THE SUGAR SULTANS AND BRIBERY
Welcome to the independent
republic of Miami
BY GABRIEL MOLINA
IN real terms nobody should have been shocked that Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate, has departed from President Clinton's position in relation to the Elián González kidnapping.
Gore has asked congress members from his party to support the bill presented by Republican legislators to grant U.S. citizenship to Elián and his family in Cuba.
Journalists recently asked President Clinton why all aspirants to the White House have spoken out in favor of the child remaining in the United States, as proposed by the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF).
Clinton's surprisingly sincere response was that perhaps because he is not a candidate.
However, not everyone understands what he meant by that comment.
In early 1997, the Public Broadcasting System (PBC) transmitted a series of programs inquiring into what its director Hendrick Smith defined as public discredit and cynicism toward Washington for the solid reason of the wave of money spent on the 1996 election: more than $2 billion USD, a record.
Former senator Bill Bradley declared in March `97 that the campaign funding system is a disaster which is distorting democracy. But in his bid to win the presidential nomination, he utilized those same methods to collect over $39 million USD for the 2000 elections, overtaking Gore by close to $1 million USD.
Chuck Lewis from the Center for Public Integrity revealed that the Congress Banking Committee takes money out of the banks, the Agricultural Committee from sugar, tobacco and other agricultural business interests; and so on down the line.
Hendrick Smith used the example of the Congress amendment on sugar and exposed the fact, hidden within that program, that consumers are paying eight cents more per pound for the product than they should. According to the general accountancy office, that means $408 million USD per year which passes from hand to hand to the magnates' benefit.
THE SYSTEM OF FUNDING CONGRESS MEMBERS
BEGAN WITH THE SUGAR MAGNATES
Critics maintain that this program survives year after year by means of political money, Smith stated.
He related how the system started in the vast fields of southern Florida where half the country's sugar cane is produced. This sugar industry is, in the main, a creation of the U.S. government, he added.
Land in Everglades was drained by the Army Engineer Corps and 500,000 acres was sold to the wealthiest landowners in the country, the largest section to the two big corporations: U.S. Sugar and Flo-Sun. For decades the government has helped these and other sugar producers, curtailing sugar imports at the lowest prices on the world market and forcing U.S. citizens to pay double for their purchase of the sweetener.
Smith recounted that in 1995, the 49 members of the Senate Agricultural Committee received an average of $16,000 USD from the sugar magnates, most of it from two large producers, the Fanjul brothers. These magnates, moreover, invested money in hundreds of districts and thus have become, in association with the CANF, an influential factor in U.S. politics over the last 30 years.
One way of comprehending this is to backtrack to November 25, 1995, when Congress members Ileana Ros Lehtinen and Lincoln Díaz Balart, and Senators Robert Graham and Connie Mack signed an unusual paid advertisement covering a whole page in the Miami El Nuevo Herald, with photos of both Fidel Castro and Nat Reed, claiming that the former destroyed Cuba's sugar industry and the latter wants to kill off Florida's by taxation.
The four horsemen of the Apocalypse in Congress were assuming the defenseÅwithout naming themÅof the Fanjul brothers, known as the Sugar Sultans, having learnt that Reed wanted approval for levying a tax of $76 million USD per year on Florida's sugar producers. The horsemen asked voters to pressure their senators and representatives to vote against that contribution to the treasury.
The response, signed by the Committee to Ensure Florida's Economic and Environmental Future, was likewise published in the December 8 edition of El Nuevo Herald, and directed at Senator Graham. It asked why it was easier for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to deduct $34 billion USD from the food aid program (food stamps) for poor children than to ask the millionaire sugar producers to pay two cents per pound to clean up the contamination they themselves had caused in the Everglades.
The advertisement, dragging up the so-called anti-Castro industry, set the standard for what would be the Fanjul's strategy, through the four horsemen, in their confrontation with the ecologists. The cultivators of sugar cane and its main derivative, alcohol, the raw material for rum (Bacardi), are strong contributors and allies of the Mas Canosa family in terms of funding an wide group of legislators represented by the four horsemen, whose present-day mentor is Senator Jesse Helms. They also finance José Basulto's Brothers to the Rescue organization.
The foundation, like the Sultans, annually receives millions of dollars from the U.S. government, part of which it also invests, precisely, in funding those who, before or after, facilitate those funds. Domingo Moreira, CANF cadre and head of Free Cuba PAC Inc., stated that the target for the 1991-2 campaign was to hand over $250-400,000 USD for that concept. The funds are mainly contributed by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a program created by Reagan, and presented to 39 Democratic Congress members and 17 Republicans, significant among whom were Ileana Ros Lehtinen, Dante Fascell, Robert Torricelli, Lincoln Díaz Balart, Larry Smith, Ernest Hollings, Robert Graham, Joseph Lieberman, Connie Mack, Orrin G. Hatch, Claude Pepper and others.
The Sugar Sultans are among the principal entrepreneurs who finance politicians from both parties, according to the July 17, 1995 edition of the weekly U.S. News & World Report.
They have been forced to fight steadily more fiendishly to preserve their privileges, threatened by environmental organizations.
THE FANJULS AND THE FOUNDATION DISPENSE THEIR DONATIONS BETWEEN DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS
According to that weekly, the Fanjuls now own a hard-to-calculate extension of land planted with sugar cane in Florida, various factories, a refinery and a finance company in Miami. But the Fanjul empire, according to an investigation by the Federal Electoral Commission (FEC), due to a contributions scandal in the 1995-96 electoral campaign owns a further 10 companies in the Flo-Sun Land Corp., Flo-Sun Sugar and Florida Crystal Refinery. In that electoral cycle the family contributed approximately $1 million USD to both parties' campaigns, as far as it is known.
This Fanjul-Gómez Mena family is descended from the marriage in the Cuba of 1936 of Lilliam, the only daughter of millionaire José Gómez MenaÅthe owner of four sugar mills and other propertiesÅand Alfonso Fanjul Rionda, the descendent of a landowning family of Spanish origin based in the United States, the Braga-Riondas. Together with the Cuban branch, the Fanjul-Riondas controlled the majority of shares with the 35% of the Czarnikow-Riondas, founded by Manuela Rionda in New York; the 22% of the ManatiSugar Company' and the 30% of the Francisco Sugar Company, in addition to Gómez Mena's assets.
Andrés, the father of José (Pepe) Gómez Mena, arrived in Cuba in the middle of the 19th century and, by his death in 1910, already owned four sugar mills and other real estate assets. Pepe, who had been minister of agriculture during the Gerardo Machado dictatorship and president of the Sugar Stabilization Institute, reorganized the family business which, with the marriage of Lilliam and Alfonso, remained in the hands of the Fanjul clan.
With the triumph of the Revolution in 1959, Alfonso Fanjul left the country in 1960 to take refuge in Florida. With the help of his family and Washington, which was already seeking to strangle Fidel Castro's government by cutting the sugar quota, he formed a new group that acquired 4000 acres of land at $160 USD an acre in the vicinity of Lake Okeechobee, and used sections of small sugar mills to assemble the Osceola mill. One by one, sons Alfonso (Alfi), Pepe, Alexander and Andrés joined the Miami operation.
“Alfi,” president of the Florida company, backs the Democrats. From 1992, when he worked as co-president of Clinton's campaign, he has been one of the principal contributors and continues to be a friend of the president.
José “Pepe” Fanjul was one of the main financial supports of former president George Bush, and subsequently co-president of Dole's campaign against Clinton, his current role in the aspirations of Bush's son, George W.
But the powerful Fanjul Sultans went on the defensive in July `95 due to the campaign to eliminate the federal government program that fixes the price of sugar at 22 cents per pound. This was one of the main factors in how the Fanjul brothers, well aware of how government bodies operate in that country, were able to construct an empire within such a short time.
A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS: RECEIVING $65 MILLION
IN SUBSIDIES AND DISPENSING $2 MILLION
The subsidy program has to be approved by Congress every five years. In order to maintain that income of $65 million USD per year, the Fanjuls make regular contributions to the election of Florida congress members and officials, and those in a large part of the country, amounting to some $2 million USD as far as it is known. It's a successful business; with that money they fund congress members and officials and these repay them, not only by protecting their privileged subsidy, but also by subscribing to congressional bills that will bring them in the largest profits; even when these go against U.S. interests, as in the case of the Helms-Burton Act.
An unusual coalition has been combating that rare privilege. It is made up of environmentalist groups like the National Audubon Society, which is accusing the sugarcane cultivators of threatening the ecology of the Florida Everglades.
Congressmen Dan Miller, Republican, and Charles Schumer, Democrat, co-sponsored the legislation to eliminate the administration's sugar program.
In 1996 a Republican majority with plans to eliminate large federal programs like the sugar one coincided with the ecologists. Representative Pat Roberts, president of the committee, was fiercely committed to breaking the old subsidy system to the harvesters. But he encountered a kind of rebellion within the committee, led by fellow Republican Mark Foley, in whose district a large portion of the country's sugar cane is grown. According to program director Hendrick Smith, in 1996, Foley had received enough money, particularly from Flo-Sun and U.S. Sugar, to overtake his opponent in the congressional elections.
On November 8, the Fanjul brothers mobilized congress members additionally funded by Mas Canosa, as well as Cuban-origin House Representatives Iliana Ros Lehtinen and Díaz Balart. The Fanjuls are healthy and notorious contributors to the CANF.
Miller stated that the sugar lobby's sole concern is the five-yearly debate on that legislation within the Agricultural Committee for which they prepare by organizing friends. Every year they parcel out money, vote or no vote, and at the moment of need, their friends will be there. When Miller was preparing to introduce his amendment bill, he received a telephone call from José Fanjul. Miller himself had received $13,000 USD in political donations in the previous two years, but in spite of Dole and Fanjul he pressed ahead.
Nevertheless, when the Chamber discussed the bill in February 1996, it was defeated by 217 votes to 209, and the sugar program was maintained with modest changes. Five of the bill's co-sponsors furnished the margin by changing their positions and voting in favor of the sugar producers. That day they received more than $11,000 USD for the campaign, claimed Hendrick Smith, who publicly noted that in spite of representing New Jersey, Congressman Robert Torricelli voted with the Fanjul clan. He stated that the records show that Torricelli received $33,000 USD in contributions to the senatorial campaign he was preparing.
THE METHOD OF COLLECTING FUNDS FOR THE ELECTION
IS A CANCER THAT IS CORRODING THE SYSTEM
Dan Miller paid: the sugar industry in Tallahassee offered $500,000 USD to the candidate running against him.
The Securities and Exchange Committee is accusing the Fanjul brothers of possibly having violated state and federal regulations by making political contributions to officials who could influence decisions concerning their companies.
This collusion with a long list of congress members is not related to isolated events. It is all part of the extreme right's grand strategy against the social gains, expressed incisively by one of their theoreticians, William Kristol, director of the Project for a Republican Future: that President Roosevelt's New Deal was dead, and that its corpse should be taken up and buried before the stink became unbearable.
The system of collecting funds for general and partial election campaigns has reached such an extreme that it continues to be denounced as a cancer which is corroding the establishment.
Last December, Alfonso Fanjul was the joint host with Mas Santos at a dinner where $1 million USD was collected for Al Gore's Democratic nomination campaign. But, of the $39.8 million collected for Gore, $32.4 million has already been spent, as opposed to Bush's $72 million ($60.7 million spent), is pushing the Democratic candidate into seeking the money promised him by the CANF. It is the classic give to get back.
The Miami mafia were emboldened by Vice President Gore's support for the kidnapping of Elián González, which is a by-product of this arrogance that the U.S. government has conferred on them.
The majority of U.S. citizens are unaware of how, from 1959 onward, Cuban fugitives have been instruments in the dirtiest work of the extreme right shielded by the dealings of federal and state government, the Congress, FBI and the CIA.
The Fanjuls and Bacardi family participated along with Mas Canosa in the drawing up of the Helms Burton Act to intensify the economic war against Cuba.
But the situation created by the kidnapping of the child Elián González has thrown into relief the excessive power that they have gained. The arrogance of the CANF, and the mayors and congress members of Cuban origin in Miami makes them appear drunk with that power. So much so that The New York Times of April 1 observed that many people there are describing such acts as a declaration of independence, a nation apart.
And they are congratulating each other, saying: “Welcome to the Independent Republic of Miami.”