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Latino Connection

Jorge Perez marketed Miami as a condo haven for rich South Americans. Now Florida’s real estate hangover has him looking for riches in South America.

Jorge Perez vividly recalls the day he was forced to flee Cuba. He was 10 years old, and his dad, a businessman who had worked for Eli Lilly & Co. (nyse: LLY news people ) in Argentina, had moved the family back to his homeland a year earlier to take over his inheritance: a cattle ranch, sugar plantation, drug wholesaler, pharmacy and more. The family lost it all in the days after Fidel Castro’s communist rebels nationalized the assets of the rich.

forbes_1008_p308_f1.jpgOn that fateful day, among the panic-stricken mob at the Havana airport, his mother took off her jewelry and handed it to Jorge’s tearful grandmother to prevent security guards from confiscating it. She kept only her wedding band and a few pieces she prized for sentimental value–and the guards relieved her of even those as the Perezes boarded a flight to Bogotá, where they would resettle into a starkly more spartan life. Once there, Jorge says, his mom, who had never had to work, took two jobs to help his dad support the family. By day she taught high school and at night she translated documents.

“I saw my mother go from riding in a chauffeur-driven car to taking the bus,” Perez says. “We never experienced a hard exile,” he hastens to add, but the loss and trauma steeled him. His parents hadn’t socked away any money in the U.S. as other wealthy Cubans had, and they were forced to leave with nothing. That is one reason why Perez today stocks cash–lots of it.

Half a billion dollars in cash now underpins his closely held development company, Related Group. Jorge (he pronounces it “George” when in North America) Perez has built enormous wealth of his own, starting on the shores of Miami, home to hundreds of thousands of Cuban refugees who fled Castro as his own family had. He is the builder behind six luxury condos that, like giant exclamation points, punctuate the skyline of the famed South Beach. They star in the opening credits of the recent rendition of Miami Vice, and Perez, still slender at 57 and swathed in layers of white linen, could play a role in the film. Read Full Story

Source: Forbes

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