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Hacktreks 2

First Chapters

Stewart Mandy

'But if Miami is a melting pot, it often seems to be close to boiling point'.

The name alone carries so many images. At the far south of the United States, Miami’s ties to the rest of America can, at times, seem remote. The images contrast starkly. Mention Miami to the snowbound residents of Buffalo in February, and they will instantly conjure a tropical paradise, with gentle breezes and swaying palm trees. In Montreal or Cleveland the reaction will be the same. But visit Miami in the summer, when temperatures near 100, and the humidity feels like a steam bath. Ask the poor sugar plantation worker, who’s trailer home has just been blown to pieces by a summer storm if he would rather be in Buffalo. How about the homeless woman, living in a box on Biscayne Boulevard? Would she rather be in Cleveland? The answers might surprise you.

Miami is somewhat unique in the world. Physically located in one country, while feeling like it is in many others. It’s a city where the daily events in Havana, Managua, and Port au Prince have more effect on the residents than anything that happens inside the DC Beltway. From all around the world, they come to Miami. Some leave after a while; others stay, adding yet more international flavor. Sit for an hour on one of the busier thoroughfares, and watch the world go by. The residents comprise many nationalities, with the largest groups being from Latin America and the Caribbean. Nicaraguans, Colombians, Cubans. Haitians, Argentines, Brazilians. Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Paraguayans. Chileans, Peruvians, Venezuelans. Mexicans, Uruguayans, Ecuadorians. Panamanians, Hondurans, Guatemalans. The list goes on. Doubtless, there is not a country in the Americas that is not represented in Miami. But if Miami is a melting pot, it often seems to be close to boiling point. Racial and cultural tensions can run high, and have spilled on to the streets many times.

The visitors come from everywhere as well. From Canada and South America, from Europe and Asia. They come for the beaches, the shopping, and the weather. They come for the glitz and glamour that is the international perception of Miami. They want it all, and Miami delivers. They stay in elegant hotels, dine in expensive restaurants, and watch the models, pop stars and celebrities strut their stuff on Ocean Drive. They live the high life 24/7, for a week, or even two, and then head home, with tales of the wondrous town called Miami. The Magic City, city of dreams come true.

But there’s another Miami; one that the tourists rarely see. The Miami that was recently awarded the dubious honor of being the poorest major city in America. They pass close to it as they leave the airport, and head along the well signposted expressways to the beaches. The more observant may even glimpse it, from the windows of their air-conditioned tour buses and rental cars. But it’s easily forgotten when they reach their vacation spots, where the bartenders are making daiquiris, and poverty is something that happens somewhere else. Somewhere else for sure, but not that far away. In fact, the tourist would be shocked if he knew just how close. It’s a short drive in Miami from the penthouse hotel suites to the rat infested slums. The tourist must take care – one wrong turn on his way back to the airport could shatter his images of Miami forever. The blighted communities of the inner city comprise some of the most depressed urban areas in America, which, at their most violent worst, have rivaled South Central Los Angeles.

Reminiscent of the back streets of some impoverished third world city, this is the tourist’s worst nightmare. So far, urban renewal has bypassed these parts of town. Instead, the money has been spent in Coral Gables, Cocoplum, Doral, Key Biscayne, and every snowbound northerner’s fantasy, Miami Beach. The rest of the neighborhoods, populated by the poorest and most wretched, have been ignored.

Miami is all things to all people. A place to visit, a place in which to take refuge. Glitz and glamour, dirt and squalor. Upscale nightclubs, back street crime. Models and pop stars, drug dealers and pimps. Madonna and Stalone, Noriega and the influence of Castro.

Vacations in paradise, or holidays in hell? City of the future, or city with no future? Time to come, or time to leave? These are the questions that Miami, its residents and visitors must ask. They can decide how to shape their future. Then they must ask themselves whether they have the power to change anything when they decide.

© Stewart Mandy 2003
About the author: Stewart Mandy is an accomplished international freelance correspondent and travel writer, and a member of Agora International Press Corps. He has been published in various print and online publications, on a wide variety of topics including travel, hospitality, industry specific topics, and current affairs. He is always available for worldwide assignment, and all offers and story ideas will be considered. He can be reached by email at

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