Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: How the planets aligned over Miami: Yes to Mandela & Invictus, no to Cuban consulate

The Cuban flag is raised over the re-opened Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C. , July 20, 2015.
The Cuban flag is raised over the re-opened Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C. , July 20, 2015. AP

Where would we be without our multicultural fireworks?

Story-less. But thankfully, we don’t have to worry.

A man takes a plea deal for gunning down the voudou priest lover who attacked him with magic powder. Cuban immigrants stranded in Central America arrive on a tourism bus to receive a rock-star status welcome. And, the Miami-Dade County Commission legislates on foreign policy.

Forget swamps and flamingos. You know you’re in Miami when Cuban history and Nelson Mandela are evoked from the dais of a local governing body, voices cracking with old loss, new anger — and a dash of politically inspired emotionalism — all on speculation that the Obama administration could decide to allow Cuba to open a consulate in Miami. The mere thought incites Commissioner Esteban Bovo to sponsor a resolution urging the federal government to forget about that!

“Obama has more in common with the Castro brothers than the American people,” Bovo told The Herald before Wednesday’s commission meeting, setting the stage for an African American vs. Cuban American tug-of-war, 1980s style.

Cuban-American commissioners recall exiled parents who couldn’t grieve their dead and lost everything when they fled Cuba. They didn’t choose to leave and return a year and a day later, as Cuban immigrants do now — and they don’t want a Commie consulate here.

Commissioner Dennis Moss, looking grave, says he’ll support Bovo’s resolution but “sensitivity goes both ways.” He’s unhappy with the comments about the president. Commissioner Barbara Jordan follows, evoking Mandela, not exactly the man but the Hollywood movie that portrays how Mandela tries to unite apartheid-torn South Africa. She can’t remember details of the scene she wants to relate, but it involves a white team and a black team vying to represent the country in the Rugby World Cup.

In a gesture to pull the country together, President Mandela makes the unexpected decision to choose the white team. He delivers the decision to the team leader using lines from the poem Invictus. Jordan wants to quote it but, she can’t remember it. Deputy Mayor Ed Marquez chimes in to recite it like a pro.

And with that, Jordan says she’s not supporting a resolution that feels like “closing the door. … We need to start healing somewhere.”

Commission Chairman Jean Monestime, a Haitian-American, brings practicality to the table. Even as he argues that the consulate makes sense economically, he votes against it. “It’s easy to do this,” he says. “We have no control over that” consulate decision.

Bovo gives a rousing U.S.-Cuba relations speech. The beauty of democracy, he says, is that he can criticize the president without being “incarcerated and beaten” like black Cuban civic leaders who are “Cuban Mandelas” on the island. And why should Cuban-exile tax dollars pay for county police to protect a Cuban consulate supportive of a dictatorship?

But Bovo softens on Obama: “I believe the president of the United States acted with the best of intentions, but he is dealing with demons down there.”

Deal. On a day that began with planetary alignment in the heavens, agendas line up for a 9-3 vote in favor of no consulate until there’s democracy. And the lone dissenting Cuban-American vote is from former Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, who once snubbed Mandela.

One voudou priest may have left us, but this is still the Magic City.