Bitter Sugar

Forget the awful past, Palm Beach's sugar barons say. It's time to make nicey-nicey and go into real estate.

Outside the commission chambers, environmentalist turned Fanjul lawyer Sam Poole stood by himself. He leaned against a wall watching the meeting on a television set. He promised that the Fanjuls would be back. He promised they would win over more environmentalists. "We intend to seek a dialogue on what should happen on this site."

Meanwhile that day, out past the sea of sugar cane on the Fanjul property, into the poverty of Pahokee, Jose Gallardo went to his first rehabilitation clinic. Gallardo had not heard that the Fanjuls were planning a development on their fields that would put him and his former co-workers out of work. He hadn't heard that the cane fields could soon become homes and shopping malls. What he cared about was that the Fanjuls had finally promised to pay him.

When confronted August 4 with the fact that Gallardo hadn't been paid since losing his hand, Fanjul employees said it must have been a misunderstanding. The Florida Crystals' human resources and safety manager, Johnny Tellechea, claimed he had visited Gallardo to explain that the company would be paying his hospital bills and paying him while he recuperated. "We're not going to leave this gentleman out to dry," Tellechea said. "He will be taken care of and not forgotten."

Colby Katz
After losing his hand in a Fanjul factory, Jose Gallardo wonders how he'll pay his bills.
Colby Katz
After losing his hand in a Fanjul factory, Jose Gallardo wonders how he'll pay his bills.

Later that day, however, Gallardo said nobody had contacted him. The following morning, on August 5, he received a call from a Fanjul employee assuring him that they would make things right. The employee promised to pay the medical bills, issue him paychecks, and even bring over groceries if he needed them. "I haven't seen him yet," Gallardo said. "But he said he would come tomorrow. I think he will. They said they would do what is right."

After New Times confronted Florida Crystals officials about their failure to pay Gallardo, the company finally reported the accident to the state, as they are required to do, according to the Department of Revenue. Gallardo is now entitled to 80 percent of his salary, perhaps forever, and may receive a lump sum of as much as $10,000 for his disability. The company, however, may still face a fine from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration when it completes its investigation into the accident. OSHA investigators have six months from the accident to complete their inquiry. Cantens maintains that the company complied with OSHA regulations after Gallardo's accident. Managers recorded it in an OSHA logbook and cooperated with investigators, he says, adding, "We did everything we were supposed to do."

Gallardo had nearly lost his faith while wondering how he'd pay his bills, but he says he always knew the Fanjuls would come through for him. He remembers how el jefe, Alfy Fanjul, would sometimes eat rice and beans in the factory cafeteria at lunch. He remembered how el jefe would walk among the machines, watching as high-powered jets of water would break sugar from the stalks of cane. "I knew they are good," Gallardo said. "I knew they will do what is right."

While the Fanjuls -- once confronted with their failures -- did what is right with Gallardo they must now prove they'll do the same with their land. With property that's twice the size of the country of Luxembourg, the Fanjuls have begun what could be South Florida's largest-ever development, built on the reputations of what are probably the country's most despised sugar barons.

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