By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
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By Jacob Katel
As public-relations secretary for the Association of Ex-Political Prisoners in Castro's Concentration Camps, Izquierdo is explaining why the coalition of organizations he represents objects to the recognition of Cuban musicians at the Latin Grammys. He explains: "In Cuba every successful musician -- Pablo Milanes, Omara Portuondo, and Silvio Rodriguez -- has been approved by the regime that persecutes people who speak their minds."
The concentration-camp survivor is demonstrating that in the United States, leaders cannot autocratically control their followers. This is a lesson in democracy learned the hard way by the erstwhile leaders of the Cuban community now referred to by some of their former constituents as the "trinity of traitors": Estefan, Mayor Alex Penelas, and Jorge Mas Santos of the Cuban American National Foundation. Victims of an Arafat complex, the three promised passive masses they couldn't deliver.
Welcoming the Latin Grammys to Miami, Estefan, Penelas, and Mas Santos joined head Grammy honcho Michael Greene in a belated celebration of the freedom of expression: Let's show Castro that we are tolerant while he is a tyrant by allowing Cuban musicians to participate -- or just kind of saying they might while hoping they won't. Yet somewhere in the bright lights, the trinity lost sight of the fundamental principle of the First Amendment: Freedom of speech is protected no matter what is said or how badly the protesters clash with Thalia's evening gown.
Ironies abound. Izquierdo is a limo driver who stands to lose big now that the Latin Grammys have gone home. Miami ACLU president Lida Rodriguez-Taseff met the driver on a Telemiami (Channel 40) roundtable dedicated to the Latin Grammys. Although the ACLU and the errant exiles held opposing views on the right of Cuban musicians to perform, Izquierdo later called Rodriguez-Taseff. "Now our rights are being trampled," he told her. "Can you help us?"
The irony of his plea is bittersweet. This past April 30,000 exiles celebrated the inauguration of the Freedom Tower, recently restored by Mas Santos and CANF; but anti-Castro protesters would not be welcome back on Latin Grammy night. When Rodriguez-Taseff followed up on what the exiles claim was an oral promise from the city for a permit to protest in front of the tower, she discovered that the structure symbolizing freedom stood inside a security zone the city had ceded to the Grammy organization.
When the ACLU complained that the vast area of the zone violated the protesters' First Amendment rights, Mayor Joe Carollo proposed permitting a protest in a delimited area in front of the Freedom Tower. CANF executive director Joe Garcia called Rodriguez-Taseff to object: "That's my tower, and if anybody is going to get a permit, it's me." Asked about the comment later, Garcia says he was not trying to exclude anyone. "I was going to do something regardless," he explains.
Even more bitingly ironic is Michael Greene's decision to run rather than face the protest of Cuban music. Did he forget that long address he made about free speech last February at the Grammys proper before bringing on gay-basher, woman-hater, genius-rapper Eminem? As Florida ACLU legal director Randall C. Marshall argues: "It is unfortunate that an industry that depends on the freedom of expression is so willing to trample the First Amendment rights of an entire community."
The final irony: While Greene cried security risk, across the causeway Miami Beach officials turned our little temptation island into a police state. On every intersection in the so-called entertainment district uniformed officers waited. Strings of bicycle police winded their way through gridlock traffic blowing whistles. On the street lamps were posted City of Miami Beach signs that warned partygoers of noise ordinances and nuisance laws.
Christina Cuervo, the city's administrator during the Source Hip-Hop Music Awards weekend, gushes, "We definitely attribute the success to all the preparation we made."
But others complained that the police force and crowd control mechanisms seemed excessive. "The city may be overreacting," said hotel association chair David Kelsey. Mayoral candidate Elaine Bloom puts it more bluntly: "There was more response than was needed." Kids on the street just shook their heads and rolled their eyes. Referring to both awards shows, Rodriguez-Taseff asked, "Do we allow monied interests who want to put on events to completely dictate the security the city must provide and the restrictions on freedom residents and visitors must endure?"
Staff writer Juan Carlos Rodriguez contributed to this report