Clinton and the Cuban Fixer

Hurricane Andrew hit South Miami at around 2 a.m., Aug. 24, 1992. Before it was blown off the roof, the wind gauge at Homestead Air Force Base clocked a wind speed of 217 miles per hour. From South Miami, through Homestead and into Key Largo and the Everglades, Andrew left a swath of destruction about 30 miles wide. In the disaster, of course, lay opportunity.

Homestead was flattened by the storm and in late 1993 the Air Force decided to move out. The Defense Department put Homestead high on its impending closure list and in 1994 proposed to transfer the base to Dade County, free of charge. The county had a big plan for the site: to build a large commercial airport there, relieving the pressure on Miami International Airport a few miles to the northeast .

These plans soon aroused the concern of local conservation groups, since the old base sits amid Biscayne National Park, the Everglades, and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The $12 billion development planned for Homestead--the largest in the history of Southern Florida--spelled 230,000 annual overflights of commercial jetliners in and out of the new airport, plus toxic storm water and sewage leaching through Homestead's porous limestone.

As plans for the gigantic scheme began to shape up, observers of the real estate scene in Dade County were startled to see that the county was not putting the plans for the construction of the airport and the attendant commercial center up for competitive bids.

In fact, Dade County lost no time in signing an exclusive 70-year lease and development agreement with an unknown company called Homestead Air Base Developers, Inc. (HABDI), without asking for a penny in exchange. HABDI's president is a Cuban-American by the name of Carlos Herrera. Herrera also heads the Latin Builders Association, regarded by many as the most powerful political group in South Florida. Two of the other HABDI partners, Pedro Adrian and Camillo Jaime, are also officers of the Association, which has had an unsavory history in local politics. According to the Miami Herald, it was involved "in the greatest corruption case the U.S. Attorney's office ever made in Miami." Back in 1989, several officers of the Association had been caught on tapes offering cash bribes to Dade County commissioners to win approval for other large building schemes.

Herrera was born outside Havana in 1958, the year before Fidel Castro led his revolution into power. Herrera's mother was a beautician, who took her son to Florida in 1964, where they settled in Hialeah. Herrera dropped out of school at the age of 15 to work for an air conditioning company. Three years later he started his own business, Local Air Conditioning, which he runs to this day. How Herrera made the jump from A/C repairman to mega-developer remains obscure.

One of the directors of the Latin Builders Association is Miguel DeGrandy. DeGrandy is also the chief lobbyist for HABDI, as well being a partner of the Miami/D.C. law firm Greenberg Traurig. The managing partner of Greenberg Traurig is Marvin Rosen. And here we enter the financial air space of the Democratic Party, since Rosen served as chairman of the party's finance committee from 1994 through the recent election.

Marvin Rosen cut his teeth in Democratic Party politics back in 1980 when he was the Florida coordinator of Sen. Ted Kennedy's doomed effort to wrest the Democratic Party nomination from Jimmy Carter. Though Kennedy did badly, Rosen proved himself a whiz at beating the bushes for money. By 1984 he was the leading fundraiser for Fritz Mondale. In 1988 Rosen served as finance chairman of the Dukakis campaign and, during the cash-strapped days of Clinton's 1992 bid, was personally solicited by Gov. Bill himself to raise money, and celebrated the inaugural victory in the company of the Clintons and the Gores.

Seeking to capitalize on such a long investment in time and effort, Rosen opened a D.C. office for his law firm in 1993 and immediately hired Ron Brown's son Michael to be his director of legislative affairs. He also recruited Ted Kennedy's new wife, Victoria.

Rosen's Kennedy connection was not irrelevant to plans afoot for Homestead. Back in early Clinton time, Ted Kennedy sat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which was overseeing the base closures. Rosen and Kennedy arranged a meeting between Herrera and then-Transportation Secretary Federico Peña, at Kennedy's estate in Virginia. The encounter took place on April 3, 1996. The meeting was crucial because the Federal Aviation Administration (part of Peña's bailiwick at Transportation) must approve the lease, designs, and operations of the new commercial airport.

In the wake of the rendezvous in Virginia, Herrera told the Miami Herald, "I'm a respectful guy. I always go to the highest person possible to explain what I am doing. With my contacts and the help of certain senators I called Peña and got a meeting. The guy is accessible. I just wanted to give the guy a face-to-face briefing. I wanted to tell him where we stood on the lease itself, and to tell him we were going to be meeting with the FAA soon to get their approval."

Herrera later reckoned that between 1994 and the end of 1996 he had given more than $100,000 to the Democratic Party and to politicians such as Kennedy, John Kerry, Robert Torricelli, and Bill Clinton.

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