We Dare You to Sing

In Miami Beach, the First Amendment and a few thousand dollars will get you some "free" speech

After weeks of police planning, passionate debate, and bomb threats, the controversial Rosita Fornes show at Miami Beach's Jackie Gleason Theater of the Performing Arts won't, in fact, go on. An attorney representing Fornes's producers told New Times earlier this week that they planned to send a letter to the theater requesting a postponement of the performance, which had been scheduled for this Friday night, September 6.

According to John de Leon of the American Civil Liberties Union, the producers are buckling under the strain of several conditions imposed on them by the City of Miami Beach, which owns the theater. For example, city officials demanded that the producers pay $6000 for extra police and security guards and obtain $100,000 worth of supplemental fire insurance for the theater.

"[The producers] are going to be telling the city that since they've been met at every turn by obstacles, they cannot go forward with the concert," de Leon says. They will request another performance date for "the near future" but without the additional security fees and other conditions, the attorney adds. "If they don't get a new date, we'll proceed with a lawsuit."

City administrators are concerned about violence at the theater surrounding a performance by the Cuban operetta star. Some Cuban exiles called for a protest of the show and had been planning a demonstration outside the theater because Fornes, who was born in New York but lives in Havana, has never publicly denounced the Castro regime. A series of Fornes performances slated to begin in late July at the Centro Vasco restaurant in Little Havana was scratched after a fire bomb crashed through the restaurant's window July 11. The Jackie Gleason Theater received at least two telephoned bomb threats, according to Maj. Donald De Lucca of the Miami Beach Police Department.

The ACLU's de Leon says the city's demands appear to be a violation of the producers' and performer's First Amendment rights. "The ACLU's position is that we support wholeheartedly the right of people to protest the performance," he explains. "However, the promoter or performer should not have to pay for the acts of people outside the theater. It's the government's responsibility to ensure there are peaceful demonstrations."

Miami Beach officials counter that it's only fair that the city and the producers should share the cost of security. "Because there appears to be a greater security risk -- as a result of nothing the city has done -- then it's fair and reasonable to expect a sharing of that expense by the performer," asserts Miami Beach City Attorney Murray Dubbin. Furthermore, says Dubbin, the producers agreed to the deal, and if they had not absorbed at least some of the security costs, no contract would have been possible.

De Leon says the demands amounted to a form of coercion: "The city pretty much forced the producer into that position: Either you pay or you don't do the performance."

Fornes's New York-based manager Adolfo Vazquez says a month's worth of negotiations wore him down. Discussions between Vazquez, promoter Orlando Diaz, and the theater's management began July 14. These culminated in a series of meetings in Miami Beach in early August, during which contract terms were formulated. At the time, Vazquez recalls, there was no talk about security needs above and beyond the customary demands of the theater, which usually entail no more than a handful of off-duty police and private security officers. Vazquez says he and Diaz were quoted a price of between $1300 and $1800 for those services. They agreed and handed the theater's management a deposit check of $2750. Then they returned to New York. But less than a week later the theater returned the check and said the deal was off. Says ACLU attorney de Leon: "That's when they started talking about security and fire-insurance costs."

Fornes's promotional team eventually agreed to pay $6000 to cover the cost of 26 uniformed Miami Beach police officers and ten private security personnel to be posted in and around the theater. The city also required the Fornes producers to assume responsibility for the theater's $100,000 deductible on its fire insurance.

"The producer is responsible for the condition of the building and the insurance is to make sure they can cover it," explains City Manager Jose Garcia-Pedrosa. "They aren't people we know, we've never worked with them, we don't know what kind of assets they have." As of early this week, though, Vazquez and Diaz had been unable to find an insurance company willing to cover that liability, and Vazquez says he doesn't have the assets to secure a $100,000 letter of credit from a bank or post a $100,000 bond.

The decision to charge the producers for security and fire insurance was made by the city manager's office "in consultation with the legal department about what was fair and reasonable," explains Assistant City Manager Harry Mavrogenes. Garcia-Pedrosa was out of town when the security issue arose, so Mavrogenes represented the city in negotiations with the producers. Not that Garcia-Pedrosa would have been any more lenient: A Cuban exile himself, he had planned to join the anti-Castro protestors in front of the Jackie Gleason Theater to "repudiate this woman coming here and placing American dollars in the bloody hands of Fidel Castro. As a city manager," he grumbles, "I have an obligation under the law to sign the permit and permit the injurious act to take place."

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