South Florida loses a champion for children in Gustavo ‘Gus’ Barreiro

South Florida loses a champion for children in Gustavo 'Gus' Barreiro
South Florida loses a champion for children in Gustavo 'Gus' Barreiro
Gustavo ‘Gus’ Barreiro

Gustavo “Gus” Barreiro, a four-term Florida state representative and the elder statesman of the Barreiro political family in Miami-Dade County, passed away Friday, Aug. 16, from a heart attack.

Barreiro left a poignant mark in the lives of many Miamians and Floridians, especially when it came to children as he continuously championed causes and made inroads on issues affecting the state’s youngest residents.

Barreiro’s legacy was cemented while still in the Florida’s legislature as he championed the cause of former residents of a Florida juvenile facility with a long history of abuse. His bravery in taking on the system — even when it meant angering the leadership of his own party and falling out of favor with them — was responsible for the shuttering of that facility and, eventually, all juvenile boot camps in the state.

“The horrors of what went on at (Florida School for Boys) would never have been exposed had it not been for the bravery of Gus,” wrote Robin Gaby Fisher, in the book The Boys of the Dark: A Story of Betrayal and Redemption in the Deep South.

The Cuban-born legislator who immigrated to Miami as a 5-year-old, consistently put his support behind children-centric issues and became known as an unrelenting advocate for their rights. His advocacy on their behalf should not have come as a surprise to anyone who knew Barreiro as his support of children issues and disadvantaged youth started while he was still in college in Wisconsin.

Barreiro played college football in Wisconsin and while at school he founded the Wisconsin Living Learning Center, a group youth home for adjudicated delinquent boys. The school served as a diversionary program for the criminal justice system and gave youth in that state an alternative that felt more like home than state-run housing for troubled adolescents. The school was funded through a grant Barreiro secured from the Department of Juvenile Justice, and he remained in Wisconsin after graduation to continue operating the program for almost a decade.

Upon his return to Miami, Barreiro ran for the Florida House of Representatives, ultimately serving in the Florida legislature from 1998 to 2006 representing the 107th District. In 2006, he received the Champions for Children Excellence in Public Policy Award from The Children’s Trust. That same year he also received the Ira Lipman Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency for his dedication and hard work in juvenile justice.

Ever the child advocate, Barreiro joined The Children’s Trust in 2015. The move represented a natural transition for Barreiro, having lobbied hard to get the referendum on

The Children’s Trust approved by Miami-Dade voters during its inception. He served as a public policy and community engagement liaison for The Trust.

Barreiro’s time at The Children’s Trust, and throughout his entire life, was littered with well-known and private stories of his giving spirit and willingness to do everything he could to improve the lives of his fellow man, with a particular interest in children.

“Gus Barreiro spent his life working tirelessly on behalf of the people of Miami-Dade County and South Florida,” said James Haj, president/CEO of The Children’s Trust. “We are still trying to come to terms with his sudden passing, but we know he will be deeply missed.”

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