April 4, 2005


Mariel: New leaders were forged in heat of Mariel crisis: Mariel raised the profile of Cubans in local public office, who were forced to deal with a massive crisis demanding quick but sound decisions and sensitivity to the community's needs. (ELAINE DE VALLE, 4/04/05, Miami Herald)

As the first wave of more than 125,000 Cuban refugees suddenly headed for South Florida, Miami Assistant City Manager Cesar Odio found himself thrust into a new role as he tried to keep the city together and Cuban exiles calm.

He had been on the job barely four months, but because then-City Manager Joseph Grassie was away on business, Odio found himself front and center in one of the biggest crises ever to hit the region, as a human shepherd for the refugees, setting up their tent city homes, getting them fed.

Almost six years later, he became Miami city manager, catapulted into that post thanks in part to his steely nerves during the Mariel exodus.

''I felt that I had an obligation to help my people out. I knew my people. This was a Cuban thing,'' said Odio, whose parents spent 10 and seven years, respectively, in Cuban prisons. ``Every turn that I took was with one thing in mind: Let's get this problem solved.''

The exodus came with plenty of problems: The Mariel boatlift brought about 2,000 or 2,500 criminals and, perhaps, 500 mentally ill people. There were language barriers and a housing shortage. But there was plenty of good: a wave of talented artists -- painters, sculptors, poets and playwrights often celebrated at art shows and literary fairs.

The events also ushered in some new Cuban American political, civic and community leaders: Odio and former assistant county manager Sergio Pereira are joined by former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre; Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez; educator Eduardo Padrón, who at the time was president of just one Miami Dade College campus, where he started a program to retrain the refugees. [...]

Padrón, today the president of Miami Dade College, also shrugs it off as just part of the job.

''This institution did what it is supposed to do, which is to open doors of education to people,'' Padrón said. ``We knew that education was going to be very, very important in order for them to be able to successfully redirect their lives in the United States.''

He established a program to not only teach the refugees English, but also train them in with fast-track job skills so the refugees could get jobs.

"We saw this as an opportunity to provide the people who were coming in as new immigrants to Miami with an opportunity to become what you would call productive citizens, as opposed to becoming liabilities.''

On the first day refugees started arriving at camps at Tamiami Park and the Orange Bowl, they got fliers that let them know about the courses.

''To our satisfaction, a lot of these people immediately reacted very positively, and we were able to develop special programs for them as well as get some of them into regular programs,'' Padrón told The Herald.

He said thousands of refugees, probably tens of thousands, took courses at Miami Dade College.

''Many of whom today are leaders,'' Padron noted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 4, 2005 9:19 AM

That's why Brian DePalma and Oliver Stone, deserve
a special corner of hell; for 'Scarface'

Posted by: narciso at April 4, 2005 10:22 PM