Frank Talk About Free Speech

Attorney Victor Diaz chats up the ACLU's Howard Simon

DIAZ: Not that nobody came to the defense, because a lot of people came. But that only the Cuban Americans came to the defense. I cannot tell you how many times people cited to me in a favorable way in the Cuban-American community Norman Braman's letter in the Miami Herald. I don't know whether Norman Braman is in favor of the Cuba embargo or not. I don't know if Norman Braman is in favor of the Cuba ordinance or not. But that letter had a huge impact in the Cuban-American community. It was someone saying, "I'm validating the grievance."

I don't think that my mother and father really care whether Los Van Van play in the Dade County Auditorium or not. And I don't think they really care if the affidavit is signed before or after. But they care that this community that they have worked in and contributed to for going on 40 years, that there be a recognition that what was done to them, and what is still being done to people in Cuba, is wrong. And again, I know that people feel that way. But I don't think that feeling is understood or shared. It's hard for me to articulate it.

SIMON: I agree with what you're saying, because sometimes there's been a flirtation with Fidel historically and maybe even currently by liberals. Or maybe it's because the Cuban-American community hasn't been able to sell their message. But for some reason I think it is true that the perception of the dictatorship in Cuba is not seen in the same light as dictatorships elsewhere.

DIAZ: Cuban Americans don't control the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. And we do not control Amnesty International. And we do not control the Inter-American Press Association. And we don't control the United States State Department. And all these groups have issued reports in the last six months vehemently criticizing the Castro regime. But in the debate on some of the recent issues, people feel that's been lost.

SIMON: See, here's where my anger goes to the local political leadership. I mean, look. Cuba is a dictatorship. We're a human- rights organization. We favor human rights in the United States, in Miami, and all over the world. The fight against Castro has got to survive post-Elian. The fact that your parents could be so hurt by the reaction to the Elian situation -- when the fight has got to go on after Elian, and it's so much more important than Elian. The fact that local leadership would have made the fight against Castro a fight about Elian is misleadership.

DIAZ: There's blame to go around in that. The justice department and its immigration service also shifted positions in the middle of that debate and created a problem. But I don't want to go there. The point you're making is absolutely correct, which is that we ended up in this community Cuban Americans versus the United States of America. That really bothers me as a Cuban American. What we should have is the United States of America versus Fidel Castro. Or at least Cuban Americans versus Fidel Castro. Our anger should not be focused at our fellow residents. It should not be focused at this country and its system of justice. We owe so much to this country.

It is hurtful to us to have us portrayed as pitted against our own country. And it is hurtful to Americans. I can appreciate it when they say, "Well, look at these ingrates. They come here, we give them freedom and opportunity. We make a special exemption in our immigration law so many of them can come here. And how do they reward us? With ingratitude." I can tell you that just as strongly as the hatred of Fidel Castro is felt in the Cuban-American community is the love for this country. And the saddest thing is that that message hasn't gotten through. Cuban Americans are fiercely patriotic to the United States. And we did something wrong when all that we were displaying was the Cuban flag. I know why we were displaying Cuban flags -- out of a sense of cultural pride and nationalism and opposition to Fidel Castro. But to the non-Cuban audience, it looked different.

SIMON: And it has to be said in all honesty that the non-Cuban audience around the rest of the country has a certain stereotype of the monolith.

DIAZ: I'm more concerned about the local non-Cuban audience. I can tell you, even in my workplace -- I don't want to get myself in trouble; my boss is the great mediator Aaron Podhurst -- but my workplace is very divided. If we can't mediate the conversation in our own workplaces and our individual homes, how do we expect to mediate for our community?

Related Links

ACLU of Florida
Ruling in Cuba ordinance case press release and links to court documents, May 16, 2000

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