School Daze

Cuban leader Victor Dreke's FIU visit offers some uncomfortable lessons for Miami

Of course, one doesn't have to be an, ahem, "wealthy ruler" to wonder just how Dreke didobtain a visa -- even Piero Gleijeses admits he's surprised it came through. Thanks to lengthier background checks on Cuban nationals in the wake of September 11, musicians such as the Afro-Cuban All Stars, Los Van Van, and Chucho Valdés have all had to cancel American tours after being unable to secure visas in time for their booked concert dates. An application process that once took several weeks now often takes several months. Justifying the delays, State Department spokesman Stuart Patt told the San Francisco Chronicle that "most performers are legitimate, but the fact is that maybe some people who claim to be performers are security risks."

Got that? Acclaimed jazz pianist Chucho Valdés, having toured America countless times, is nonetheless prevented from flying to Los Angeles to personally accept his Latin Grammy Award, lest he turn out to be a "security risk." Meanwhile a veteran commando such as Dreke is given carte blanche to road-trip around America and detail his exploits in the service of worldwide guerrilla movements. Certainly one can support Dreke's right to speak while still hoping his visa request was given at least a cursory glance before being approved.

The Miami Heraldcited an anonymous government source as saying that had the State Department known about Dreke's background, he would have been barred entry. Which only heightens the incompetence on display: Instructors at fifteen different schools in seven different states all knew that a Cuban revolutionary was arriving to speak about his combat experiences around the globe. But the crack staff at the State Department was clueless.And given that -- unlike Dreke -- most of al Qaeda's members aren't helpful enough to publish their autobiographies before filling out their visa applications, one can only shudder at the thought of what currently passes for federal "intelligence gathering."

Back at Books & Books, the SWP's Mary Ann Schmidt was critical of a fellow party member ready to start celebrating. Two sympathetic University of Miami students had been enlisted to invite a noted Cuban official to their campus -- an academic milieu that has been notoriously cool to any notions of a discourse with the island. "Thereal test is if they can pull it off at U of M," Schmidt muttered, correcting her comrade.

These are strange days when it falls to the Socialist Workers Party, a creepy faction of "worker-Bolsheviks," to remind us of not only how unresolved Miami's battles over civil liberties remain, but also of how woefully unprepared our so-called homeland defense is -- on the eve of war, no less.

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