Frank Talk About Free Speech

Attorney Victor Diaz chats up the ACLU's Howard Simon

We also have to deal with the incredible poverty in the African-American community. The African-American community in my opinion is constantly being used as a political pawn in the struggle between other groups. And you know what? Neither group has delivered for their agenda.

I know it is very frustrating for African Americans to see Cuban Americans come into this community and start economically beneath them and end up economically so far above them. It only reinforces for them how much racial discrimination there is in this town. My message to the African-American community is that, you know, Cuban Americans didn't create racism. But we certainly are guilty of not having done enough to address it in this town since we've acquired political influence.

There's so much common ground out there. For example, immigration policy. We shouldn't be defending special status for Cubans Americans. It is wrong when Haitian children are sent back to Haiti if we're asking for political asylum for Elian Gonzalez. There's a common ground. There's an opportunity for the African-American community and the Cuban-American community to work together to change U.S. immigration policy and address it head on. That kind of thinking outside the box is not going to come from people who are pandering to electorates. We shouldn't expect it to come from the politicians.

MULLIN: Maybe we'll get private citizens to find us a way out, but right now we're stuck with these politicians.

DIAZ: No we're not. I'm going to give you a kind of put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is example. I'm not politician and I have no desire to be one. But I do have a desire to be part of the civic debate. Does private industry encourage that? No. In fact it strongly discourages it. And so a lot of our best and brightest who are interested in continuing to be productive in their chosen field or profession are taken out of the debate. All these civic leaders, they meet at the Mesa Redonda and they meet at the Non-Group and the chamber of commerce, and they talk about how we need to clean up political corruption and we need to find new leadership in our community and all that stuff. And when it comes time to put their money where their mouth is -- which is, are they willing to support their people taking time out to give a little so that one person doesn't have to give it all? -- I don't think there's the kind of follow-through there needs to be.

SIMON: Assuming some responsibility. I absolutely, completely agree with this. The new leadership has got to come from the business community. It seems to me the business community probably recognizes more clearly than anybody else how damaging -- not only to the Cuban-exile community -- how damaging to the economy, what has happened to the economy from the leadership, the national stature has an impact economically. I completely agree that if there's going to be new leadership, we're not going to find it from the politicians. It's going to have to be people in the business community who are going to say we're going to do it for ourselves and we're going to have to live up to our responsibilities.

DIAZ: And not just be the kind of player who goes to the Thursday-morning chamber breakfast. That ain't going to get us there, folks. The only thing that's going to get us there is, okay, let's see, you are in charge of working on radio, you radio station X. And you, Sam, are in charge of dealing with the Miami Herald editorial board. And you, Tom, need to go deal with voter registration. And five of us are going to gang up on the school board. Divide up the responsibilities, develop the program, and follow through on advocating for the interests of the community. The politicians will follow once they see the people respond.

I have this great faith in the people. I think the people are manipulated. The greatest failure of the politicians has not been the national stature of South Florida. The greatest failure of the politicians is the amount of personal angst they've been responsible for over the last 30 to 60 days. I'm talking about fights in families, I'm talking about husbands and wives who can't discuss an issue, I'm talking about in my own family -- I've had violent arguments with my brother-in-law and my sister over this issue.

SIMON: It is true that errors in judgment and the incompetence of the local political leadership have really damaged the standing of our city in the eyes of the rest of the nation.

DIAZ: Yes, it has. But I'm less concerned about that than the fact that my 72-year-old mother and 78-year-old father feel really, really -- because of the Cuba issue and because they suffered so much over Fidel Castro -- I can't tell you how much pain they're in right now.

SIMON: Tell me something about the source of their pain. The Elian resolution? The isolation of the community? Nobody came to the defense of --

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