UPDATE: Univision says candidates invited to its forum were invited based on the amount of money they've raised for their campaigns and not because of their Cubaness.
You'd expect a state-run university in Cuba to exclude candidates from participating in a public forum, but not one in Miami-Dade County, U.S.A. Yet that is exactly what Florida International University is allowing to happen later this afternoon. The school is hosting Univision's mayoral forum at 5 p.m. today inside the Wertheim Performing Arts Center on FIU's main campus.
But the Spanish language network only invited the four Cuban American candidates seeking the county's top elected post. The seven non-Cubans were not asked to participate. And even though the forum is "open to the public," FIU and Univision will not be translating the Spanish-only debate into English for the school's non-Spanish-speaking members.
University spokeswoman Maydel Santana-Bravo says the school is just providing the venue and had no involvement in selecting which candidates would participate. "We are making the space available for Univision," she says. "Being that they are a Spanish broadcasting company it make sense to have it in Spanish."
A Univision spokesperson explained that Julio Robaina, Carlos Gimenez, Marcelo Llorente and Jose "Pepe" Cancio "were selected on the basis of the amount of funds raised to date." The network will provide a transcript of the forum translated into English, the spokesperson added.
The forum will be broadcast live on Univision radio station WQBA. It will also air on Channel 23 on Saturday morning at 11 a.m. Santana-Bravo says it would cost FIU a couple thousand dollars to translate the forum in real-time. "We are unable to do so because it is expensive," she says. "It is an economic decision."
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So if there is no money for an interpretator, why would the school invite all students, faculty, and staffers to attend the forum? We're gonna bet the FIU community has a good number of African-Americans, Haitian Americans and Anglos who don't speak Spanish.
How can FIU Vice President Sandra Gonzalez-Levy send out a mass email that says, "we encourage you to attend and be a part of the political process taking place in our community," when the non-Spanish-speaking students won't be able to understand what the invited candidates are saying, much less hear from the non-invited candidates who don't have Hispanic surnames.
FIU alum Jameelah Brown-Ferrell is certainly upset. The 2000 grad emailed Gonzalez-Levy, Santana-Bravo and FIU President Mark Rosenberg to voice her displeasure. "I am downright disgusted and it is not fair," Brown-Ferrell wrote. "Who says those [Univision-invited] candidates are the top candidates? FIU you need to reevaluate your values and who you value. This is a democracy not a dictatorship. All [candidates] should be allowed."