Accomplice to Censorship | Letters | Chicago Reader

Accomplice to Censorship 

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To the editors:

Michael Miner's article "Salsa Si! Castro No!" [Hot Type, April 7] on the current controversy over the City's invitation to the Cuban group Orquesta Aragon to perform at the Viva Chicago festival was a disservice to the cause of freedom of expression. It perpetuates old myths about the monolithic position of the Cuban American community and implicity approves censorship. A small group of extremists in the Cuban community oppose the invitation to Aragon for political reasons. By implicity accepting the premises of this group, the article lends support to censorship and the ability of a small vocal minority to prevent cultural exchange and to dictate the cultural experience of not only the vast majority of Chicagoans, but also the majority of Cubans living here.

Admittedly the article was short and not a long analytical piece enabling Miner to explore the subject more deeply, but such practicalities do not excuse allotting over four full paragraphs to the views of Ms. Marlen Vilas Roth, spokesperson for the right-wing Cuban American National Foundation, while giving Maria Torres, who represents a more moderate view, only one line and not bothering at all to search out views of the many other Cubans who support the City's decision to invite Aragon. If he had spent a little time to ask a few questions, he would have found some important facts.

First, the Cuban American community is not monolithic. Unfortunately, the high visibility and the intimidation tactics of the extremists often silence divergent views. The Cuban American National Foundation, for which Ms. Roth speaks, has been adamantly opposed to any thaw in U.S./Cuban relations and has intimidated and threatened anyone, particularly in the Cuban community, who disagrees. Not long ago, its members threatened a boycott of advertising in the Miami Herald by key businesses if that paper did not change its editorial policy with respect to Cuba. Cubans who dare speak up in opposition to their extreme view on Cuba and U.S./Cuban relations risk losing their jobs and being the target of other forms of retaliation. Not only is the Foundation well financed by some successful Cuban businesses, it also receives federal funding. Although perhaps not clearly illegal, the tactics of its members have inhibited healthy discussion in the Cuban community as well as in the larger community about the direction of U.S. policy.

Do Cubans suffer as a result? Yes. Cuban Americans would substantially benefit from improved relations: normal telephone and mail service would mean that they could more easily communicate with their relatives in Cuba; normal travel services would increase the number of flights between Miami and Havana enabling more Cubans (and the waiting list is very long) to book reservations to visit relatives in Cuba. President Carter had opened the way for such improvements, but Reagan with the urging of the Foundation, shut the door again. Why should the Foundation oppose steps which lead toward improved communication? Because any thaw would diminish their political clout and give voice to divergent views within the Cuban community.

Miner's article has contributed to the extremists' ability to silence these opposing voices by allowing the Foundation to portray them as "inauthentic" and by diminishing their importance himself. In the case of Ms. Torres, Miner says she just "happens to believe that Aragon" should come, and he does not report that there are many other Cubans in Chicago who enthusiastically support the invitation to Aragon. As a result, divergent views are marginalized.

The opponents' objectives become even clearer when you consider that they are not opposed to Cubans playing at different festivals--they just do not want hispanics in Chicago to hear them. Thus, no fuss about Cubans Arturo Sandoval and Irakere playing at the Chicago Jazz Festivals in 1985 and 1987. And Miner is most likely wrong in saying that a majority of Chicago's Cubans will stay away from the Viva Chicago festival if Aragon plays. The opposite is likely to happen, as was the case in New York when the Tropicana Review performed there last fall. No less a Cuban cultural "institution" than Aragon, Tropicana drew large Cuban American audiences despite threats and intimidation by extremists. This is exactly what the Foundation wants to prevent in Chicago: a loss of their ability to dictate.

Second, the article gives full rein to Ms. Roth to repeat unchallenged stereotypical distortions about Cuba which are the basis of her argument why Aragon should be blocked. For example, she says that she would support Aragon's coming if Castro was not holding their families and loved ones "hostage" (presumably to assure Aragon's return). This is nonsense. The Cuban government has been approving requests to emigrate at a steady pace, but until last year the United States refused all entry visas with few exceptions. Even under the 1987 revival of the 1984 Cuban/U.S. immigration accord--opposed by the Cuban American National Foundation--the U.S. has imposed many restrictions which deny Cubans the opportunity to emigrate and has failed to live up to its commitment to admit 20,000 Cubans a year.

The Foundation also was the source of the inaccurate news reports that Cuba is involved in drug trafficking. It even published a report on the subject. Its accusations were refuted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency as unsubstantiated.

I do not object to the presentation of Ms. Roth's side of the issue, but the other side is all but ignored. Thus, Miner becomes an accomplice to censorship of the voices of reason and helps further the Foundation's campaign to maintain control over not only information about Cuba, but also the debate over the direction of U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Cuba has produced some of the most outstanding artists in latin music today (as well as before 1959). Orquesta Aragon, founded in 1939, plays the world over, including Spain and Latin America, and has an importance in latin music well beyond its representation of Cuba. The musicians themselves would like the interaction with American culture. Cuban musicians and dancers have been invited to perform in most major U.S. cities, with the exception of Miami. It is ironic that the Smithsonian Institute, a federal institution, has not hesitated to invite two Cuban groups to perform in July during a festival of Latin American culture, but the City of Chicago might balk. Perhaps the extremists are losing ground in Washington and are just now staking a claim to Chicago. Hopefully, their "last hurrah."

Debra Evenson

Associate Professor of Law

DePaul University

Chicago

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