Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Che" in Miami Beach

Word is that the Byron Carlyle Theater on Miami Beach is screening Steven Soderbergh's new film about Ernesto 'Che' Guevara this Thursday. The film recently picked up a distributor (IFC) which is planning special screenings this month in select cities and preparing a national theatrical release early next year. Some Cuban exile organizations had gotten word of the supposed screening this Thursday and are planning protests.

I couldn't find any information online to confirm this screening, but according to those who are planning the protest, the film is being screened this Thursday around 6pm at the Carlyle. Spanish-language radio station WWFE 670 AM ("La Poderosa") has begun running regular announcements of this protest, telling listeners to stay tuned for official instructions at 10am Thursday.

Earlier today on La Poderosa, radio host Ruby Feria let listeners in on what has been planned so far. Feria is an established activist in local exile politics. This past June, Feria appeared publicly before the press protesting Barack Obama's Presidential campaign advisors (associated with the Elian Gonzalez affair). She told the press:

"Barack Obama represents a very dangerous alliance with the Castro regime."

Today, Feria told listeners that letters of protest have been sent to the Mayor of Miami Beach, Matti Bower, and to all Miami-Dade County Commissioners, including the Mayor, Carlos Alvarez. Feria is hoping to receive responses by Thursday. According to Feria, the letters are asking these government officials for explanations behind Thursday's screening, and if they are aware of the offensive nature of the "Che" film. (In 2002, the Byron Carlyle Theater was bought by the City of Miami Beach for $1.7 million, and re-opened in 2004. The funding came from city and county grants.)

Feria told listeners that the screening of the "Che" film would be a "monumental travesty and represent an insult" to the Cuban exile community. For those that don't know, some Cuban exiles in Miami view Ernesto 'Che' Guevara as a vicious murder and terrorist, or as Val Prieto from the Babalu blog once put it: "a murderous false prophet with a pretty face." But, it is only recent that books have been published in English raising the debate over the brutal nature of Guevara. Some examples being 2006's "The Che Guevara Myth" and 2007's "Exposing the Real Che Guevara."

Thus, Feria is being patient for answers from city and county officials, which she is certain she will receive by Thursday morning. But, she also made it very clear that her hope is that the film will not be shown at the Carlyle. Feria compared the film to a form of terrorism that has the potential to breed hate and destroy the principles that unite the community. "Terrorism has many forms...this is one of them," she said. One source has also posted an e-mail sent out by a local exile organization, UMAP, asking recipients to e-mail the Miami Beach Mayor to stop the screening on Thursday. The Mayor of Miami Beach happens to be Cuban, yet very progressive.

Vigilia Mambisa, who sees the film as a "provocation of the castro-communist tyranny" is already organizing a caravan to leave the Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana and head to the Carlyle one hour before the presentation.

Thursday is looking to be very interesting. The Mayor of Miami Beach, Matti Bower, certainly has a complex matter to consider. Changing venues to a private theater could be difficult on such short notice, and stopping the screening altogether could have serious legal consequences. Ruby Feria at one point proposed a public debate before the showing, and perhaps an exchange of contrasting viewpoints before the film may provide a reasonable outlet.

But, if the city does not become proactive, then the protest can become an unpredictable affair. Vigilia Mambisa and other exile organizations will most certainly show up in significant numbers, and perhaps groups like the Bolivarian Youth will show up as well, as they did in 2005 in defense of another "Che" movie [photos here]. And, things can go downhill from there.

Concerned Miami Beach residents should e-mail Mayor Matti Bower and share your thoughts about how this event could be handled, and if you support or oppose the screening of this "Che" film.

[Recent protests involving Vigilia Mambisa can be read about here and here.]