Friday, January 25, 2008

Code Pink in Little Havana (Epilogue)

An article published in this week's Miami New Times about Code Pink's demonstration two weeks ago provides another perspective of the events, of which I'd also like to share mine.

According to Chuck Strouse, the Code Pink clash with counter-protesters at the Versailles Restaurant "showed not only titanic ugliness on both sides," but also "astounding insensitivity" by Code Pink in targeting Luis Posada Carriles. Strouse spent some time with members of Code Pink in recalling events prior to the demonstration, even recalling some other Code Pink activities (described by Strouse as having a "yippy-dippy style") around Capitol Hill, such as the time when one member of Code Pink directly confronted Sec. of State Condoleeza Rice causing a ruckus.

During his interviews with Code Pink members, in three separate occasions Strouse asks if Code Pink had any thoughts to stop their planned demonstrations in Little Havana (even a future demonstration for February). The answers were no surprise if one is aware of the several past arrests of some of the Code Pink members.

But, there seems to be a reason why Strouse kept asking the same question. At one point in the article, Strouse reveals: "[t]his is where I get angry." Strouse's indignation seems to arise from the fact that on the same day of the Little Havana demonstration (Jan. 12th) a City of Miami police officer was being buried. Detective James Walker, 30, was killed off duty on Jan. 8th by gunfire (which coincidentally, according to Strouse, was also the day Code Pink "began their Miami odyssey"). The funeral for Detective Walker was attended by hundreds of officers and city officials (except the Mayor). Understandably, while Code Pink was complaining of the low police protection for their demonstration, "[t]he cops protecting [Code Pink] could have been paying their respects to a fallen comrade."

Strouse then concludes: "Yet [Code Pink] seems unashamed of its behavior."

Strouse's comments are very confusing. It's not clear if he believes that Code Pink was "insensitive" for targeting Posada, which Strouse first describes as a "rare South Florida hero," and then later an "80-year-old Cuban wacko." Or, if Code Pink was "insensitive" for demonstrating "at the most Cuban of local sites" (Versailles Restaurant), despite repeated warnings and threats of possible violence. Or, if Code Pink was "insensitive" for complaining about police protection when hundreds of Miami police officers ("in this crime-ridden metropolis") were burying one of their comrades that same day.

Well, the first example collapses because Strouse contradicts himself in describing Luis Posada Carriles as both a hero and wacko for his readers. The following example I agree with, since demonstrating in Little Havana against one of the Cuban hard-line's militant heroes is very confrontational (not to mention the long hostile history of Miami hard-line militants). But, getting angry because Code Pink's complaints coincided with a fallen officer's funeral makes no sense. All planned demonstrations in Miami are approved by the Police Department and coordinated with city officials. The Police Department (specifically the Chief of Police) has the power to deny an assembly application if there is a good reason to do so (maybe to allow officers to pay their respects to a fallen comrade), and set a different date for the demonstration. Obviously, Code Pink was given the permission by the Police Department to demonstrate, and the Department thus has the duty to fulfill any obligation to that assembly application. Additionally, describing Miami as a "crime-ridden metropolis" doesn't mean that Police should cut back from their general services to the community, or sacrifice their commitments to it.

Also, according to Code Pink's personal account of events, "[Code Pink] called Detective Jorge Gonzalez who had committed to being at Versailles and ensuring us police protection. He intimated that everything was under control and set up for our press conference across the street from the Versailles restaurant."

Code Pink had the right to complain to the police for having not completed their demonstration at the Versailles Restaurant, and for having been threatened by counter-protesters with long flagpoles (which are most likely prohibited during demonstrations in other cities).

While I agree with Strouse that some of Code Pink's activities are very radical and confrontational, this fact does not justify that groups in opposition react the same way, or go further with threats and aggression. Even if violence was anticipated if Code Pink showed up at the Versailles Restaurant, this still does not justify violence or having Code Pink be chased away and saying Code Pink deserved it.

While I agree with Val Prieto from the Babalu Blog that Code Pink could've picked a better location to demonstrate against Posada, I disagree with their comparisons of Code Pink's action being similar to "provocateurs like a KKK group burning a cross in a mostly black town." Facts alone should render that comparison as pure ignorance. But, one comment (by Ray) on the Babalu Blog described what could've been the best response to Code Pink that day on Jan. 12th.

"Anyway, perhaps a good way to deal with Code Pink could have been to have a silent group of Cuban Americans standing in front of El Versailles Restaurant holding up posters with pictures of political prisoners who are currently serving time [in] Castro's jails."

Another commenter later agreed with such an action. I agree too, and these comments provide hope for the future. This would've been the best way to confront Code Pink.

I had responded earlier to Robert that Code Pink, aside from its general opposition to US policy, has a campaign on the dire situation in Darfur, so why not on Cuba? Since, both Code Pink and some Cuban exiles won't see eye-to-eye on Luis Posada Carriles, maybe they will agree on the human rights situation of Cuba's political prisoners. But, that requires that Code Pink and exile organizations cooperate. That might take a lot of effort on both sides, but the results could be extremely beneficial for everyone.

Back to our central issue, Luis Posada Carriles will continue to be a figure that shall divide sections of this South Florida community, and larger populations in the Western Hemisphere. It's important that people inform themselves and each other about their views of this militant and his controversial past. The silence of the City of Miami, and Spanish-language media outlets about the divisions created by this man's actions will surely one day hurt this community.

Just like they were silent a year ago when a similar incident occurred.

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