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Cuban-American activist Bello dies

Cuban-American activist Bello dies

By Bill Douthat, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 26, 2001

WEST PALM BEACH -- Jose Bello, Palm Beach County's patriarch of Cuban-American social and political organizations, died Saturday. He was 94.

An exile from Fidel Castro's revolution, Mr. Bello left Cuba in 1961 with his wife and four children and 10 pesos in his pocket. After saving the meager wages earned as a sugar cane laborer, he opened an auto service business, called Bello's Tires, that became a monument to his ideals of hard work and perseverance.

"This country is the most generous in the world," Mr. Bello said in July 1999. "All you have to do is be honest, obey the laws and respect everyone and opportunity will come your way."

His business grew to two tire stores -- at 5052 Okeechobee Blvd. and at 1877 N. Military Trail. Mr. Bello also found time to help create many of the county's Hispanic organizations. He was a founding member of the Cuban-American Club, the county's largest Cuban-American organization; the Cuban Lions Club; the Interamerican Businessmen's Association; and the anti-Castro group, Pro-Cuba.

West Palm Beach's city commission recognized his contributions by naming Mr. Bello its Outstanding Citizen in 1986.

"That's my biggest pride," Mr. Bello said of the honor.

The city's award noted Mr. Bello was 54 years old and spoke no English when he came to the United States, yet he found success.

Mr. Bello's favorite fable was about two frogs that fell into a tall milk can, seemingly doomed. One gave up, but the other beat its legs so furiously that the milk turned to hardened cream, allowing him to jump free.

"I came to the United States late in life, and I knew I had to get busy," Mr. Bello said. "I worked every day from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., until my blood pressure got too high."

In his wallet he carried two cards. One was the business card from his oil transport company in his hometown of Camaguey in eastern Cuba. The company was nationalized by the Castro government. The other card, which he often handed out to people he met, was an ode to perseverance and determination.

One of Bello's four children, Ernie Bello, said Tuesday that his father's continuous drive -- from penniless laborer to politically active businessman -- rubbed off on the entire family.

"They say in every Cuban is a latent politician," Ernie Bello said, joking. "My father loved to work, loved his family and loved this community. This was his country."

So much so that he saw every state, often taking his family along for the ride to see places like Arizona's Grand Canyon and California's sequoia forests. After turning over his business to his sons in the early 1990s, Mr. Bello stayed busy writing a weekly column in a Spanish-language newspaper and traveling to Miami two or three times a week to attend club meetings and have lunch with old friends.

Mr. Bello is survived by four children, Ernie, Pedro, Margarita and Mercy; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His wife, Rosa, died in 1994.

Staff writer Marc Caputo contributed to this story.

bill_douthat@pbpost.com

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