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Miami: a bubbling 'melting pot' looks optimistically to the future

The view from Willy Bermello's 14th-floor office in downtown Miami tells part of the story of this city's future: a giant crane raises a load of materials up the unfinished face of one of the many major building projects being built in or near downtown Miami.

In an interview, Cuba-born Bermello, an architect and one of the city's upcoming young leaders, says he is "optimistic" about Miami's future.

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Moments later, the view from the sidewalk just outside Bermello's office reveals another part of Miami's story: a young Spanish-speaking man is chasing a black man who has just stolen his satchel. After the thief ducked into what appeared to be a dead-end alley, this reporter telephoned the police. An officer drove up in less than one minute. But during the brief interim, the man with the satchel had run away.

Trade, tourism, construction, language and crime: these are the main themes that like strands of a giant carpet, are being woven together t shape Miami's future. To these must be added another major strand: recent Cuban and Haitian refugees.

What pattern will emerge from this weaving?

If 1980 incorrectly, assumed to be the norm for Miami, the pattern would not be a pleasing one. First, a riot in the black, "Liberty City" area of Miami last spring left 18 people dead. Then some 130,000 Cuban refugees poured into South Florida, most of them settling in this area. Crime rates surged in the months immediately after the arrival of the refugees, spreading fear, spurring national media attention, and damaging tourism.

Long-simmering resentment against the growing Cuban influence spilled over in the form of a vote banning county funds being used to print Spanish-language publications. "White flight" from the area, not new, resurfaced as an issue.

Though tough challenges lie ahead, the worst may be over for Miami. Serious crime rates, except murder, have begun declining and the rate of increase in murders has dropped sharply. The Cuban influx has not resumed, but a thousand Haitians a month continue to arrive.

Already Miami has evolved from a sleepy tourist town, populated by mostly American-born English speakers. Today Miami is a bilingual mecca for refugees and Latin american tourists, with an estimated 1981 population of 401,000. Now Miami's "pattern" is changing again.

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Several days of interviews with city officials, other community leaders, and Hispanic, Anglo and black residents, offer some indications of what this new, emerging pattern may look like:

Tourism: While continuing to be a major part of the economy, tourism will no longer be relied upon so hevily. For example, when completed within the next five years, the massive amount of construction now underway will provide $15 to was about $84 million.

Trade, commerce, and foreign investment: Miami is already a major link between Latin America and the US. But officials here foresee a dramatic increase in trade between the two continents, much of it moving through Miami's port. The value of exports and imports in south Florida has more than doubled in ten years to nearly $10 billion. Some 22 foreign banks now operate in Miami.

Officials here estimate that as many as half the new condominiums in Miami will be bought by Latin Americans, partially as a hedge against future political instability in their countries, and partially with the profits from illegal drug dealing. Prices are soaring. One waterfront complex advertises condominiums "in excess of $400,000."

"In the next five years there will be more construction in downtown Miami than in the past 85 years -- in excess of $3 billion," Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre recently told a Hispanic women's group in this first "state of the city" adress. "Miami has found a new direction," he said.

Refugees: The arrival of the Cubans last year and the continuing arrival of Haitians have posed heavy burdens on the area's hospitals, schools, housing and job market. Nevertheless, there are strong indications that most of the employable Cuban refugees are settling into jobs and adjusting to life here. Many of the Haitians have eagerly begun working too; but both groups may be squeezing black youths and others out of jobs by accepting lower than prevailing wages.

According to an assistant city manager, Jim Reid, Miami's unemployment rate doubled to about 13 to 14 percent (including the estimated number of jobless Cubans and Haitians) after the influx of refugees last year. The rate may be as high as 50 percent among young blacks, according to Mr. Reid.

Crime: The number of murders in Miami rose from 96 in 1978 to 134 in 1979. Then there was an 83 percent jump to 245 in 1980, according to police officials here. There have been 130 murders in the first six months of 1981. If that rate continues, the 1981 total would be 260 murders, a 6 percent increase over 1980.

The combined rate of serious crimes (murder, rape, robbery and assault) jumped sharply in June 1980 but except for January and March of 1981, has been declining since August 1980. Miami's combined serious crimes rate is higher than the national average but lower than Tampa, Orlando, and Atlanta -- and has been since 1979.

About half the murders here are the result of domestic quarrels and an additional 25 percent or more are drug-related, says Tom Pain, a Miami Police Department researcher. There has been no "sound" analysis linking the increased crimes in 1980 to the massive influx of Cuban refugees, he says.

But Miami Police Chief Kenneth Harms thinks there is a relationship. "We're arresting a lot more refugees -- Mariel [the Cuban launching point for last year's exodus] refugees particulary," Chief Harms says.

Some fo the local fears of crime are based on fact, some on overblown perceptions, says Harms. "But if perceptions make a person a prisoner in their home, we have to deal with perceptions," he says.

"Fighting crime has become the city's 'No. 1 Priority," says Miami's financial director, Carlos Garcia. To provide funds for additional police officers, the city is cutting back on some of its funds for leisure and other programs, he says.

But it would be "simplistic" to say that more police will necessarily reduce crime, says Mayor Maurice Ferre.First elected in 1973, Mr. Ferre faces a strong challenge for reelection this November from former city commissioner Manolo Reboso, who has made crime a major issue.

Chief Harms says that what would greatly help solve the problem of crime is a more rigidly enforced Us immigration law and more federal help in combating the massive and flourishing illegal drug trade.

Population: Until recently, Dade County (which includes Miami) planners assumed the county would reach the two million mark by the year 2000. Now that number will be reached ten years earlier, due to immigration from the Caribbean and a slower decline than expected in birthrates.

Cubans, contrary to popular assumptions, are showing a lower birth rate than Anglos in Dade County, says county planning researcher Oliver Kerry.

Age of residents: Another surprise to many will be the outlook for the average age of Dade County residents. The average age is getting younger, not older.About 15 percent of the population is 65 or older. This is expected to decline as high birth rates continue and new, younger families arrive, says Mr. Kerr.

Ethnic makeup: One of the hardest things to predict is the future ethnic composition of the Miami area, experts say. It is a composition that has undergone radical change in a relatively short time.

In 1960, Dade County was approximately eighty percent non-Hispanic white, 15 percent black and 5 percent Hispanic.Today it is about 46 percent non-Hispanic white, 17 percent black, and 37 percent Hispanic, according to a county planning official. According to Mayor Ferre, the current Hispanic population is about 58 percent.

Are the whites who have already fled Miami in the face of Latinization and crime only the fore-runner of a massive white flight?

Jeanne McCarthy, a hospital worker in Marietta, Ga., left Miami five years ago, after graduating from college because she found little social life for a single woman. "People were either Spanish or over 60," she exaggerates to make her point. She did not like the Spanish "flavor" of Miami.

Grady Beall, a former Miami police officer wounded on duty, is about to move to Franklin, N.C. "Life is miserable here," he says. "Things are too fast: people have no courtesy, everyone is uptight [about crime]." Jack Fried, a county commissioner in Broward County just to the north of Dade County, says "a lot of people" have moved up there from Dade County, mostly because of the "influx" of Cubans. "Those who moved don't like change," he says.

Excessive white fight would leave Miami a Hispanic "enclave," says Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh, director of Catholic Charities in Miami and one of the best-known community leaders. Such a development would be unfortunate, he says.But he believes that while some whites are fleeing, others, perhaps more sophisticated and able to accept the changes, are arriving. "There's an awful lot of people getting along here," he says.

Miami's current economic revival is primarily "Latin," says Monsignor Walsh. It follows years of decline of some inner city neighborhoods, caused in part by the wide swath cut though them by Interstate 95 built in the 1960s. The decline sparked considerable white exodus, he said. Cubans later rebuilt one deteriorated area now known as "Little Havana."

Miami has become "the newest melting pot," says architect Bermello. The "Anglos" who came to Miami years ago because they liked the small, peaceful atmosphere, may be "turned off" and move, he says. But other Anglos are being attracted by the increasingly rich cultural activities and business opportunities here, and by the "cosmopolitan flavor" of Miami, he says.

Language differences, however, remain a key concern and devisive point between Hispanics and non-Hispanics, as last year's anti-Spanish language vote showed. Those willing to become bilingual have the best job possibilities. Anglos unwilling to learn Spanish find themselves increasingly isolated.

The wounds from last year's black riot have not healed. Many black-owned businesses in Liberty City have reopened, but many white-owned stores damaged in the riots have not. There have been a variety of committees and resolutions since the riot, but little tangible change. "The communication hasn't gotten any better between blacks and whites," says Horace Robinson, youth vocation coordinator at Liberty City's main community center.

With federal cuts in CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) and other programs that help minority poor, and with private local businesses not picking up the slack, frustration among young blacks is increasing, not diminishing, Robinson says. He counsels young blacks to be patient enough to finish their education. But meanwhile, he says, they must "survive".

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