Been busy and distracted away from this blog. Also, the One-Year Anniversary of Mambi Watch is approaching (Dec. 27th) and I hope to complete all unfinished thoughts before the New Year, review the mission of Mambi Watch, and make revisions or alterations of what the ultimate goal of this blog was. Without question, I learned many things about US/Cuba relations over the year, and I hope to articulate those new lessons for interested readers.
Below is the other series that I meant to finish.
THE IRONIES OF MIAMI
The general thrust of this story was to point out how ironic it is that some Cuban exile hard-liners (who also describe themselves as supporters of human rights) are also among the most intolerant and threatening agents against freedom of expression in Miami. I began this story with the reports of a recent lawsuit [PDF] started by Rafael Del Pino, former high-ranking general from the Cuban military who defected in 1987, accusing prominent members of the local Spanish media of intimidation and violent threats in response to a series of articles he wrote in the local paper calling for negotiations between the Cuban government and the US.
I saw this recent event as part of Miami's long history of intolerance by some in the Cuban exile community towards opponents of US policy and the embargo. While the acts of intolerance and intimidation in Miami go way back, the documented history by human rights groups goes back to 1992 when Americas Watch published a report titled "Dangerous Dialogue: Attacks on Freedom of Expression in Miami’s Cuban Exile Community, and soon followed by a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report in 1994 titled "Dangerous Dialogue Revisited" [PDF].
The 1994 report was the result of events that same year following the April visit of several Cuban exiles from Miami to Havana for a Cuban government-sponsored event about migration issues. The days following their return, the Miami Herald reported on several occurrences of violent threats and intimidation aimed at those exiles who attended the Havana conference, especially after the Cuban government released a video of the participants at the meeting with Fidel Castro. It is video that is still used by some to discredit those who attended more than 13 years ago.
The HRW report describes "death threats, bomb threats, verbal assault, acts of violence, and economic retaliation" against those in Miami who attended the Havana conference. The report also acknowledges the fact that "Magda Montiel Davis, a prominent Miami immigration lawyer... became a focal point for the post-conference backlash against participants." The reports by the Miami Herald after the conference (which were many) concur with the HRW report. Several articles described how the participants (and their families) of the Havana conference became the victims of widespread intimidation.
Initially describing some points at the Havana conference with Fidel Castro as "nauseating", former Herald columnist Liz Balmaseda in 1994 later wrote of the "backlash":
"A knot of protesters attacks [Magda] Montiel's car. Her staff quits... A burst of raw eggs hits the house of one exile's elderly mother. Schoolchildren taunt the 14-year-old daughter of another exile. Other participants report a wave of harassment. A bank executive has lost accounts. An office worker has lost her job. Another has lost friends. One woman claims she got beat up at a coin laundry.
"Much of what happened in Havana was lamentable. But here, the ambassadors of intimidation couldn't leave it at that. They couldn't let the already blatant contradictions of an exchange between 219 exiles and four Castro officials stand as their own indictments. They couldn't leave the mob thing to Havana... No, these of a narrow and narrow-minded faction had to go out and be cartoons. Only they forgot their maracas and fruit-laden hat baskets. They had to throw Miami back to the days when people were afraid to speak their minds... and those days had faded."*
But, the most ironic of all the ironies of Miami, was an act that occurred on June 24, 1994, about two months after the Havana conference. According to the HRW report (and reported by the Herald):
"On June 24, 1994, conference participant Emilia González went to have her hair done at the Cadris Hair Design salon in Miami. She was accompanied by two grandchildren, ages eight and six. Everything seemed normal, and Ms. Gonzalez sat for her hair cut. Toward the end of her appointment, however, several women came in to the salon, shut and locked the door and, together with the salon employees, proceeded to shout and hurl insults at Ms. González: 'Communist, traitor, get out of Miami!' Several held signs: 'If you like Fidel so much, go live in Cuba,' and 'Only vermin like Fidel will kiss Fidel,' She was struck by at least two people, hit on the arms and face. All of this occurred in the presence of her grandchildren. Eventually, Ms. González escaped with the children through a back entrance. Extremely distraught and worried about her high blood pressure, the elderly Ms. González sought medical attention."
The HRW report called it an "Act of Repudiation."
The last act of violent intolerance that I can think of occurred on January 19th, when members of the Bolivarian Youth were publicly attacked by Vigilia Mambisa after engaging in a counter-protest on Calle Ocho. It was all caught on video. A report was later filed with the City of Miami police department against the attackers, but charges were never filed after the investigation. Instead, the police told the Bolivarian Youth to pursue their case alone in court.
Another occurrence I can think of that came close to an act of intimidation was in August when the Cuban child custody case again made Magda Montiel Davis a target. In the midsts of Radio Mambi callers again voicing their disgust towards Montiel, radio host Ninoska Perez-Castellon allowed one caller to give out the office number of Montiel's office on the air.
It should be obvious to anyone that freedom of expression also entails having the freedom from obstacles that impede one to freely express oneself. That means protection from intimidation and threats that retaliate against popular or unpopular viewpoints. Furthermore, its should be obvious to those who constantly defend the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that freedom of expression extends universally as "the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family."
Article 19 of the UDHR says: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."
And, Article 7 says: "All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination."
I sometimes wonder if some people in Miami truly understand these words.
[*] Miami Herald, May 18, 1994, "Backlash Beats the Video for Absurdity" by Liz Balmaseda.