In “Friends No More? Jorge Pérez and Donald Trump,” Brett Sokol (The New York Times) writes about the long-standing relationship between Cuban-American magnate Jorge Pérez and the present U.S. leader. Here are just a few excerpts from this wry look at two powerful men and their souring affiliation. Of special interest to our readers is the description of Pérez’s increasing visibility as an arts philanthropist with a particular fondness for Cuban, Caribbean, and Latin American art (see Pérez Art Museum Miami). [Many thanks to Marina Melita for bringing this item to our attention.]
Who does Donald J. Trump call when he needs a wall built on the United States-Mexico border? An old friend, it turns out: the luxury-condo king of Miami, Jorge Pérez — often described as the Donald Trump of the tropics. [. . .]
In late January, he said, President Trump was back on the phone, discussing the job of assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, the position responsible for promoting United States interests throughout Latin America. Mr. Pérez, the son of Cuban exiles who was raised in Colombia, said no once again. [. . .]
Though Mr. Pérez passed on Mr. Trump’s January request for help constructing the wall — pointedly quipping, “Once it’s finished, which side of it will I be on?” — he said Mr. Trump still seemed eager to enlist him in joining the administration. Despite differences regarding both foreign affairs and federal housing policy (Mr. Pérez said, “I’m a strong believer in increased housing subsidies.”), the president offered him the job of undersecretary of Housing and Urban Development, Secretary Ben Carson’s No. 2, Mr. Pérez said. Again, he declined.
In late January, he said, President Trump was back on the phone, discussing the job of assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, the position responsible for promoting United States interests throughout Latin America. Mr. Pérez, the son of Cuban exiles who was raised in Colombia, said no once again. Hope Hicks, a White House spokeswoman, asked about these offers and the current state of the relationship between President Trump and Mr. Pérez, declined to comment.
Mr. Pérez, in describing his rejection of the job offers, explained, “I’m not a yes man.” He added, “I told him he needs to hear the voices of people that are not dependent on him, that are going to give him the truth.” To that point, he then told Bloomberg News in a Jan. 31 article he thought the idea of a Mexican border wall was “idiotic.” [. . .]
It’s a rupture that speaks to the uncomfortable social terrain Mr. Pérez now occupies. He is trying to balance a longstanding personal relationship with Mr. Trump as well as his own increasingly prominent role as an arts philanthropist — from producing documentary films and financing exchange programs for Cuban artists to donating over $55 million in cash and art to the financially beleaguered Miami Art Museum, which rechristened itself the Pérez Art Museum Miami in his honor. [. . .]
“Cubans came here and built up great businesses, bringing in Latin Americans who have a love for the city.” He concluded, “contemporary Latin American art and culture is what should go with that movement.” The composition of “On The Horizon” is evidence of further social changes. The work of younger Cuban artists who came of age in Miami, such as Antonia Wright, will be installed alongside that of artists who left the island at various points in their adult careers, such as Rubén Torres Llorca, as well as those still based there, like Kcho. In years past, that lack of distinction would have been politically fraught. [. . .]
[Photo above: Jorge Pérez with “Familia,” by José Bedia, in the sculpture garden at his home. Credit: Scott McIntyre for The New York Times.]