Stories written for my News Workshop class during the Spring 2006 Semester at FIU
FIU Community Responds With Disapproval to Cuban Counterintelligence
By Henry Chinea
Posted on January 20, 2006
Prior to the Spring 2006 semester, the FIU community was one that always thought highly of its faculty and staff. However, their views changed starting on January 6th, when Carlos and Elsa Alvarez, two respected members of FIU’s faculty, were indicted and arrested by the FBI for not having registered with the United States as foreign agents of the Cuban government. The espionage activities this couple was engaged in included using shortwave radios, numerical code language and computer encrypted files to pass along information regarding the Cuban exile community in Miami to top members of Castro’s intelligence. According to the U.S. prosecution, Carlos had been spying for Cuba since 1977 and Elsa since 1982. As a result, they are currently being held without bond at the Miami Federal Detention Center. However, a second major catastrophic result of this incident is that it has led FIU faculty and students with incredible feelings of shock, concern, betrayal, and skepticism.
Carlos Alvarez was a well-known Associate Professor for the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the College of Education. Ann Nevin, a part-time Visiting Professor who has been with the College of Education for three years, was one faculty member who has respect for what Carlos Alvarez was teaching his students in his classes. “I know that his area is conflict management and teaching people to manage conflict without going to war. I think that kind of conflict resolution process is very important, particularly for us in Special Education,” Nevin said. She has demonstrated concern for Carlos and Elsa Alvarez. “I have extreme sympathy and empathy for someone who is caught in that web of presumed guilt. Totally the opposite of the American Ideal, which is you’re presumed innocent and yet by virtue of the fact that an arraignment came down, the presumption is that there is enough information to charge these people,” she said. Luis Gomez, a popular, well-respected professor at FIU’s School of Music, was taken by surprise and disappointed in the news. He expressed a different kind of concern. “I just feel that it’s terrible when somebody takes advantage of the freedoms we have in this country. If it were to be the other way around, that we go there, it would be almost impossible. When somebody is here and is spying on your stuff, it’s just terrible. I feel bad about that,” Gomez said. Dr. Steven Mizrach, a professor of Sociology and Anthropology, was also deceived by the Alvarezes’ behavior. “I was actually surprised to find out that there was faculty here at FIU that were actually doing things on behalf of the Cuban government. I would expect the opposite,” Mizrach said.
The majority of the faculty and staff at the College of Education were not speaking to anyone in the press about this matter. They were advised by their administration not to talk. Anybody attempting to speak to the Dean of the College of Education would be immediately turned away by her secretary and referred to Media Relations because it is a “high-profile case involving the FBI”. One employee who chose to remain anonymous spoke of the situation. “Hardly anybody is talking. I don’t know what to say about this. We worked together. Everything seemed fine. From the person I knew, he was a nice guy. He was very friendly,” she said.
Elsa Alvarez was a counselor at University Park’s Counseling and Psychological Services. Her department was hit the hardest with questions from the media due to the high sensitivity of the matter. Any member of the media attempting to interview anyone employed there was also immediately referred to the Media Relations department located in PC 519. Director Mark Riordan was only providing official statements made by University President Modesto Maidique. Maidique was another member of the FIU community equally taken by surprise. “Like many people in the South Florida community, I was stunned Monday to learn that two Florida International University employees had been arrested and charged with acting as unregistered agents of the Cuban government,” he said in an official statement released on January 10.
The students at FIU also share the disbelief and disappointment about this matter along with faculty. Robert McKee, a TESOL major at the College of Education and former student of Carlos Alvarez’s Cross-Cultural studies class was crushed by the news. “When I found out what they’re accused of, I felt very upset, very betrayed. There’s conflicting reports in the media, so I’m trying to withhold a lot of judgment, but I felt betrayed. It’s very upsetting because anytime you take a professor it’s a trust. You’re trusting someone with some of your most intimate writings and views,” he said. A Cuban-American student who chose to remain anonymous was in total shock and questioned why Carlos and Elsa Alvarez would do this. “Why would anybody need files from a university to send to another country?” she said. Another student who chose to remain anonymous expressed her belief in the practices of the Alvarezes. “What they did was deceitful because they were over here teaching students yet they were spying for somebody else,” she said. Roselie Dorcelien, a freshman majoring in Criminal Justice, now feels a newly added sense of skepticism because of what occurred. “It’s crazy. It’s like you never know who’s around you and what they’re doing. You can never trust anybody really,” Dorcelien said. Melissa McInnis, a Biology and Health Sciences major, was led to question the hiring process at FIU after this incident. “Do they do continuous background checks to make sure that their employees are up to par and that they’re not doing anything illegal? Cause it’s not just enough to do it at the interview. You have to keep tabs on it because you never know. Especially the way things are nowadays. Everyone’s a terrorist,” she said.
It may take the FIU community quite sometime to process this incident and eventually let go of their feelings of shock and skepticism. Luckily, Niyi Shopack, an Accounting major, has some advice for preventing future matters like this from taking place. “As a professor, you should have ethics and should go by those. Anyone who doesn’t, their contract should be terminated as soon as possible because they are a bad influence and showing bad examples to others in the profession,” Shopack said. Niyi also showed that even in times like these, the FIU community could embrace the power of positive thinking and attempt to put matters like these behind them. “Nothing is perfect. Good and bad things do happen. Make sure that 90% of what you do is good. Don’t let the bad cover up all the good,” he said.
Starbucks Opens Its Doors to Hialeah
By Henry Chinea
Posted on February 7, 2006
Today, there are 49 Starbucks stores open throughout Miami-Dade County. Coffee lovers in Hialeah have to drive 6 miles get their Starbucks fix at the 2 closest locations, which are store number 43 in Miami Lakes and store number 44 on Red Road. After a highly anticipated wait, Starbucks is opening up its first store in Hialeah, which makes it store number 50 in Miami-Dade County.
Laura Ruiz, Store Manager at the Miami Lakes store, said the Hialeah location has been in discussion since 2005. ”The opening of this store was announced about a year ago within the company,” she said. When asked about the nature of the Grand Opening, she noted that depending on the manager, they usually give out free sample coffee to customers.
The new store is located on Hialeah’s busiest street, 49th street, in the Palm Springs Mile Shopping Plaza. It is currently being built on West 5th Avenue by Precision Source, a local general and electrical contractor. An employee of Precision Source met on the site of construction was not authorized to speak about the matter. David Norris, an inspector with the Bureau Veritas also met on the site said he was hired by Starbucks to make sure that everything runs accordingly.
According to Janel Perez, Manager at the Red Road store, the Starbucks on West 5th Avenue is only one of five Starbucks stores opening up in Hialeah. “I know for a fact that they’re going to open up five, so they’re all going to be on 49th street. The store in Hialeah is going to be in our district, but we don’t have any more information on that. The district manager’s name is Felice Torre,” she said. Torre could also not be reached at press time.
The approximate location of two other of these Starbucks stores has been identified. According to Starbucks Customer Relations Specialist Erica, the second one is going to be built on West 16th Avenue and 49th Street, and the third is going to be built inside of Westland Mall, Hialeah’s major shopping destination. “As it’s getting close to opening, there will be signage on the doors for people wanting to know when it will be open, so that information should be posted soon,” she said.
Lorena Martinez, a Biology student at Barry University and lifetime Hialeah resident, believes a Starbucks in Hialeah can either improve the place or can be run down by the local Cuban coffee shops in the area. “Although there aren’t any within a two block vicinity around the building zone, Starbucks is still going to be affected by them. The old school Hispanic community living in Hialeah probably won’t want to be around a rowdy, young crowd, or they won’t want to pay more than a buck fifty for a café con leche as supposed to 4 dollars for a latte at Starbucks,” she said.
Don Pan, the closest place that serves coffee located in the same shopping center, showed no signs of concern that this Starbucks is opening up. According to Ariadna Valero, Operations Manager, Don Pan doesn’t fear a profit loss because their efforts are mainly concentrated on their cakes and desserts. “We feel that we are quite established as a company and that our customers will continue coming to Don Pan because of the items that we have to offer. If 4 more Starbucks are opened, then we may begin to feel a small threat,” she said.
When asked why Starbucks waited until 2006 to launch stores in Hialeah, Laura Ruiz was able to provide some kind of answer on behalf of the company. “Basically it takes a long time to get real estate and you have to make sure that it’s the right location,” she said. Starbucks executives contacted in their Seattle, Atlanta, and Fort Lauderdale corporate offices could also not be reached at press time.
No Day But Today for Miami
By Henry Chinea
Posted on February 26, 2006
THERE they stood. Anxious yet excited. A crowd of mixed ages at the outside patio area of Books and Books of Coral Gables. One group of youngsters shouted “Oh my god, it’s him!” in order to get everybody to panic. The same noisy crowd of youngsters, 10th graders at Gulliver Preparatory School, sang and shouted: “We don’t wanna pay… we don’t wanna pay… we don’t wanna pay!”. When the door to the lecture room opened, one girl yelled out “Barge like the sea, people!”
Many carried various Rent paraphernalia in order to get it signed by Anthony Rapp, known as the original Mark Cohen of Rent, the 1996 Pulitzer-prize winning Broadway rock opera and recent film. Other films he’s been in include Dazed and Confused, Adventures in Babysitting, Six Degrees of Separation, and Road Trip. He also fronts the band Albinokid, and has an album out titled “Look Around”. Anthony was there on Wednesday, February 22nd reading excerpts of his new book titled “Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical Rent”, an insightful personal account of his life on and off-stage.
Laura, a retired ballet dancer, said she chose to stay for this after having attended the previous lecture. “I’ve attended various author events, and some have only had 3 people in the audience. I’ve never seen so many people. It’s absolutely chaotic in here!” she said describing the atmosphere.
Ashley Capo, a theatre performance major at FIU, was there as an admirer of Anthony Rapp. “He’s a major inspiration to me as a future theater performer,” she said. Ashley is a big fan of the film version of Rent, which was released on DVD Tuesday February 21st. “When I saw it on Broadway, it had none of the original cast and it just wasn’t the same,” she said. The film version includes all the original characters except Mimi and Maureen, who are respectively played by Rosario Dawson and Idina Menzel.
Books and Books owner and founder Mitchell Kaplan and Stephanie Norman, Producing Artistic Director and co-founder of City Theatre, introduced Rapp. In response to the enthusiasm and anticipation of the crowd waiting for Anthony, who arrived ten minutes late, Kaplan gave the crowd a friendly reminder in etiquette. “Now I know that you’re going to scream and all, which is great. But we want to hear him talk too,” he said. Stephanie Norman then took the microphone briefly and let the audience know her inspiration for attending this lecture. “Yes, I am Stephanie Norman of City Theatre. But tonight, I join everybody else here as a ‘Rent Head’,“ she said. Stephanie couldn’t believe how receptive the crowd was when she mentioned Rent. “Boy, I feel like I’m at a rap concert!!” she said excitedly as the audience laughed immediately in response.
Anthony emerged and the audience was clapping and screaming in joy at the top of their lungs. He read from the section of the book titled “Glory”. This was about the success of Rent and dealing with creator Jonathan Larson’s unexpected death due to complications from an aortic aneurism just before opening night, which was on April 29th, 1996 at the Nederlander Theater in New York. He also read from the section that talks about his relationship with his mother titled “Births”. Both readings had the audience in complete silence and by the end in tears.
Mr. Rapp willingly took several questions from the audience. The first question immediately asked was one involving any advice he could give out to aspiring actors and actresses, which were scattered throughout the audience. “Try to be willing for all the ups and downs of it. To be aware that it is not personal if there are moments of dry spell, but also the potential for reward is enormous,” he said. As for his future plans, he mentioned a workshop in April of a musical called “Feeling Electric” and made an important announcement about Rent. “At the end of April, we’re doing the 10th anniversary concert of Rent and the entire original cast is coming back together for one night. You should know that it’s going to be a fundraiser for three organizations so the tickets are going to be expensive because we plan to raise a lot of money, so if we sell out, we could sell as much as half a million dollars for each of the three organizations,” he said. The audience immediately rose and cheered upon this announcement.
The crowd had one final request for Anthony. “You were gonna sing!” they eagerly exclaimed. “Thanks for reminding me,” he said and then broke into an acapella rendition of “Seasons of Love”. As he sang, the audience was in awe and half way they began clapping along with him.
Creator Jonathan Larson coined the popular tagline of “No Day But Today” for Rent. The “Rent Heads” fortunate enough to see Anthony Rapp took this into serious consideration as they made way for anyone who has never been to an author event to see one live up to its full potential.
French in Miami Stand by CPE
By Henry Chinea
Posted on March 27, 2006
IN Miami, members of the French community have been closely observing the protests and strikes across France in the past three weeks. However, it is of no surprise to them. With 1 out of 4 young people in France currently being without work, they knew of unrest rising in their home country.
What began these demonstrations was French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin’s use of emergency powers to pass an unpopular labor law known as the First Employment Contract (CPE), a two-year contract that allows employers to fire youth 26 and under at anytime without explanation.
The government believes the law will create more opportunities for young workers, since youth unemployment currently stands at 40%. They have also established that the CPE is an open-ended contract in companies with more than 20 employees. At the end of a 2-year probation period, the contract becomes an open-ended common-law contract.
Genevieve Alix, President of Miami Accueil, a French association that accommodates French-speaking newcomers in the American community, believes that the CPE is a double-edged sword. “It is cheaper for employers because at first they don’t pay taxes to the government for the young people they are going to hire. However, after 2 years, they have to pay,” she said.
The youth of France argues that this law will jeopardize their future because they won’t have secure jobs. They also complain of losing all benefits enjoyed by older generations, such as guaranteed pensions and a reasonable welfare system.
Girt Govaert, husband of Madame Govaert, President of the Union of the French from Abroad of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, believes that the CPE will rid of “freeloaders” in France. “If the law goes into effect, they are going to hire people who are going to work and not take advantage of the system,” he said. He firmly believes that this law has to be passed for the sake of France. “Right now there is a huge percentage of unemployment and this law is an attempt to try and repair the situation. I think what the Prime Minister has done was probably something he felt was absolutely necessary,” he said.
Virginie Champoussin, a student in training at the Alliance Francaise Miami, a language school and cultural center for adults and children, noted the difference between the understanding of government in the U.S. and France. “A lot of French people in the United States think that the American model is a good one. But in France, it is totally different. They are so focused on all the security of the employment that they don’t understand the American model,” she said.
She also believes that something has to be done about the unemployment situation in France, but says her friends in Miami differ in opinion. “A lot of my friends are on strike because they think there are too many peculiarities with the CPE. Now they are really fed up because we have exams and they can’t really learn. They think that the government should do something else,” she said. These individuals could not be reached for comment at press time.
The opposition began as a peaceful protest of 100,000 throughout Paris, Rennes, Marseilles, Grenoble and Nantes. Universities have been closed for several weeks, with many of their students and faculty joining in. It then escalated to students and other youths destroying books and equipment at the Sorbonne University in Paris that called for riot police to detain them using rubber bullets, tear gas and batons. In addition, masked protesters were also launching missiles at police, setting a newspaper stand as well as many cars on fire, and destroying a cafe. Soon, there were rallies and riots in 80 other cities in France.
Demonstrators promised to observe a one-day strike against the law on Tuesday March 28th in order to pressure Villepin to remove the law altogether. It is under review by France’s Constitutional Council, and would go into effect in April if approved. Villepin proposed to keep the law, but make possible changes to it. Leaders of two main unions in France, FO and CFDT refused to meet with him on Wednesday unless it was completely banished. The strike disrupted traffic on trains, planes, and buses.
There was concern about the relationship between France and Miami possibly changing due to these incidents.
“We are sorry to see these things happening because it is not good for international relations. We feel like we are always fighting and on strike and it’s always the same thing. It is not good for our image,” said Alix.
Champoussin adds to the concern. “I think that Americans just watch TV and see all the riots that are in France and it’s a pity because I don’t think that France is bad. It is going to have an impact on tourism because the Americans don’t want to go there if there is violence. It’s a pity because I love my country.”
Yearlong DUI Charge Near End Due to Lack of Reasoning
By Henry Chinea
Posted on April 16, 2006
Gary Miller has become quite familiar with the Broward Southern Regional Courthouse. He became a regular visitor after April 22, 2005. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been the friendly kind of visiting. Miller is currently facing a DUI charge that came along three other charges, which include an improper start from a parked or stopped position, failure to wear a safety belt while operating, and a failure to show proof of insurance. Ironically, Miller’s case is currently leaning towards the possibility that it never had to happen at all.
Miller was pulled over that Friday night by former FHP Lieutenant Sean Brammer and asked if he had been drinking. “I told him that I had a couple of drinks and then he asked me to step out of the car,” Miller said. After a failing a Breathalyzer test, he was placed under arrest and released the next evening.
His trial began a month later. Ever since then, Miller has racked up over $7,000 in legal fees to attorney David Jack. “My hearings from May 2005 until today have been mostly calendar calls, which means I’ve been showing up and he decides what we do next, “ he said. Calendar calls are done primarily to push for a time that is nearer or farther away, and in Miller’s case, Jack is delaying the resolution for as long as possible. During these calls, Jack has asked for continuances, which are postponements of hearings at the request of one or both parties.
Gary’s case took a turn in another direction on March 30th, 2006. Prosecutors and Jack examined Brammer. According to Brammer, the reason Miller was pulled over was due to his “improper start from a parked or stopped position”, which means that he squeaked his tires. Jack immediately filed a motion to suppress evidence. “All the evidence Lieutenant Brammer found after that point, which ultimately is everything, has to be dropped because the reason he pulled Mr. Miller over was improper, since squeaking tires does not constitute a safety violation,” he said. Jack referred to several court cases as proof. A few minutes later, Judge Alfred J. Horowitz did his research and found one of the same court cases that Jack referred to and granted the motion to suppress.
During the most recent calendar call, which took place on April 11th, the prosecution took the opportunity to appeal that motion. They offered Miller a plea. “I thought it over and I talked to my lawyer and I said that I’m taking it if that’s what I should do,” he said.
As for the future of his case, another calendar call is in place for May 26. Miller is positive that he is going to pull through this. “As for my plea, I checked the Internet last night and I didn’t see an appeal filed yet. Apparently they only have 2 weeks to file that appeal, so we’ll see what happens. If they don’t, the prosecutor files a motion that basically says we’re not gonna press charges,” he said.
Miller has come out of this with new perspectives on drinking and driving. “It really sucks having restricted driving privileges for a year. I learned that a DUI could be a very expensive proposition and is generally a pain in the ass, so I’m never letting this happen again!” he said.