ACLU Challenges Miami's Loyalty Oath on Behalf of Censored Arts Groups

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
April 5, 2000 12:00 am


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Today’s case is but the latest episode in the ACLU’s battle against censorship of the arts related to anti-Cuba sentiment. Last year, Miami officials tried to prevent Miami promoter Debra Ohanian from sponsoring a performance of Cuban salsa band Los Van Van. The ACLU intervened on Ohanian’s behalf, and the performance was ultimately held at the Miami Arena. Since then, however, Ohanian has been unable to proceed with plans to host an island music festival featuring Cuban nationals at the American Airlines Arena later this year.

“The effect of the ordinance has been to impose censorship of a wide range of cultural and artistic expression on the people of Miami-Dade County,” said John de Leon, President of the ACLU of Florida’s Greater Miami Chapter.

For instance, the Latin Grammy awards ceremony, which was to have been held in Miami in September 1999, was moved instead to Los Angeles after Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas refused to make the County-owned American Airlines Arena available for the event because Cuban artists might be included.

The local group bidding to hold the Pan Am Games in 2007 in Miami-Dade also pulled out last year (as did organizers of the once-annual MIDEM Latin American-Caribbean music conference) after being informed that the county would not support the events because Cuban nationals would participate. Similarly, the July 1999 Junior Pan American Games track-and-field meet, which was to be held at Florida International University, was moved to Tampa after Miami-Dade refused to offer financial support for the event.

In 1997, former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruce Kaplan removed Peggi McKinley from her position on the Miami-Dade County Film, Print and Broadcast Advisory Board for criticizing the economic ramifications of the Cuba ordinance. The ACLU filed suit on behalf of McKinley seeking her reinstatement and alleging that her termination by the County in retaliation for her public comments violated her First Amendment free speech rights. The McKinley case is now on appeal.

In 1996, elements of the exile community attempted to prevent Cuban singer Rosita Fornes from performing in Miami because she had not publicly denounced Fidel Castro. The Centro Vasco Restaurant where she was to perform was bombed in retaliation for her scheduled performance.

And in 1991, the City of Miami refused to renew the lease of the Cuban Museum of Arts and Culture because the museum had sponsored an exhibit by Cuban artists. As a result of an ACLU lawsuit on behalf of the museum, a federal district court held the City’s actions unconstitutional, citing clear violations of the First Amendment.

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