Horacio Aguirre, whose historic and emblematic leadership of Diario las Américas earned him the sobriquet “civilian hero of this city” died Friday morning following a major stroke he had in March. He was 92 and at the Miami Shores home he had lived in since 1953.
“He was a gentleman and always wanted people to try to find common ground to deal with their differences and not get into personal attacks and things like that,” his son Alejandro Aguirre said from his house, shuttered for the pending arrival of Hurricane Irma.
The Aguirre home is serving as a shelter to many friends who had to evacuate from Miami Beach due to the storm. The neighborly concern wouldn’t have been lost on the senior Aguirre. “As a friend and a father and a civic leader, to get that kind of harmony to the community” was his goal, his son said.
Aguirre, born April 20, 1925, in New Orleans, his father a political refugee from Nicaragua, founded his Spanish-language newspaper in Miami on July 4, 1953, as an eight-page edition. The Independence Day date was by design.
“We deliberately selected one of the great days in the history of freedom,” Aguirre said in a column — To Know the Essence of Democracy — published in the Miami Herald in 1993. “What we offer here is so many cultures, so many opportunities,” he said of Greater Miami. “We need to create an atmosphere where everyone is respected.”
And so Aguirre set about doing precisely that with Diaro las Américas. Six days a week, the oldest Spanish-language newspaper in South Florida focused on Latin America and local news. Diario became the newspaper of record for Cubans in Miami for decades, a population that would teasingly refer to it as the newspaper of today, with the date of tomorrow and the news of yesterday. The reason is Diario was printed in the late afternoon and delivered to homes and newsstands, with the printed date of the following day.
Aguirre successfully bet early on that Miami’s Hispanic population — then primarily Puerto Rican and Cuban tourists in the era of Eisenhower and Batista — would support his endeavor.
“My dad had an idea of starting a newspaper that paid attention to the entire hemisphere at a time when news about Latin America and the Caribbean, and vice versa, wasn’t that easy to get across the border,” his son said. “We’re talking about 1953, and he was always keenly interested in using the information that he could project in the newspaper to promote democratic causes which were very much under fire back then, even before the Castro revolution. They continue to be under fire now.”
It should be noted that the Miami Herald didn’t tap this market until seven years later, in 1960, with the publication of a weekly column not long after the Cuban Revolution.
Even so, it would take until 1976 for the Herald to publish the Spanish-language El Miami Herald, which drew primarily on content from the English paper. Finally, in 1987, El Nuevo Herald debuted with a reporting and editing staff that was separate from the Herald and provided competition for Diario. “I consider El Nuevo competition because … they follow, not the policy, but the idea of Diaro las Américas,” Aguirre told writer Julian Pleasants in 2002.
The characteristics of Horacio are complete integrity, conviction, loyalty, and a great humanistic sense of the importance of the human soul and human values. I think that his journey through life as a journalist are perfect reflections of that.
Maurice Ferré, former Miami mayor
Diario was sold in 2013 to a group of Venezuelan investors and still publishes, along with its website. Alejandro Aguirre, then the paper’s top editor, said his 20-year journalism career there was inspired by visits to the Miami Herald with family friends George Beebe, the Herald’s managing editor, and its executive editor Lee Hills. These trips to the newsroom at the former building on Biscayne Bay helped him reconsider a career in banking for one in journalism.
“My dad was very hands-off as far as that goes,” he said. But his father’s example was crucial in his development as a newsman.
“He taught me several things as a journalist and one of them was … there are more than two sides to a story. You have to be very careful when you bring up things or say things that can harm people then it turns out it wasn’t true. He also made it clear to me if you make a mistake, rectify it immediately,” Alejandro Aguirre said.
“He also made an effort to present things as they were and to stick to the truth. He made an effort not to fan the flames of discord gratuitously. He said to me on many occasions, sometimes events will do that on their own, we don’t need to do it,” his son added. “The ultimate truth, he used to say, belongs to God. You do your best to take a stab at taking a peek at it ‘but remember, other people may have a different view.’”
On Friday, the author of that 1993 Essence of Democracy column, David Lawrence Jr., retired publisher of the Herald and chairman of The Children’s Movement, said of Aguirre: “Horacio is the great gentleman — el gran caballero — of journalism for Miami and points south. I see him, always will, as a pioneer of coverage and commentary that speaks to so many corners of the community. Beyond all that, he loved this country as much as anyone I know.”
He was the epitome of a gracious, bygone era of good manners and civility. He was always well-dressed and would always be surrounded by his loving family members.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Three years after Aguirre was born, the family felt it was safe to return to Nicaragua. In the late 1940s, during another period of turmoil, Aguirre moved to Panama where he earned degrees in political science and law and became an editorial writer for El Panama America. He continued that role with his own paper in Miami that he founded with his brother Francisco. A stalwart conservative Republican, Aguirre wrote all the editorials for Diario.
“I always thought that as a writer I could make a difference in a democracy, to keep a democracy, to help others to know the principles of the essence of democracy,” he told the Herald in 1993.
That role, preserving the essence of democracy and a free press, remained ingrained in Aguirre through his lifetime.
“Horacio is really a giant in journalism and in Miami,” said Maurice Ferré, Miami’s former mayor. He met Aguirre at the inauguration party for Diario when he was an 18-year-old University of Miami student and their families eventually became one. Aguirre’s daughter Helen, now the Hispanic affairs coordinator for the Trump White House, is married to Ferré’s son, Juan Luis.
Horacio was the exemplar of the Spanish word
David Lawrence Jr., chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida
“One of my fondest memories of him was during the years of President Carter,” the senior Ferré said. “I was a delegate to UNESCO, which, at that time, was led by the Africans and mainly Arab countries. They were trying to put licensing procedures in place for journalists — in other words, so that they would be controlled. Horacio, at that time, was president of the Inter American Press Association. His defense of the First Amendment and the importance of press freedom in society was absolutely amazing. I was amazed at the respect Horacio had at the level of UNESCO and, sure enough, he was able to mitigate the draconian measures UNESCO wanted to do on licensing of journalists.”
Adds Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who had a weekly column in Diario for 30 years: “Dr. Aguirre had been the center of activity for the Hispanic-American community in South Florida for decades. Every patriotic, social or charitable organization coveted space in his newspaper because it was such a well-read and respected paper. Elected officials sought the endorsement of Diario and would highlight this endorsement in campaign mailings.”
Proudly bilingual in Spanish and English — “I favor speaking both languages well, not mixing the two of them to create a new language (Spanglish)” he told the Herald in 1993 — Aguirre championed Miami’s multicultural community and it, in turn, embraced one of its most significant voices.
“Although Dr. Aguirre was proud of his Nicaraguan heritage, he was considered by many to be an honorary Cuban,” said Ros-Lehtinen, noting that her father, the late businessman and activist Enrique Ros, was a dear friend of Aguirre’s.
“Under Dr. Aguirre’s hands-on guidance, the meetings of anti-Castro groups would be prominently displayed in Diario,” she said. “He was the epitome of a gracious, bygone era of good manners and civility. His children carried on in more active roles with the newspaper but Dr. Aguirre will forever be identified with the great Diario las Américas.”
Aguirre is survived by his children Horacio Stuart, Carmen Maria, Helen Aguirre Ferré, Alejandro Jose and Marta Lucia; 14 grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter. He was predeceased by his wife Helen Craigie Aguirre and son Carlos Aguirre Craigie. Services are pending due to Hurricane Irma.