Until last summer Cuban-Americans with with everything from flat screen televisions to bicycles were common at charter check-ins. The excess baggage fees helped the charter companies stay afloat. But the Cuban government increased import fees on such baggage, causing cargo revenue dry up. Many of the flights became unprofitable.
Cuba then terminated landing rights for Airline Brokers and another South Florida-based charter company, C&T Charters, because of delays in payments, according to industry sources.
But Mannerud said, "There were various and complicated issues. It's not something that happened overnight.''
Mannerud said she told Cuban officials that she didnt see a light at the end of the tunnel and I didnt see the business being profitable.
The cancellation also doesnt sit well with Carlos Saladrigas, a successful local businessman who was one of the pilgrims on the papal trip.
What the Cuban government did to her is very hard to understand, he said. I dont think the Cubans understand the importance of long-term business relationships.
Hes equally outspoken about the Airline Brokers fire, which evoked memories of the 1970s and1980s, when bombings of Miami businesses whose owners were perceived as pro-Castro were frequent.
I thought we had gotten over this phase of the Cuban exile community evidently not, said Saladrigas, co-chairman of the Cuban Study Group, an organization that hopes to encourage change and the development of a civil society in Cuba.
The Coral Gables Fire Department found the fire was caused by an incendiary device containing flammable accelerant.
When Mannerud moved her business into temporary quarters, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski blessed the space.
There was an outpouring of support from the community from the right, the left, competitors, people I havent heard from in years, she said. But there was one group I didnt hear from, elected officials.
Wenski questions why there wasnt outrage from politicians and other leaders. What was so disquieting was this reticence in the face of an act of terror.
Wenski first met Mannerud in 1996 when he was organizing a Caritas relief effort to Cuba after Hurricane Lili. Back then even the idea of sending relief to Cuba was controversial. When Mannerud walked in the room and offered to help, some people in the community raised their eyebrows and wondered Why is she here? he said.
Pérez said she doesnt have a problem with exiles visiting their relatives, but objects to Cuban economic refugees who werent politically persecuted coming to the United States, seeking asylum and then traveling back to Cuba like its nothing.
Sylvia G. Iriondo, whose organization works in support of women dissidents in Cuba, was among those opposed to the papal pilgrimage. She said the trip gave a false projection of normalcy in a country where nothing is normal where power is in the hands of an illegitimate communist regime.
Wenski said Manneruds work with the archdiocese during Benedicts visit was extraordinary.
Meanwhile, problems for Airline Brokers didnt stop with the fire. There was a cyber attack on the reservations system in August, said Mannerud.
A scam also developed involving an old Airline Brokers telephone number. Mannerud leaned about it when those who had been defrauded contacted her to get their money back. She called the FBI.
But the police said since I wasnt the victim that customers would need to file their own reports, she said.
Then in December the car of an employee was attacked with a nail gun in the parking lot adjoining her office.
It was a hard year, Mannerud said.
As in many only-in-Miami sagas, there are polarized opinions. Some think radical Cuban exiles must be behind the fire; others see the handiwork of Havana in the attacks. Still others think someone using the cover of exile politics for financial gain may be responsible.
Anyone not in Miami could not understand what this is all about, Wenski said.