ACLU questions cancelling of Cuban music concert in Fla.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

MIAMI — The American Civil Liberties Union said yesterday the cancellation of a South Florida music festival featuring artists from Cuba may have violated the event organizers’ constitutional right to free speech.

Organizers made official yesterday a February decision to cancel the Fuego Cuban Music Worlds Festival, which had been scheduled for April 9. They have filed a civil suit in Miami-Dade County Court against the Homestead Miami International Speedway, where the event was to take place.

The ACLU and concert organizers are calling for an investigation of local officials’ involvement in the concert’s cancellation.

Exiles are mixed in their views of Cuban artists, who receive support from their island’s communist government and are generally only allowed to travel if they remain in its good graces. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Lynda Bell represents Homestead and said she would do everything in her power to stop the event.

“We have assurances that this concert dealing with the Cuban artists from Cuba is not going to take place,” she said during a Feb. 7 interview with Radio Caracol 1260 in Miami. “We understand free speech and will defend free speech but not when public facilities and public funds are being utilized.”

Bell did not return a call seeking comment in time for this story.

ACLU Miami President John de Leon said Bell’s comments show a lack of understanding of the Constitution.

“That’s exactly the arena in which the First Amendment operates: in public arenas, public venues and when public dollars are involved,” he said.

“Commissioner Bell has the right to protest the presentation — criticize, condemn the concert — but not participate in her official capacity with shutting it down,” he added. “In the name of freedom in Cuba you cannot undermine freedom in the United States.”

The concert was to take place one week before the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion, the failed attack by Cuban exiles to overthrow Fidel Castro’s fledgling government that left a bitter taste in the Cuban-American community. Some considered the concert so close to the anniversary in bad taste.

Meanwhile, the Miami Beach City Council scheduled a vote for the day of the concert on whether to restrict such cultural exchanges with Cuba.

Still, much has changed in Miami since 2001 when Latin Grammy organizers moved their awards ceremony to Los Angeles, fearing mass protests over the participation of Cuban artists from the island.

Last year, Los Van Van, La Charanga Habanera and Buena Fe, a pop duo, played to sold-out crowds in Miami.

Los Van Van and Charanga Habanera, as well as Cuban artists living in Miami, such as Isaac Delgado and Manolin, were among the artists scheduled to play at the April concert.

The group that manages the Speedway has said it thought the concert was to feature Mexican music.

The mostly agricultural town of Homestead is located about 25 miles south of Miami’s Little Havana and has a strong Mexican, not Cuban, immigrant presence. Festival organizer Hugo Cancio said he chose Homestead to avoid directly provoking the Cuban-American community but that he was always clear about the type of music to be presented.

The Obama administration has increasingly encouraged cultural exchanges with Cuba, despite the decades-old U.S. embargo of the island, arguing interaction rather than isolation will lead to change there.

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