Cuba Ordinance 101

A New Times guide to busting the county's Cuba law

Speaking to local arts promoters and presenters, New Times learned not many are ready to brave the consequences of taking a stand. While county officials have responded to the ordinance with haphazard enforcement and convenient waivers for fat cats, arts groups have demonstrated a shaky understanding of the local law. Rather than challenge the legality of the ordinance itself, the culture brokers have learned to dodge the restrictions. New Times asked if anyone was willing to fight to reclaim our constitutional rights.

Did You Know?
Ignorance of the ordinance is no protection!

Eager independent filmmakers innocently chat with panelist Larry Meistrich while his fellow panelist collaborates with Havana
Eager independent filmmakers innocently chat with panelist Larry Meistrich while his fellow panelist collaborates with Havana
Miami delirium: Teatro La Ma Teodora performs a play by a Cuban author
Miami delirium: Teatro La Ma Teodora performs a play by a Cuban author

The Cuba affidavit that companies, promoters, and presenters must sign is much broader than most people realize. "One of the biggest misconceptions I've heard talking to other people who have signed the affidavit," observes Niurca Marquez, associate director of Artemis Performance Network, "is that the Cuba ordinance only means 'we can't pay for someone coming from Cuba.' Or, 'I just can't use county funds to pay for someone coming from Cuba.' I think people really haven't looked at the fine print. Then you have your event and you've violated the ordinance without even knowing it."

•In 1997 the Miami Book Fair International hosted a reading by Cuban author José Antonio Ponte. Executive director Alina Interian explains, "In my belief I was not doing anything wrong under the ordinance. We presented a writer who had a book published in Miami, and the book was prohibited in Cuba. The writer resided in Cuba, but there was no business being contracted with Cuba."

Oops! Even though Ponte might be considered a dissident and the Cuban government was not directly involved, his appearance constitutes "a transaction in which a Cuban national ... has an interest" and violates item number two of the Cuba affidavit.

•In 1998 the Spanish-language theater Teatro La Ma Teodora, which receives 50 percent of its funding from the county, presented Delirio Habanero. The theater group paid ESGAE, a publishing association located in Spain, for the right to produce the play by acclaimed Cuban author Alberto Pedro. The company performed it at the Ibero-American Theater Festival in Cadiz, Spain. Also participating in the festival were the Cuba-based troupes Teatro Buendia and Teatro Caribeño.

Double oops! La Ma Teodora committed two violations when it brought down the house in Cadiz. By paying for the rights to produce the Cuban play, the Little Havana thespians violated point three on the Cuba affidavit. By performing in an international festival with Cuban artists, La Ma Teodora also violated point five.

•Recently the Miami Light Project hosted a panel, "Nurturing an Independent Film Community," at the Filmmakers Workshop using county funds. Indie heavyweights such as Patricia Boero, director of international programs at the prestigious Sundance Institute, and Larry Meistrich, CEO of Shooting Gallery, spoke frankly about the challenges facing independent filmmakers in Miami. The subject of Cuba never came up. Sundance supports Cuban filmmakers through its international programs, however.

Oops! Even though Boero's Cuban connections had no relevance to the panel, by inviting her Miami Light Project subcontracted with a "person or entity that does business with Cuba as provided in one through four" (on the affidavit), and violates affidavit item number five.

•For six years Alejandro Rios has sated his passion for movies made in Cuba by curating the Cuban Film Series at the Wolfson Campus Auditorium of Miami-Dade Community College. MDCC provides no support other than the space. Rios pays no money for the films. Admission is free. Cuban directors send him their work independent of the state-run film institute, ICAIC. "They get it to me somehow," Rios explains, "because this is the only way they can get their work shown in Miami." Rios says the series, which includes many films critical of the Castro regime, "is not looked well upon by the Cuban government." Rios seeks no further funding for the series out of consideration for the delicate political position of the college. "I would sacrifice anything," he says earnestly, "before I would jeopardize the mission of MDCC, which is to provide affordable, quality education to as many students as possible."

Oops! Even though the Cuban Film Series receives no money from either the county or the college, Rios is an employee of MDCC, and the college provides the means to screen the films. Screening the films constitutes a "transaction in which a Cuban national ... has an interest." And other programs and departments within MDCC do receive county funds. The college as a single entity violates Cuba affidavit item number four.

Who Is Exempt?
"The Board of County Commissioners may waive the requirements ... [if] the transaction is necessary for the operation of the County, or for the health, safety, welfare, economic benefit, or well-being of the public." -- from the county's Cuba ordinance
•Translation: Companies with deep pockets, including air carriers that fly to and from Miami International Airport (most notably American Airlines), and AT&T Communications.

Who Is Not Exempt?
Educational institutions, cultural organizations, and arts groups.

Side By Side By Apartheid
A Comparison of the sanctions


1) Travel: Potential contractors were not banned from traveling to South Africa.

2) Cultural exchanges: No ban. South African scholars and artists frequently visited the United States during the apartheid regim and made their case against the oppressive government.

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