American Dream Miami gets Miami-Dade Commission’s approval

The American Dream Miami, a gigantic $4 billion project for a retail and entertainment complex in unincorporated northwest Miami-Dade County, won two key approvals from Miami-Dade commissioners Thursday.  

Commissioners first voted 11 to 1 for the Comprehensive Development Master Plan, the land-use changes needed to develop the complex. Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava was dissenting vote. 

Commissioners voted to change the zoning for at least 174 acres. The area near Hialeah, Miami Lakes, Miami Gardens, Miramar and the Everglades was zoned to allow industrial use. Cava did not vote. 

Canadian developer Triple Five wants the mall’s 6.2 million square feet of retail to be known as the largest mall in North America. The complex will have theme-park attractions such as a 16-story indoor ski slope and a 20-slide water park. It will also have a movie theater, a performing arts center, restaurants and 2,000 hotel rooms. 

Developers claim the project will create 14,000 permanent jobs and attract 30 million visitors. Opponents’ concerns were centered on traffic, property value and cannibalizing jobs from other malls. 

Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez and Miami Lakes Mayor Manny Cid were among those who spoke about their concerns during the commission meeting.

“Our main concern is traffic congestion,” Cid said during the meeting. “Every day I get calls on this, every single day, every single morning.”

Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, Triple Five’s attorney, said they were offering $210 million of “roadway and highway improvements to meet level of service and to actually improve levels of service and make traffic better than what it is today.”

Broward County threatened to file a lawsuit if Triple Five didn’t take steps to address traffic. The developers promised $650,000 for traffic signal improvements on Miramar Parkway from Southwest 160th Avenue to Monarch Lakes Boulevard. Broward wants $2.4 million. 

According to De la Portilla the developer is planning to break ground next year and open in 2023.

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Woman blames ‘lazy’ FedEx delivery driver for holding Mother’s Day package

Lourdes Amador had been eagerly waiting for a Mother’s Day package, but it never came. She needs it by Sunday. 

Surveillance video shows a FedEx driver stopped at her home in Cooper City, didn’t get off the car and drove away. 

Amador said the video is proof that FedEx’s claim that there were three attempts to deliver the package is false. 

Amador said she took off the day from work to wait for the package Thursday. She said the driver “didn’t even try” to get off the car and knock on the door. 

When she called FedEx, a representative told her that she had to go to the FedEx Ship Center in Pompano Beach to pick it up. 

“I was just shocked. I posted [the video] to my Facebook, and a bunch of my friends have been complaining that the same thing has been happening to them,” Amador said. “It’s pretty lazy, to say the least.”

A FedEx representative released a statement late Friday night apologizing for the inconvenience. 

“The package in question requires a signature from the recipient to be delivered and we have made several attempts to complete the delivery this week,” David Westrick, a spokesman, wrote in an e-mail. “After discussing with the customer, we plan to make this delivery tomorrow.”

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David Hogg calls for boycott of Vanguard, Blackrock over gun industry ties

Parkland student activist David Hogg is urging people to boycott two major investment firms — Vanguard Group and Blackrock — over their ties to weapons manufacturers.

“Blackrock and Vanguard Group are two of the biggest investors in gun manufacturers; if you use them, feel free to let them know. Thanks,” Hogg wrote on Twitter this week.

Blackrock and Vanguard Group own large percentages of weaponsmakers, Sturm, Ruger & Co. and American Outdoor Brands.

While the companies did not directly address Hogg’s proposed boycott, Vanguard said it offers customers funds that do not include gun makers. Blackrock said it plans to do so.

Hogg and other students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have become outspoken advocates for more regulations on weapons since a mass shooting at their school on Feb. 14 left 17 people dead. The students have lobbied lawmakers to change gun laws through high-profile protests and dozens of town halls with legislators. 

While Republicans in Congress have rejected calls for more federal regulations on guns, the students and other gun control activists have found success lobbying corporate America to distance itself from the National Rifle Association and weapons manufacturers.

Major retailers such as Dick’s Sporting Goods have stopped selling semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 used in the Parkland shooting. Dick’s announced this week that it would have its existing inventory of the guns destroyed rather than sell them back to gunmakers. 

Walmart recently raised the age from 18 to 21 to buy a semi-automatic rifle.

Meanwhile, Bank of America has said it would stop lending money to gun manufacturers that make military-inspired firearms for civilians. Citigroup announced last month that it will require its clients to refrain from selling guns people younger than 21 and to those who have not passed a background check.

In the past, gun control activists have tried to apply pressure to gun manufacturers via their investors  with mixed results. 

In 2013, New York City’s teacher pension fund sold its stocks of publicly traded firearms manufacturers after 27 people were killed in a school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. However, many major public pension plans still include investments in gunmakers, including the Florida Retirement System Pension Plans, which includes the state’s teachers.

Hogg, who has more than 700,000 followers on Twitter, recently spearheaded a successful boycott advertiser boycott of Laura Ingraham after the Fox News show host mocked Hogg on social media. Dozens of advertiser pulled out of the show despite Ingraham making a public apology. Fox News said it stands by Ingraham.

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Cuban says dumpster diving in Havana earns him more than a state job

Revelers throw away more cans and bottles during hot Friday and Saturday nights in Havana, and this means good business for Moises Sabate, a 53-year-old self-employed Cuban in the business of recycling collection. 

Sabate uses a rustic wheelbarrow, digs through piles of trash and searches in overflowing dumpsters for hours in the heavily populated Central Havana district. He is competing with dozens of other colleagues who Cubans refer to as “Buzos,” Spanish for divers. 

“You have to work, you have to search for money,” he said. 

Sabate, who doesn’t wear gloves, said dumpster diving earns him more money than some state jobs. He rushes to go through the trash before the government’s garbage collectors take it every night, and before the sun rises, he stands in line at the government recycling plant. The weight of the cans will determine his pay, and they buy glass bottles by the box. 

“This really helps me,” Sabate said. 

While earning from $4 to $20 a week, Sabate is contributing to the island’s recycling effort. Gonzalo Ramiro Hernandez is a Cuban engineer who leads a Cuban government group of some 74 companies, out of which 24 are focused on recycling. He said the companies deal with card board, plastic, steel and copper, and help to reduce the island’s need for imports.  

Garbage management continues to be a challenge in Havana. The Havana Times has been reporting on the litter-strewn streets of the aging city, which for years have become an opportunity for men like Sabate.

Jimmy Roque Martinez reported  that homeowners who were paying the government garbage collectors a little extra money were getting better service, and Osmel Ramirez Alvarez reported Cubans struggling with scarcity continue to edefine what is and what isn’t garbage. 

“The incredible thing here is that with this mass recycling, which is compulsory because of our poverty, the State recycling company still has so many problems trying to collect solid waster in our cities,” Ramirez Alvarez wrote. “From this perspective, their inefficiency is much greater.”






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Cuban fashion brand Clandestina defies embargo, communist restrictions

Idania del Rio partnered with Leire Fernandez to create Clandestina, a clothing brand that became the first on the island to launch an ecommerce site last year. The private sector entrepreneurs started with a staff of four and now hire 30 employees. 

The 37-year-old Cuban designer and Fernandez, a 43-year-old Spaniard, first opened a boutique in Old Havana, and despite the U.S. embargo they have been able to work with a company in the United States to make their designs on site available to Americans.

The U.S. apparel company manufactures and produces her designs to be sold in America. Del Rio not only battles with the U.S. embargo, she also struggles with the lack of textiles and supplies available at whole sale prices. The majority of her customers are tourists and online shoppers from the U.S. 

“It’s a huge challenge to try to make our products affordable,” Del Rio said. 

Del Rio was among the many young Cubans who benefited from Cuban President Raul Castro’s implementation of market reforms. The flagship store in Old Havana is full of T-shirts with quirky messages and bright tropical prints. She is also known for “upcycling” second-hand fabrics.

Del Rio also designs canvas bags, hats, key chains, stickers, pillow covers and posters at her 403, Villegas store. She has dreams of developing a fashion brand that is recognized as Cuban around the world. 

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Cuban reggaeton rebels face censorship, prison

A passion for Cuban underground music gave DJ Unic a career as a music producer and landed Henry Laso in prison. They both love reggaeton, a Puerto Rican fusion of electronic beats and African and Caribbean rhythms that has taken hold in nightclubs worldwide. 

The genre celebrates sensuality, as did Jamaican reggae from the late ’60s, and adopts the free rhythmic speech of hip-hop from the Bronx in the ’70s. The sensual grinding and the explicit lyrics that come with the beat offended Cuban officials, who control recording studios, radio and television. 

Despite the fear of arrest and harassment that some artists say they experience in Cuba, the musicians and fans use makeshift home recording studios, piracy tactics and social media to defy the ban. Most artists are men and most adopt pseudonyms. 

Laso used his legal name and didn’t stay away from politics. In a recent letter to his wife, he said authorities were holding him in isolation “like a terrorist” and he was hospitalized when he started to have trouble with a kidney.  

“I am in the prison of Ariza, better known as the cemetery of the living dead, where hope is lost,” Laso wrote  in a letter published on his Facebook account Tuesday    

While Laso’s lyrics are brazen, DJ Unic tends to focus on the purely hedonistic. They are different artists, but they both agree that singing and producing reggaeton shouldn’t be a crime. 

After the Cuban Music Institute announced the genre ran against the country’s revolutionary culture and censored it in 2012, DJ Unic started his YouTube channel. On the Communist-ruled island of about 11.4 million, the music producer has about 14.7 million views  on YouTube and some 38,000 subscribers. He puts the spotlight on other artists.

To feed Cubans’ insatiable demand for reggaeton, some fans got internet access through illegally shared authorized connections, and they were able to get the illegal music through a decade-old black market distribution system of thumb drives now known as “el paquete.”

The island has already produced stars who are as recognized around the world as the ones from Puerto Rico. In the short documentary “Reggaeton Revolución: Cuba in the Digital Era,” Yosdani Jacob Carmenates said the government ban didn’t stop the music from spreading like a virus. He is now known around the world as Jacob Forever.

Carmenates understood the power of sharing his music for free to create demand for concerts, and after contributing to the success of Enrique Iglesias’ “Bailando,” his “Hasta Que Se Seque el Malecon” took off.

The authorized video of the song now has 59.8 million views on YouTube and when it was No. 18 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs, Sony Music Entertainment Latin signed the 35-year-old artist from Camaguey.

DJ Unic continues to work in the shadows in Havana and in Miami with Urban Latin Records. His YouTube account ranks second in the country, according to Social Blade, which tracks users’ statistics and compares data on subscribers, views and growth rate.

DJ Unic’s channel is more popular than any of the accounts the Cuban government uses to spread its approved content. DJ Unic is also among the stars in Cuba who remain committed to Cubaton, a fusion of reggaeton and Son Cubano, the most important genre of Cuban popular music.

Laso just started publishing videos on YouTube about four months ago, including one he published in January warning other musicians that there were Cuban artists who were working for the Cuban government to find out how Miami residents were helping musicians on the island. 

Laso has reported being the constant target of threats after he protested at the Cuban Music Institute in 2016. After he published a video of his song “The False King,” featuring images of Fidel Castro, in January, officers chased him into the cathedral in Cienfuegos, where priests reportedly negotiated his surrender. 

His access to the internet through a government account was canceled, and he has been harassed for years now, his mother, Carmen Susana Martinez, said, according to El Diario de Cuba.  Laso was arrested Feb. 6 in Cienfuegos over an alleged struggle with a state agent that Martinez said left the artist bleeding.

Laso described the incident to relatives as police brutality, but authorities decided it was an assault on a police officer, which could land Laso in prison for three to eight years. His relatives warned on Facebook that Laso was getting threats in prison and Martinez was filing a complaint. 

“After the trial, when they take him to prison, they are going to kill him,” the relative wrote on Facebook on Wednesday. “This is too much. They are going to kill him … God this is too much! Where is the justice?”


Here is Social Blade’s list of the top 10 ranked YouTubers in Cuba: 

1. Radio CFG, who joined in 2007, has about 580,000 subscribers and some 6.8 million video views. 

2. DJ Unic, who joined in 2013, has about 38,000 subscribers and some 14 million video views. Music producer shares raggaeton and Cubaton 

3. Niqui.Bestia, who joined in 2014, has about 15,000 subscribers and some 7 million video views.

4. Kuban4ever, who joined in 2007, has about 35,000 subscribers and some 106 million video views.

5. DJ Conds, who joined in 2012, has about 54,000 subscribers and some 20.2 million video views.

6. CUBA, who joined in 2013, has about 43,000 subscribers and some 24 million video views. This account promotes tourism on the island. 

7. 2Pac to Makaveli, who joined in 2009, has about 74,000 subscribers and some 45.5 million video views. Shares music by Tupac. 

8. elToque, who joined in 2012, has about 4,300 subscribers and some 2.4 million video views. It’s the channel of an independent magazine targeting the 15-35 demographic. 

9. D B M Design, who joined in 2010, has about  19.5K subscribers and some 11.3 million video views.

10. Robelinda, who joined in 2006, has about 25.3K subscribers and some 26 million video views.

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