the day's race docked. The sailors shot them confused glances but continued walking to the hangar and the promise of booze.

Facundo Bacardí never made an appearance.

Though Saturday's sailing event was small, Prieto says her group is not deterred. They plan to ramp up their protests at the Bacardi Invitational Regatta, slated for March 6-12.

"We're not done. The fight's not over," Prieto says. "There's still hope." 
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Joshua Ceballos is staff writer for Miami New Times. He is a Florida International University alum and a born-and-bred Miami boy.
Contact: Joshua Ceballos